June 2, 2019
Mexico City, Mexico
Comparing Mexico to the US
1 of 3
*To hear more about Abel listen to the playlist above
Anne: Abel, you came to the States at age four?
Anne: Do you have memories of the day you came to the States?
Abel: Yeah, I do. I have memories of me crossing. Drove in a station wagon with the coyote. It was me and my mom— my mom is really light-skinned, and she looks Caucasian. She put a camera on and I was in the back playing with some kid with the little cars and stuff, and just drove right across. Got to a safe house and my dad came and picked us up, and that was it. That same week, I started going to kindergarten, got enrolled in school. It was easier back then. It was in the 70s. So I started going to pre-kinder. I went to Mayflower Elementary School, all the way up to the fifth grade. I graduated, and went to Clifton Junior High School. And then I went to Monrovia High. But it was a big process. My mom and dad both had to work—going for that American dream. I am the only child, so I found my friends in the streets. So as a young kid, I started hanging out and I did become involved in the gang culture in LA.
Anne: You had said that your dad actually came over legally for work
Abel: [Affirmative noise].
Anne: And he worked with horses at the racetrack?
Abel: Santa Anita Race Track. Hollywood Park. He went back and forth to Del Mar. He was a groomer, he worked for years in the track. Eventually he left that and he started working for ACME Corporation, which later on turned into Stanley Corporation. He retired from there.
Anne: What did he do there?
Abel: He was a machine operator. A little bit more money than track.
Anne: And your mom, what'd she do?
Abel: My mom, she's the one who got me the job at Jan-Kens Enameling. She She was in the painting department. I'm not sure, she was a racker in masking. She worked at the same place I did. She's still working there. She's been there since '84. To this day—
Abel: —she's still working there. She has two more years before she retires.
Anne: That's great. You were talking about driving across the border. When you got here to the states, did it seem different to you?
Abel: That I don't remember. Well, it was different, because as a kid I lived in the city, I lived here. And Monrovia, it was a quiet town for me. It was nice, it was a pretty town. Sidewalks and everything was, you know, pavement and stuff. It was nice. Park areas. I liked it, it was a beautiful place. I lived there all my life almost, just one spot.
Anne: So you said that you got involved with gangs. How old were you?
Abel: I was about fourteen, fifteen, going to high school.
Anne: Why do you think it happened?
Abel: I think it was because I didn't have anybody to watch me. My mom had to go to work. She got out of work, like seven. My dad took off to work at two. He didn't get back until nighttime. So, I had this lapse of five hours that I would get off of school at 1:50 and I had a park across the street from my house that a lot of my friends now hang out at. We're hanging out. We started off just hanging out with the skateboards and the bikes. Little by little, it led to other things. So, I started hanging out with the homies.
Anne: We see that a lot, a lot of the deportees that have come back talk about that.
Abel: Yeah, it kind of pulls you. That's all you see. It was funny, because like I said, you go out there, you see a beautiful town, but you don't know what's there until later. Because out there, everything's nice, compared to out here. It might be gang infested, but in the daytime it looks like Beverly Hills. You come out at night, it looks like Iraq.
Anne: So what about school, did you like school?
Abel: I loved school. My first years, elementary and junior high, I was in a GATE program, gifted and talented education, I was pretty smart. I did really good. When I started out hanging out with my friends, that's what messed me up later on. And I didn't get in trouble a lot. I mean, I’ve only been to jail three times. Except I did a lot of time for it. But I mean, I wasn't going in and out of jail. I wasn't going to the halls. I've never been to juvenile hall in my life. It wasn't until I was an adult that I started getting in trouble. I mean, I had a little bit of run-ins, but I never did any time. I was pretty good. I was scared of my mom and dad, they whooped me [Chuckles]. So I tried to do good to please them.
Anne: When you started getting with the gangs, what did that mean? What kind of behavior did you guys engage in?
Abel: I don't want to defend the gang culture, but, I mean, we weren't messing with innocent people. I mean, it was just a bunch of kids, we hung out. Our rivalry started from high school, from the football games. That's how our rivalry started, with the other schools and stuff. That's how we started having, I guess, problems with other cities and stuff. But I mean, everybody talked to us. People weren't scared of us. I mean, "Hey, how are you doing? What's up?" "Hey, Juan." They would talk to us. We only had problems with the people we didn't get along with. We weren't out there causing a ruckus. I never was involved in selling drugs. I never got busted for stealing. I never even got busted for shoplifting. I was a good kid. I just, I had that double life. I used to like to go hang out, but I always liked to work.
