Stories inspire my pictures. Pictures inspire my stories. Here’s a piece I wrote after reading this NPR feature on border street food about a year ago.
“Tosti, as in Tostitos. Loco, as in crazy,” I tell Hector, “It’s a good name for the food. That’s what they all are.”
He looks at the line at the fence, past our stand painted blindingly green. It starts to grow now as the afternoon heat swells with the heavy breaths of the migrant crowd. One side is ours, the other is theirs, even though the land all looks the same underneath, brown dirt and weeds.
The fence enjoys its power. It snakes around the land, sticks its maroon slats deliberately in the ground, divides casa from home. It parts for the Rio Grande through Quemado, Jacumba’s mountains, generations of farmers’ fields and ranchers’ pasture from Brownsville to Palomas. It hardens into a wall for tick-infested cattle and people like us. It plunges suicidally into the Pacific, a few miles from our stand in Tijuana. Hector understands.
“There’s one coming,” Hector says. I wave at the figure in the distance, a woman with a heavy knapsack. I slit the packet of Salsa Verde Tostitos along the side, pass it to Hector.
“Her name is Isabel,” I begin. “She worked in some damn factory all her life, putting together metal pieces for refrigerators. Been doing it since she was sixteen.”
Hector adds the pepinos, jicamas, cueritos, passes it back to me. “Her two kids live alone in some ghetto in Texas. She had to live in Juarez for six months to wait to get them across.”
“She made them leave their toys in the dirt. Their toothbrushes are lying like this outside some abandoned shack that says se vende,” I say, kicking a brush I see caked in the mud. “Painted green, with stray dogs eating out its trash. No windows, no doors.”
“The sister takes care of the brother, she’s twenty and works at an animal shelter. She has her mother’s eyes, weak and brown with pain and worry.”
The figure grows closer, and we notice her expression. It was unusually neutral, empty of both the devastation of those denied entry and the hope of those on their way to the fence. I shake in a liberal helping of cacahuates and chaca-chaca.
“She’s back because her mother is dying.”
“She’s crossed so many times that she loses track of how many times they have stopped her.”
“It’s like she doesn’t even mind it anymore.”
We let the music in the background take over as we see her feet away. Hector douses the finished product with chili sauce, chamoy, lime, flipping each bottle into the air after he has used it. She approaches our stand and holds out a handful of pesos. We hand over the Tostilocos. She leaves.
“She knows she might never see her kids again.”
“She’ll camp by the fence on the beach to get back, to wait for fog or rain to give her cover.”
I break from our game. We can never sustain it for too long. “Do you realize it, Hector?” I begin. “People spend all their time patrolling, being patrolled, moving from our land to the states. We just take their junk food and add toppings, add vegetables, add spices.”
“I want to go,” Hector says, suddenly. I snort with laughter.
“Go ahead. Join the line.” I hand him a packet of Tostilocos and dare him to move. Another customer appears in the distance, saving him. A man this time. We look at each other.
“His name is Antonio,” he begins.