By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Juan Carlos and Vicky are down for the weekend too, sleeping in their white minivan on the lot at the Platanera Ramirez while helping Carbajal search for Pedro. Tonight, I ride in Juan Carlos’ van as we caravan slowly past the glowing nightclubs nearest to the border crossing. I am seated next to a woman named Rosa, who says that she’s been volunteering with the Angels since she lost her son about a month ago. “He walked out of the house on me one day, went walking, and since he’s not well in the brain, he hasn’t found his way back home.” Rosa sighs deeply, her voice quivering. She says she comes down to the river in the hopes of finding her son, or finding someone who has seen him or has word of him. “He was born in Hidalgo,” Rosa says, as if to give me a reference point if I ever come across him.
We take up a darkened ramp that leads to the top of the river’s embankments. The Angels truck is sounding a low siren, weeo-weeo-weeo. This is the call for the transient men who live in the drainage ditches to come out. The river crosses the international boundary with California at a gentle curve, heading toward the Pacific at Imperial Beach. You know the moment it becomes an American river when it is lined by harsh, stadium-style floodlights, a sign of warning to any potential illegal crossers, courtesy of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Every day that passes, I am losing hope that I will find him.(Photo by Gregory Bojorquez)
We emerge from the vehicles on a gravel embankment, and the group leader, Rafael, instructs us to don blue medical gloves as we set up tables from which to distribute food and clothing. Already the men are emerging, crawling up the banks. They look haggard, out of their wits, like zombies, but they know the drill.
“A single line, gentlemen,” Rafael calls. “All right, muchachos, no fighting. There are ladies with us tonight.” We hand out small paper cups of coffee and Gatorade, paper bags with tortas and burritos, toothpaste and toothbrushes. “Coffee or juice?” we ask.
Among the men is Jorge, who has wide, enormous and clear blue eyes, a soft mouth and well-defined cheekbones. He says he is 26 years old. My age. His skin looks ravaged by a lifetime of dope or junk. The women volunteers listen as Jorge begins thanking them, then sharing his life story. He says he knows he has his mother and his sisters waiting for him, but he can’t bring himself to find them. Jorge begins to sob uncontrollably, heaving like a child. The women surround him and rub on his back and speak to him about Jesus Christ, the savior. Drugs and alcohol are a disease, they say. Now is the day . . . to stand up . . . because Christ is here with you . . . but you must do your part. Jorge nods and nods as he weeps. The other men are already scurrying back down the riverbanks, into the shadows.
Maria Carbajal stands back, watching motionlessly. Her daughter-in-law is by her side. “That’s what I think Peter’s thinking,” she says to Vicky. “That he’s embarrassed, he doesn’t want to worry us.”
We climb back into the van and ride along the bumpy embankment in silence, down the ramp, and back onto the streets of Tijuana. Everyone is looking out the windows, searching the darkness.
At press time, Pedro Guzman had not been found. Watch laweekly.com for updates.
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