Anne: Did you start working as a kid to make money?
Abel: Yeah. I started working as a kid to dress the way I wanted to dress because my mom would tell me, "No, you can't wear those pants. They're too big." Or, "You can't wear that shirt." Or, "No, you can't cut your hair like that." So for me to get what I wanted to wear, I started working at the swap meet. I used to work with these Chinese dudes selling shoes. I was thirteen, fourteen. I started making my own money selling shoes and stuff. That's how I started buying my clothes.
Anne: That's great.
Abel: Because my mom was like, "If you want to dress that way, you better buy your own clothes."
Anne: Did they know that you were involved in these gangs?
Abel: I think they might've suspected it, but they didn't want to believe it until later, until they finally knew it, until I was deep in it. Because they would see that I had little tattoos and stuff, but they wouldn't ... I mean, they would see my friends as the kids I grew up with. They didn't see them as gang members. They knew them as so-and-so's son, and so-and-so's daughter. I mean, your mom's always going to think you're an angel no matter what you do.
Anne: Does she still?
Abel: Yeah, still to this day. I love my mom, I love my dad. They're good. They're good people.
Anne: So they were working really hard and you were just trying to make your way?
Anne: So you got married at some point?
Anne: And you got in trouble at some point?
Abel: [Affirmative noise].
Anne: Which happened first?
Abel: I got in trouble first. Like I said, I had already gotten my papers in '88.
Anne: Talk a little bit about that, about the papers, because that's interesting.
Abel: Okay. Well, since we were illegal, so we were scared because they were doing round-ups—I don't know what they call it when they start deporting everybody and the buses come. I don't what they call them…redadas. I don't know how they say it in English.
Abel: Raids, yeah. They're doing raids. INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] raids and stuff at certain places. And we were scared it would happen at school and stuff. My dad, he was all right, but me and my mom were like, "No, we need to fix our papers."
Anne: Was he still on a working visa or not?
Abel: No, he had already gotten his permanent residency.
Anne: Oh, okay.
Abel: So he's the one who helped us get our permanent residency through the Amnesty Program. So, I guess if you had been there longer than ten years, in the States, and had been working and stuff, you had to just prove with the papers that you were working, you were paying your taxes and stuff. So they gave us our green cards, my green card.
Anne: That's great.
Abel: The only thing is I didn't appreciate it, because I get it in '88 and then 1990, I get busted for a joyride.
Anne: A joyride?
Abel: Joyride, yeah. Get busted joyriding—
Anne: So, you stole a car?
Abel: We stole a car, me and my buddy. The keys were in there, we took off. We got in trouble. I did six months for that. But I never got deported. I just showed them my green card, I got out.
Anne: How old were you at that point?
Abel: I was eighteen. I was eighteen-years-old. That was the first time I ever got busted, eighteen years old, joyriding. Gave me six months. I got out—
Anne: You were eighteen, so it wasn't juvenile?
Abel: No. I went to LA County. I did my time in county jail. I didn't go to prison. Then in 1992, that's when I got busted. That's the first time I went to the pen. I got into an altercation at a party and there were some shots fired, and I got busted. I mean, I didn't do it, but you can't tell how it goes. So, I got busted with the guys that were there too, and we all had to do time. I did three-and-a-half years off of that. They gave me seven years, I did three and a half. Then—
Anne: What was that like?
Abel: I mean, I had never done so much time. It was hard. I remember the first year went by really fast, the second year. But then after, I still had that year-and-a-half left, I was like, "Whoa." It seems forever. It seemed forever.
Anne: And were you with dangerous criminals? Was it maximum security, or no?
Abel: No. It was my first time, I was in level two. It was minimum. Medium custody. We were in dorm living. But I mean, that's where it's at though. I think it's more dangerous being in dorm living than it is in cell living.
Abel: Yeah, because cell living, they close you at nighttime and lock your door and you're just there with your cell-y, but if you're in dorm living, I mean, it's 150 beds, there's like 300 people. If something jumps off, I mean, it's pretty wild.
