Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream
Sam Quinones has a remarkable ability to put a human face on the controversial issue of immigration, particularly on the matter of undocumented Mexicans who have come to the United States to improve their lives and to help support the members of their families they have left behind. In Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream, Quinones suggests that most of these immigrants have crossed the border to earn as much money as they can, often by working two or three jobs simultaneously, with the expectation of saving their money, building lavish homes in the places from which they emigrated, and returning to live in the towns from which they originally came.
Quinones’s generalization that the expectation of most immigrants is to return eventually to Mexico may seem untenable to some readers. Indeed, some of Quinones’s tales demonstrate that it is virtually impossible for many Mexican immigrants to return home once they have established themselves in the United States. Despite this minor quibble, the tales are carefully observed and have an impressive impact.
Quinones writes, “As a reporter, I’d grown used to seeing gray in every story. People have complicated motives for what they do; human beings aren’t characters in soap operas. Judging who was right and wrong was something I’d given up long before.” In most of these tales, the readers are left to judge for themselves the rights and wrongs reflected in the actions of the principal characters.
One exception to Quinones’s reportorial objectivity is found in “The Saga of South Gate,” unequivocally the most shocking tale in the collection. South Gate, California, is a working-class community some twenty miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Many Latinos settled there in the 1980’s and 1990’s, including Joe Ruiz, a respected twenty-three-year resident. Ruiz, trained by Roto-Rooter, soon opened his own plumbing service, employing a dozen people. He was a model citizen and a coach to local young people’s athletic teams.
When Ruiz ran for a seat on the city council, he sued Richard Mayer, who was also running but who was not a South Gate resident. Mayer rented an apartment in South Gate and changed his name to Ricardo Mayér in order to pass himself off as Latino to attract the Latino vote. When Ruiz’s suit was adjudicated, the court found in Ruiz’s favor. By this time, however, the ballots had been printed with Mayer’s name on them, and it was impossible to reprint them.
Mayer launched a smear campaign against Ruiz, accusing him of molesting two young boys, a charge that was patently untrue. These ugly rumors, nevertheless, resulted in Ruiz’s losing the election. A similar smear campaign was launched against Mayor Henry Gonzalez, accusing him unjustly of growing rich through taking kickbacks and bribes. Gonzalez was shot in the head on his way home from a city council meeting shortly after the election but survived.
The political situation in South Gate, to put it mildly, had become septic. Emerging amid this maelstrom was twenty-six-year-old Albert Robles, a Latino with U.S. citizenship who had recently earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles. Mayor Gonzalez did all he could to help Robles establish himself politically in South Gate. Before long, Robles became mayor.
As mayor, Robles set about stacking the city council with members who could be counted on to vote consistently as he directed. Soon, with four of the council’s seven seats in his complete control, Robles emerged as a virtual dictator. As such, he robbed the city, entering into costly contracts that would obligate the city long after he had left office. In the process, he misdirected public funds to line his own pockets.
Writing in detail about how Robles rose to power and how he ultimately was deposed, Quinones weaves a convoluted web so shocking that it reads like fiction, although Quinones documents it fully. Although the citizens eventually took their town back, the long-term harm that Robles visited upon South Gate will be felt for years in the future. Quinones’s investigative reporting in piecing this story together is remarkably able and well...
(The entire section is 1738 words.)