Book Reviews

A Vagabond In Mexico

Review by Carl Franz

A Vagabond In Mexico ©1993 by S. Guzmán-C., Nomads Press, 1102 8th Ave., #612 Seattle, WA 98101 (phone 604-621-3911) ISBN 1-883258-10-3

In 1975, S. Guzmán-C. left a "meaningless job and a rather insipid life" and headed for western Mexico with a friend. They soon parted company, however, and Guzmán struck off on a solo nomadic 'quest', carrying nothing but a small olive-green backpack. "In a spirit of adventure, spurred by the desire to meet the people I wanted to live with, lured by a beauty I had merely heard about, I decided to travel throughout the country." In the spirit of the times, Guzmán is living on a shoestring and has the idea that to finance his wanderings, "a bilingual person, such as I, had innumerable opportunities to make a good living in Mexico."

Some tourists go to Mexico for the sun and sand, others focus on museums or Lost Cities. In A Vagabond In Mexico, S. Guzmán chronicles his adventures as he travels through Baja and western Mexico, moving from one menial, low-paying job to another. Guzmán is a tourist and cannot legally work in Mexico, but nonetheless he takes a succession of jobs with fishermen, chicken ranchers, janitors, farmers and leather workers. If finding work does not seem all that difficult in Mexico, the same can’t be said for a decent wage. In fact, Guzman gradually realizes that his real problem isn’t employment, it’s getting paid enough to simply eat and survive. Working at times for just a few scraps and a cot, he seldom earns more than the most miserable minimum wages. Although the author is technically an 'illegal alien', he is routinely welcomed and befriended by his fellow workers — and just as routinely exploited by his bosses.

Like millions of Mexicans, Guzmán’s initial optimism and daydreams of earning a good living are gradually replaced by the harsher realities of a life of poverty. In spite of his best efforts, there seems to be no (legal) way to improve his situation. Even the personal warmth and hospitality the author so often finds among the ordinary people can’t compensate for his dismal circumstances. "I decided that it was time to end my stay in Mexico. I was utterly convinced it wasn't a worker’s country.... But if my testimony is not enough, I suspect any Mexican working illegally in the United States will vouch for me."

A Vagabond In Mexico is an unusual, thought-provoking book. In particular, anyone who thinks that Mexican 'illegals' are easily drawn over the border should find it instructive. In searching for work in Mexico, Guzman’s quest takes an ironic turn. Try as he might to better himself, he must eventually accept the misery of his circumstances. As hope for improvement dims, the author eventually confronts the wrenching dilemma that so many hardworking, impoverished Mexicans face today — that of leaving their friends and family behind and heading north, toward the elusive promise of a better life.

As much as I enjoyed the book, A Vagabond In Mexico left one question unanswered in my mind: Why? In particular, I’d like to know more about the author’s background, and his motives for visiting Mexico. For unexplained reasons, however, Guzman is very close-mouthed about biographical details. Other than telling us that he is bilingual and originally from Puerto Rico, the author remains deliberately anonymous. In a recent letter, Guzman wrote me, "... maybe you can tell your readers that at the moment I am a vagabond in America while promoting my book." If anonymity is being used here as a device to create suspense or interest in the book, I think it is misplaced. In my opinion, the more readers know about S. Guzman-C, the more likely they are to become involved in the book.

A Vagabond In Mexico
©1972-2000 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens
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