Anne: And you were affiliated with the gang at that point?
Abel: Yeah, I was already—
Anne: Did that help or hurt or have any effect?
Abel: I mean, it helped. It helped because I'm from Southern California, so when you get to a certain place, people look out for each other. So if you know somebody that's from your area, I mean, "Hey, how you doing? What do you need?" "Oh, I need some tennis shoes. I need some sandals. I need some soap," whatever. So they looked out for you. Certain groups, people look out for you. It was safe, I just had to participate in stuff. Whenever something happened, you have to jump.
Anne: Three-and-a-half years is up, you get out, they're still not after you --
Abel: That's when the INS hold came in. I was in Chuckwalla, Chuckwalla Valley State Prison. It's over there by Blithe, right next to Arizona. I was supposed to get out and I didn't get out. I went to go see my counselor and I was like, "Hey, what's up? I was supposed to get out yesterday." She's like, "No, you have an INS hold." So eventually they came and picked me up. They sent me to Florence Federal Prison in Arizona, I was there a couple weeks and they asked me if I wanted to see the judge or if I wanted to sign deportation. That time I said, "I want to see the judge." They gave me bail, which wasn't a lot. I paid five thousand dollars for bail. I got out on bail; that's when I got married. I married my long-time girlfriend.
Anne: Oh! So when did you meet her?
Abel: I met her though, well, being in trouble. I mean, I knew her family for years. I knew her for years, but when I got in trouble, she was writing me. She was writing me letters and stuff, so when I got out, I was kind of courting her already. So we started going out. She wanted to help me out so I wouldn't get deported, so we got married. And then I had my daughter with her. We had our daughter. I still ended up getting deported though, because I missed my court date. I moved and, I never got my court date, and they came and got me at work, INS. It was the bounty hunters or the Marshalls or something—
Anne: Oh my.
Abel: —because I had skipped bail supposedly.
Anne: Oh, I see.
Abel: INS didn't come get me. They were some bounty hunters.
Anne: So they let you out of jail and said, "You have to appear before a judge concerning this INS hold"?
Anne: And then you moved, and then—
Abel: And then I never got the letter, so they thought I skipped bail. So the bounty hunters came and got me, took me to the INS building in downtown. Once I was there, my lawyer, he told me to go ahead and just sign deportation, that he could get me my papers easier through the outs. So I listened to him, which was stupid, and I signed my voluntary deportation. And this was in '97, something like that. So I get out. I mean, they deport me. That same day –I’m back in Mexico-I call my wife, "Come and get me. Bring my license. Bring one of your friends, or one of her boyfriends, or husband, whoever you want to bring." I just crossed. I crossed right across. My license, U.S. citizen. Plus, my name helps, because my name's Abel Martine, but over there you only use your first last name.
Anne: Oh, Abel Martin.
Abel: So they're thinking my name's Abel Martin. And I would say it that way. I wouldn't say Abel Martine. "What's your name?" "Abel Martin." "Where were you born?" "Monrovia, California." “this guy's a white guy.”
Anne: That's great. At that point, you had married her, but you hadn't had any kids?
Abel: No, not until later on.
Anne: Until later on. And then were you still working in ... at the enameling?
Abel: I was working there.
Anne: Oh, you were?
Abel: Yeah. I came back, I didn't tell them I got deported. I just came back to work, I was using my license, everything.
Anne: And had you taken those courses yet?
Abel: I was already a trainee. I had already taken some courses. I was already an inspector trainee for both magnetic particle and for fluorescent penetrant inspection. I was working already on my certifications.
Anne: How many years was it between when you came back and you got finally deported?
Abel: Well, when I got busted or when I was out? Five years.
Anne: Five years?
Abel: Five years I got in trouble, and then I did time.
Anne: Oh, five years and then you did—
Abel: See, I got busted in 2001.
Anne: So, it bought you five years of—
Abel: Yeah, I was there. Five years of freedom. But like I said, I worked. I was working, I was paying my taxes. You know what's funny is the INS told me they knew I was there. They were just waiting for me to mess up they said. They knew I was there all that time. Once I started using my social security, they knew I had already come back.
Anne: Well, you screwed up, unfortunately, but even if you hadn't, probably nowadays, if they knew you were there, they would've come and gotten you.
Abel: Yeah, right away.
