One summer afternoon, in 2007
The sun is merciless in the sky. It is midday, when the painters take their lunch, in the shade of whatever tree, whatever building, or whatever corner is close by the day’s work. They leave, for forty-five minutes, that work. They leave, for forty-five minutes, the brushes, the jars of paint (brick red and sandy beige), the hoses. They come down from the stepladders, down from the steps of the porticos. They come down from the sides of the buildings, down from the roofs. They take out their food, they gather around the old and dirty microwave, and they talk, their faces and their arms and their white workclothes spattered with paint. With paint in their hair, in their eyelashes, on their cheeks, with paint on their fingers, they sit on their haunches, they lean on the barriers, they stretch out on the pavements and on the asphalt. They rest. They rest and they talk and they eat their lunch, made by aunts, by sisters, by sisters-in-law, by cousins — made sometimes by themselves — at home this morning. The food is from Guatemala, because they are, each and every one, from there.
They have overcome much to travel here, looking for work and the promise of, one day, if they work very hard, a better life. They have confronted insecurity and hunger and great danger. They have overcome bandits south of the border, and the police both south and north. And with their lives here, the difficulties have not ceased. They are far from their families, far from their friends, far from their girlfriends and wives, far from everything that they know, in a country fathomless and increasingly unfriendly. They frequently live here with someone from the family who arrived earlier, sometimes many years ago, someone who is making a life here now, with a wife and children. They live with family, but they often feel like intruders, in homes already full of people, without a place of their own. To make things worse, they come here to earn money, to build a future, but they arrive here already in debt to someone, here or back home, for the cost of the passage. The journey is costly and they have borrowed the money for it from someone.
All in all, they have ventured even death to arrive here, but now they must endure a life of privation, like a small death every day. They work hard and they enjoy little. They’re not able to leave the house without fear. Although they work (and grow old) in the sun, they inhabit the shadows. And everything, everything, here is expensive. More than that, the majority of these painters are very young and they don’t — in this moment, in this lunch, and likely not for a very long time — know the price they will in the end have paid. And whether, in the end, that price is worth what it has cost.