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The Permit that Never Expires

migrant tales from the Ozark hills and the Mexican highlands

By Philip Garrison

Publication Year: 2010

Philip Garrison keeps his eyes and ears open. And he also keeps an open mind. It helps that he’s bilingual, because a lot of his neighbors these days speak Spanish and he likes to know what’s on their minds. Like his epileptic friend Pera, who asks him to write a note in English to explain to her supervisor that she probably shouldn’t be cooking on a grill in case she has a seizure and falls into the flames. When Garrison asks her if she has a work permit, she replies,“Bueno. El que nunca vence.” The kind that never expires. That’s the sort of response he doesn’t forget.

There is a river, Garrison writes, that runs from Oaxaca to British Columbia. El flujo migratorio, he calls it. The migratory flow. But it isn’t a conventional sort of river. “It is made of neither rock nor water nor wind but only of motion, of momentum. And yet . . . it is the most compelling feature in the entire U.S. West,” he claims. Garrison has his feet planted firmly in the middle of this river of humanity, wondering why America is trying to build a wall along an actual river, the Rio Grande, to keep us separated from the mxicanos. All borders, he writes, exist mostly in the imagination—a point he proves decisively in this delightful book.

Garrison is an award-winning writer and this book shows why. Warm, witty, self-deprecating, and charming (the list could go on), this collection illuminates the lives of these migrants, whether at the local food bank in Ellensburg, Washington, in the streets of Michoacán, or everywhere in between.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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pp. vii-x

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El Dolorgullo

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pp. 1-9

Pera has what she calls la epilexia—and can’t afford pills to control it—and last week she had three attacks. So early this morning, when she caught me standing in the Fred Meyer checkout line—me with three grocery carts of donated bakery goods—she got an idea. She wondered if I would write a note in English to her shift supervisor so she wouldn’t ...

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Three Notes on Usage

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pp. 10-11

To begin with, Mexicans have no ready-to-hand term for most of the thirty million souls who inhabit the country just north of them, calling them los gringos, or los güeros even. Certainly, the 10 to 15 percent of the United States that calls itself African American would reject those labels, but that community represents still another ...

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pp. 12-13

The year she turned twelve, Ermelinda Jim

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Eloquent Gesture

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pp. 15-19

If you grew up in dry, rolling, huizache country—like my buddy Carlos— tree planting in the Pacific Northwest took your breath away. Carlos had never seen trees the size of what came out of the Cascade foothills on logging trucks. He climbed and planted and climbed, and at every corner, there was a backdrop to spin your head. ...

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The Expatriation of Esperanza L

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pp. 20-24

At age four, she told people, she could read her older sister’s first-grade books. And a year later—after a summer’s exposure to tourist kids in the swimming pool at a Holiday Inn where her mother cleaned rooms— she decided she spoke English. And so one day, in English, with a Texas accent, she announced that she wanted to move to Fort Worth. ...

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On the Topic of Immigration

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pp. 25-29

Tires crunch my driveway. Mole tunnels crosshatch the four truckloads of dirt we brought in to cover the glacier-ground rocks we built on. Five big sage plants are blooming yellow, and a morning glory vine slithers through dead ryegrass, and quail peck at roots. Walking up the driveway, waving, ...

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The Life and Times of Ike Garrison

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pp. 30-42

Because he was the kind of guy born to believe in larger purposes, Ike decided, in 1894, to put Republic, Missouri, behind him. He meant to seek his fortune out in Grover Cleveland’s America—which wasn’t at all a bad idea, apart from how it worked out. We have to consider the times. In the last ten years of the nineteenth century, it was new notions the country went wild over, ...

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Adventures in the Old Country

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pp. 43-50

My last academic term before retiring, I get room and board and a regular U.S. salary to live in Morelia, Michoacán—half a day’s ride from where I used to live in the Mexican highlands—while teaching a single course to eight students: readings and field trips. Like the Migration Studies Program it is part of, ...

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A True Account

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pp. 51-56

It was from El Salto, Jalisco, that I set out, half a lifetime ago, on a wild goose chase so intricate I haven’t got to the end of it yet. And I don’t expect to. For reasons soon to be apparent, I never told anyone about it—about that weekend, I mean, not that I really felt the urge to. ...

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pp. 57-74

When my bus pulls out, the big Mexican sky reflects in a puddle, and then trails nopal, rock fence, concrete telephone poles, cows, and cut banks. I’m headed to El Salto, Jalisco, to celebrate the eighty-second birthday of doña Marta, the matriarch, on the edge of Alzheimer’s, of a certain family—my compadre’s family—that I go back thirty-five years with. ...

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Carlos and Pera Were Lovers

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pp. 75-80

One Saturday afternoon, in a corner at the food bank, while a dozen families lined up, nodding hello and talking about the snow-flurried roads that led east across the river into winter sagebrush, where clutches of trailers huddled, Pera and Carlos bagged masa. Scraps of onion skin scattered on the floor. ...

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The Expatriation of Miguel Sevilla O

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pp. 81-93

Because he practiced English day and night, he was ready the morning the state university called. They needed someone to interpret for an investigator, a certain doctora in her fifties—khaki shorts, briefcase, sandals— who went around asking questions about the local diet. She had a grant to study it. ...

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pp. 94-106

Don Luis is rubbing his hands together, ready for a little conversation. After years of making layoff decisions, and laughing off the effect it had on him, as well as on the guys his decision threw out of work, nowadays don Luis—when he thinks about it—says that was how the world used to be. ...

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As Told To

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pp. 107-113

I began with an ordinary but open-ended question: how come, at retirement age, I wind up spending most of my time with young families caught up in el flujo? They confide in me, yes, and I keep scribbling notes about them, but what is the mutual attraction? True, they value certain character traits emphasized in my childhood. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816502226
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816528318

Publication Year: 2010