Anne: Regardless of whether you screwed up or not. Things have changed. [Pause] So you had these two lovely children?
Abel: Yes. One is from another marriage. From me getting in trouble, I lost my first my wife. During the five years, I got divorced.
Anne: Oh, you did?
Abel: Yeah. I got divorced. I met another girl, real nice girl, and I had my son with her, right before I got busted.
Abel: I was already in another relationship.
Anne: But you keep in contact with both?
Abel: I keep in contact with both. We maintain friendship, we try to keep in touch for the kids. Well, for my daughter. She's a real good person. We didn't end in bad terms, so we're good. I'm not vindictive. I know how to forget. I know how to forgive, forget. I mean, I hope they do the same with me. It's better to get along, especially for your kids.
Anne: So in those five years you got divorced, found a new partner, and you had your son. How old were the kids when you had the final drunken driving—
Abel: When I got in trouble, my son wasn't even born yet. When I got caught for evading, my wife was pregnant—or my ex, she's not with me any more. She was pregnant. When I was in jail, my son was born. I got to see him in visits and stuff, but at first I didn't get to see him until later on. Because at first you got to fight your case, and then you can't see him until later on.
Anne: The final altercation was drunk driving, you were pulled over.
Abel: Yeah, I didn't want to stop. I knew they were going to get me, so I’m like, “I’m gone,” took off. I probably wouldn't have got as much time. I mean, I should've just stopped, but I figured I'm just going to give them a run for their money. I figured it's just evading, what can they give me? It turned out to be a long-ass time.
Anne: Six years.
Anne: And did both kids come and visit you?
Abel: Yeah. They used to both go visit me. Both my exes used to go see me, too. I mean, because my daughter was small, so she used to take my daughter. And my wife at the time used to go take my son. My parents used to go see me. My friends used to go see me too. I had a lot of people go see me. I mean, I wasn't alone. It was good.
Anne: That's good. Was it the same jail or a different one?
Abel: I moved around. I was in Chino, Chuckwalla, I was in Soledad, Wasco, Delano. You move around, you move around. Reception center, it's a place where you're settled.
Anne: Was it different from your first time in jail?
Abel: It was easier. It was easier, because I already knew the world. I already knew what I had to do. I already knew how to stay out of trouble, keep to myself. It was better. It was better. I went in there with a little bit more—honestly, I was kind of dumb—but more confidence, because I already knew what time it was.
Anne: Did you know you were going to have to go back once you got out? Back to Mexico?
Abel: What do you mean?
Anne: Did you know once you served your time that they were going to send you back?
Abel: Oh, I knew it. I knew it. Yeah, I already knew because I already had the INS hold. I couldn't participate in certain programs, fire camp, because you were a risk. You were a flight risk, whatever. So I already knew I had a hold. They told me I had a hold when I got busted. I was just waiting to get out for them to shoot me back. I already knew they were going to deport me.
Anne: So what was your plan?
Abel: Well, my plan was I was going to be here six months and go back. My dad sent me way out here, because I could've stayed at TJ [Tijuana]. I mean it's only two hours away from the house. But, I don't know, he figured out I'll be better off this way. You know how they have the three strikes now in Cali?
Abel: So he was scared for me, crossing the border, they could give me three strikes or whatever. So they were scared for that. That's why they decided to send me out here to Mexico City. And I obliged, I said, "All right. I'll go out there a couple months, maybe a year." I've been here fourteen, which helped out because I have family here. There's a lot of my family that lives here, and I've met a lot of people here. I mean, I'm alive. I'm all right. I'm all right. The only thing is that I never made a plan for my future, because in my mind, I always want to go back. I don't know if they should hear me, because right here, they know they're talking about they want to have the Mexican dream here in Mexico, the American dream here in Mexico. I want to go back. I want to go back, I'm not going to lie. If I have to be here, which I've been here, I'll do what I can to be a valuable person, to help out where I live and myself and my family. But if I could go back, I would go back in a heartbeat. If they tell me, "Drop everything you have here and go." Let's go. I'll leave everything. I'll leave everything and go. I mean, I consider it my county. Even though I was involved with the gangs and stuff. But I mean, I didn't consider myself a bad person. I love that place. I mean, I miss it. I miss it. To this day, I can't get used to it. I can't get used to not having a car. I can't get used to being able to ... I mean, out here is just expensive. It's ridiculous. You got out with your family to go to McDonald's or whatever and you're going to waste four days of work. It's crazy. A hamburger, a special costs 150 pesos. Say you have two kids and your wife, that's six hundred pesos, you're going to make that in two days. It's just way out. And driving, I miss driving. I miss driving. I miss my family. I miss being able to go to the beach. I was half hour away from the beach. It was cool. It was good. I miss everything out there. I do miss it a lot. It's hard to get used to it. It's hard to get used to it. The thing is too, I mean, even relationship-wise. Out here, I've been through so many relationships, because they can't get used to my way of life still. Because I'm pro-cannabis and they can't—
Anne: You're pro what?
