Salvador waited Wednesday morning among a knot of mustachioed men, in a black Giants’ baseball hat and paint-spattered work boots. He waited for work, but his mind was on the summit between President Bush and the man he still considers his leader – Mexican President Vincente Fox. “We want to be paid better in the United States,” said Salvador, 30, who declined to give his last name.
It’s an opinion that was repeated often today by the 20 or so men who hustle work from the barren parking lot at the corner of Fourth Street. “The most important thing at the summit is that we have the same rights when we work in the United States,” said Gonsalo, who also declined to give his last name. “We don’t have the same rights now, and it shows in our wages.”
They agreed that the issue most directly affecting them is Fox’s proposal to give legal status to Mexican laborers working in the United States. “(Without papers) we’re always on the bottom here,” Salvador said in Spanish. “The companies pay us the minimum and rents are always increasing.” The laborers, many of whom said they send 20 percent of each paycheck to families they’ve left in Mexico, said they are paid $9-$10 an hour on average. But because the work is unsteady, they said, their real hourly wage is closer to around $7. “I would like to know that I can always work,” said Jose Giron, 21, before excusing himself to run with four others to a car that had just pulled to the curb.
While most of the men agreed that the summit could better their situations, many said they doubted the two presidents’ motives. “Bush has always been anti-Latino,” said Lucian, a 21-year-old who only recently arrived in the United States. “But I think now he could help us – because it will benefit him with the Latino vote.” Fox fared little better in their estimation. “It’s certain that Fox hasn’t done what he promised he’d do in Mexico,” Jose Robles, 65, said. “I don’t think he does anything in Mexico. But I think he’s going to do something here.”
Fox, the first Mexican President to be elected from an opposition party in over 70 years, arrived in Washington Wednesday night. The two presidents are expected to discuss Fox’s proposal which would grant legal status to Mexican nationals currently working in the United States. Fox has also proposed relaxed border relations and easing of restrictions for Mexicans wishing to receive guest worker status in the United States. Fox has stated his desire to implement these changes as early as next year.
Despite the summit’s ambitious agenda, however, some of the workers on Fourth Street remain unconvinced. “Mexicans need to educate their own people,” said a Venezuelan who identified himself only as Roberto. “They can’t look to the U.S. to fix their country. They must clean their own home first.” Silvio, a 22-year-old from Veracruz, was more severe in his distrust of the summit. “I think that what Fox and Bush say are pure lies, pure politics. In truth they won’t fix anything,” he said.
But these voices formed the minority, and most said they were optimistic about the future of Mexico and its relation to the United States. “Fox has done a lot for his country,” said Fernando Perez, 19, who works at a gas station nearby. “He is the first president to overcome a regime of 75 years, and he has done a lot for democracy. You can’t change 75 years of PRI (the traditional ruling party of Mexico) in one year. It’s a process that takes many years.”