I recently took down the first-hand account of a journey across the Mexican border. One of the guys who will be in my book did not want to walk across the desert, so he crossed in the trunk of a car. He got caught the first time, but made it over the border crossing a few days later, through a series of safe houses and eventually to the Bay Area. It was an amazing story.
But the journey on foot through the Texas desert is even more amazing and Filmmaker Tommy Davis captured the drama first hand in his 2004 film Mojados: Through the Night. Davis followed four guys from the little town of Cheran in Michoacan across the Rio Grande and through the desert in southern Texas for about five days.
There are a few problems with the film as a documentary. We never meet Davis nor find out much about how he hooked up with the foursome. We don’t know how he survived the journey, though he did explain after the fact that he shared the migrants’ food and water. And the end implies that two of the guys died on a second crossing attempt, but Davis told Film Threat that he’s not sure what happened to them.
The reason the stuff about Davis’s survival is important is that the overwhelming takeaway from the film is that this crossing is a survivor-like endeavor. Though two of the four guys are experienced border crossers, they only take two gallons of water and a little bit of food for the entire group, they wear cotton clothing and they have only the sun and instinct for navigation. The film shows pretty raw footage of the trek, including scenes of the rocky desert landscape as Davis runs across highways and ducks under brush trying to avoid detection.
The four characters are very likeable guys—Davis does a great job humanizing them and illustrating their drive to work and improve their lots at home in Mexico. After watching the movie though, I couldn’t help but think that companies like North Face or Patagonia are missing a huge opportunity along the border. With just a little technical gear, some better backpacks and basic survival training, more deaths could be prevented. Why pay a coyote $2,000 when you could pay a few hundred dollars for a Camelback, a compass and some polypro.
Incidentally, there is a reason they don’t carry maps and compasses. Oso, the leader of the group, tells Davis that if caught with navigational aids they could be prosecuted as smugglers rather then just deported.
It is not essential to my book, but I am prepared to make the crossing if the opportunity arises. It was helpful to read about the legal implications for Davis, which he did investigate before heading south:
Well I had met with the head of the U.S.B.P. Tucson’s sector and he knew what I was up to and he wished me luck. He told me I’d likely be arrested if caught and they would do a small investigation to be sure I was not smuggling the people – eventually, I would be released and fined for not crossing at a point of entry – but it was a double standard on the journey because everyone was constantly worried about getting caught and I knew that the worst for me was a fine and for them, they would have to endure all of this again.