Anne: Oh yeah?
Abel: Yeah. Out here, they see that as bad. They see it as a drug, addict or whatever. I haven't drunk in five years. I don't even smoke cigarettes. But because I smoke, they see you as a bad person. I don't know. Up there, everything's getting legal now.
Anne: [Laughs]. I was going to say, it's all getting legal. It's tough.
Abel: But how's work out there? I mean, is there work out there really? I mean, like in California, you don't know about California?
Anne: Well, I don't live there, but is there work there? Yeah, I think so.
Abel: I have a lot of friends that are coming out this way now too. They were out there for years too—
Anne: They're saying there's no work?
Abel: Rent is expensive, there's no work out there. I'm like, "Come on."
Anne: Oh, and you lived near Pasadena, you lived in an expensive part of California. But I think there's work. But employment rates are low throughout the States.
Abel: Is it?
Anne: But since the recessions of 2008, the wages haven't gone up as much. So, people aren't feeling …They’re still feeling poor. Poorer than they were. So you think of yourself as American, not Mexican?
Abel: Oh, yeah. I think of myself as Mexican, but I do love America. United States, because we are in America here. I always consider myself as being a Monrovian, Californian. I mean, I paid my taxes, I went to school there. I grew up there. I guess it's not where you're born, it's where you were raised. I love this place though too. I do, because out here, it's a trip. I mean, out here, you won't go broke. If you're a lazy person, you won't have ... there's work everywhere out here. You can do whatever. I mean, helping a lady take her bags to the car, she'll give you ten pesos. If you look for stuff to do here, there's stuff to do here. Just me, I just miss my life you know? I miss my life. It's way different, put on a CD that somebody's going to like ... then somebody’s not going to look right, "What the heck is that?" I mean, it's just hard, especially when you live around everybody who don’t speak English. They don't hear your stuff. I do have a couple friends though that are from out there too though, that are deported also. Because we find each other. You'll see somebody that has tags and you'll be like, "Hey, man. You lived out there before?" "Yeah, I lived in so-and-so. I lived in Huntington Beach," or "I lived in Long Beach." "Oh, is that right? Oh man, I lived in Monrovia." Become friends. That's why I still speak English. I mean, I don't lose my—
Anne: Oh, no. You have not at all.
Abel: I try to practice it. Plus, I'm always speaking with my daughter and my son. I listen to English music, I watch movies. I go buy the movies. I'm not guilty of buying bootleg movies, that's not right. But I go buy the movies and I make sure that I can watch them in English. I read books too, I read English books and stuff. I try to, I try to. I just read Gone with the Wind. It's a good book, man. The Outsiders. When my daughter comes out here, she's the one that brings me the books. She should be coming out here in, I'm thinking in August—August, September.
Anne: That's great.
Abel: Yeah, my dad's out here right now, but he's in Jalisco. He went to stop by to see his brothers and stuff and he's coming down here. He came to get some dental work done because it's cheaper out here.
Anne: That's what I hear. So you apparently live alone in your own apartment?
Abel: Yeah, I’ve got my own apartment.
Anne: And you can entertain the family when they come?
