Urrea describes the landscape and history of Veracruz, whose name means “true cross.” Despite its Catholic-sounding name, its “native roots run deep.” The coastal region is hilly and mountainous. Veracruz, at the time the Wellton 26 crossed into the U.S., was in a state of economic collapse. Though “waves of semiprosperity” had surged through the region (Coca-Cola and Pepsi factories hired many workers from Veracruz,) things “weren’t going well.” Latino immigrants from the south—Guatemalans and Hondurans—had come north into Mexico. Prices were rising, and families struggled to feed themselves. People had more children in an effort to add able-bodied workers to their family and thus increase their income, to little avail. An obsession with American culture and the prosperity that was possible there seemed to have gripped many in the region, and this, combined with spreading waves of fever and malaria as well as government corruption and political violence, drove many people in Veracruz to “look north.”
In describing the economic devastation of Veracruz, Urrea introduces his readers to the deep sense of desperation that drove many of the Wellton 26 northward. As poverty took hold of the region, many felt more and more isolated and gripped by desolation, leading them to seek passage to the border, where they would, unknowingly, only encounter more desolation in the form of a brutally inhospitable desert. Urrea’s mention of large American corporations like Coca-Cola and Pepsi shows how the lives of people living in seemingly remote places are impacted by U.S. business and politics long before they reach the U.S.-Mexico border.
Don Moi García, a recruiter and fixer for the Coyotes of Sonora, was a “walking ad for the good life.” He had an American car and American cigarettes, and was seen as a “man of substance.” His birth name was Moises—“Don” is an honorific, equivalent to “sir.” Don Moi was a local, seen by many in Veracruz as a “Robin Hood figure.” Don Moi was approached by the Bautistas, men who would become the Wellton 26, desperate for passage to Arizona. Don Moi explained that he would charge twenty thousand pesos for the journey, but assured them they could save money “if [they were] men enough to walk in the desert instead of catching a ride.” The men agreed, and Don Moi lowered his rate to thirteen thousand pesos. Don Moi worked with his fearsome boss, Chespiro, to offer the men loans, knowing that Chespiro’s wrath was such that they would be paid back in full in no time.
The revered but shady Don Moi painted himself as a benevolent figure, when in fact he was unwilling to consider the humanity of the desperate men of whom he was taking advantage. Any experienced coyote (that is, someone who smuggles people across the border) understands that attempting to walk across the Cabeza Prieta is extremely dangerous, whether or not one is “man” enough to try it. Men like Don Moi and Chespiro amass their fortunes by preying on the desperate.
Reymundo Barreda approached Don Moi, along with his son Reymundo Jr. Both were hoping to make their way to Florida to spend the summer picking oranges—they wanted to build a new roof on their home. Reymundo Sr. was nervous to take the trip with his son, but signed them both up with Don Moi nonetheless. Meanwhile, Nahum Landa, Reymundo Sr.’s brother-in-law, also signed up—they were family, and they would look out for one another. Nahum signed his sons up with him, as well. Others joined, all hoping to arrive in America and work hard to afford things they wanted in their lives in Veracruz: adoption fees, school tuition, home improvement. Don Moi “drove from town to town,” adding desperate men to his roster, and called his boss Chespiro to report that things were “going well.”
As Don Moi collected desperate men throughout the countryside of Veracruz, he reported to his boss that things were “going well”—an ironic and even despicable statement, considering the impoverished and desperate backdrop of the state. Don Moi and his boss were only concerned with taking these men’s money—they had no regard for their well-being, despite the fact that they witnessed families—fathers and sons—signing up in the hope of building better lives for their wives, parents, and children.