Abel: Yeah, exactly. I have a guestroom. I rent from one of my aunts. It was her son's house, my cousin's house, but he built his house apart, because it's upstairs from his mom and dad's house. So he more or less did it so they can help themselves out with the rent. So I rent it from them. I'm all right. I try to maintain positive. I try to keep myself positive. But I mean, I do miss it. I'm glad I can say this. Nobody understands me when I talk to them about it, they're like, "Oh, you're cool out here." No, you don't understand. I tell these guys here from Mexico, my friends here in Mexico, I tell them, "Imagine you lived here in Tecámac all your life and all the sudden they tell you, 'No, you can't be here.' And they take you somewhere else. What would you do? How would you go about finding friends? How would you go about finding work?" I mean, it messes with you. It does. It does mess with you psychologically. It does depress you. I got out of it. It helped me stop drinking. I stopped drinking, because when you drink, I mean, that makes it worse. It makes it worse, so I thank God I stopped drinking, because I was drinking a lot. A lot. Every day, I didn't care. But I'm better off now.
Anne: Yeah, if you drink, it's hard to work too.
Abel: Yeah, you can't. You don't go to work. You don't go. But I'm hoping, I'm hoping I can go back. I mean, I need to go to the U.S. embassy and check it. Sometimes everyone tells me, "I mean, you're an ex-gang member. They're not going to let you go back." But I mean, you never know.
Anne: I think the current administration, nothing good is going to happen [Abel chuckles]. But maybe a new administration, maybe some immigration policy will be more forgiving of deportees, in at least visits.
Abel: Well, I mean, I'm thinking of working on a hardship case because my mom and dad are older. And I'm the only son. If they don't want to come back, they're U.S. citizens, who's going to take care of them? We're looking into that. Maybe I can do it that way, because they're telling me have my kids ask for me because my daughter, she already turned twenty, she's twenty-three. So supposedly she could ask for me to return. But that's if you don't have a prior record. I think I'm better off on having my mom and dad asking for me because they're the ones who would need me to help them out, because my daughter, she's on her own. She can do whatever. But I need to check it out.
Anne: Keep working on it.
Abel: I try to come (to seminars), whenever they have things like this or whenever they have the certificates, I try to take them. I'm trying to build a little curriculum of stuff to have, to show them I'm trying. I mean, I work, and I never got in trouble here. Since I've been here, I've never stepped in jail. Ever. Me getting deported just woke me up, dude. I messed my whole life up for messing around.
Anne: And you've learned this new skill in Mexico, masonry.
Abel: So I could use that out there. You get paid good being out there, being a mason. Good money. Carpentry. You learn a little bit of everything out here working.
Anne: It's interesting, I've talked to a lot of deportees who say it's hard to get into the construction industry, but you didn't find it that hard? Was it connections through relatives?
Abel: No. I mean, you know what it is? I guess I had all my papers. When I first got here, I used to get taken off the bus a lot. This happened today. That's why I was late. They had these checkpoints and they make all the men get off the bus and they search you. I don't know if you heard about stuff like that? So they take all the men out and they check you for weapons and stuff and they let you back on the bus. It took like half hour. [Pause]. I forgot what I was saying.
Anne: I was asking you about your papers.
Abel: Oh, about the papers. About what?
Anne: Because I was saying that you got this job in construction—
Abel: Oh, how did I get it? Okay. Well, the reason I got my ID was because they were taking me off the bus and they asked me if I was an MS gang member or whatever, so I went and got my ID. So I've had it since I've been here. So once you have your ID, you can get your Curp [Mexican identification code], you can get your social security number and all that. So it was easy for me to get hooked up. And then later on learning the trade, now I get my own jobs from word of mouth. So I'll tell somebody, "Hey, I mean, if you need something done, let people know I know how to do certain type of work," whatever. And they're like, "All right. Give me a call right now." Right now, I'm working at a cousin's house, doing the driveway, pouring concrete and stuff and laying brick down. So from there, I get chances to work, from word of mouth, they call it, letting people know. Because I'll do everything. I'll paint, whatever I can do. Whatever I can do to make money.
Anne: That's great. You're doing really well.
Abel: Thank you. I'm trying, I'm trying. Trying to stay positive. Trying to stay grounded.
Anne: Well, it's great that your family can come see you and that they do come see you, and hopefully you'll find a way to get back.
Abel: I hope.
Anne: I hope so, too.
Abel: And if not, I'll make the best of it here. I mean, that's the thing that I always keep in mind too. I mean, it's not always going to happen the way you want it. It's just when I was going to get out this last time, I was praying to God that I'm going to get out, and when I get out, I'm going to do good.... God knows where he's going to put you. I'm here.
Anne: Well, good luck with everything.
Abel: Thank you.
Anne: And thank you so much.