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Mexican Coco

I smile at Coco these mornings and she has begun to smile back. She waters the trees and gardens at the club where I swim. She scrubs down the tiled patio decks and terraces. Her smile comes from inside coils of commercial-strength garden hose. She wears them around her sturdy shoulders like a giant's necklace.

Still, her smile is wise and proud, the smile of a woman at peace. If she can do what she's doing and still flash me that eloquent smile, I know I can do what I need to do that day.

One morning, I risked intruding on her peace. I said, "You must get a very early start."

I spoke slowly in case English was not her first language. She turned dark eyes straight into mine. All she had needed was a friendly buenas dias. Now we share blurts of conversation.

I know, for instance, that Coco's alarm goes off in Tijuana at a quarter to three each morning. She wakes her two sisters by phone, then drives them north ahead of border traffic lines.

She drops one sister at a San Diego country club to unlock its housekeeping office. The other stops at a mission bay resort hotel, where she is a senior maid. All this has been going on for about four years.

I know that her sisters don't drive. And because I grew up Anglo and think this way, I say to her, "Then you will teach them, won't you? So they can help take turns with the driving?"

She shifts the mighty weight of the hoses to her other shoulder and stares as though I have missed the point.

"No, no!", she says. "My sisters cannot drive, and that is all right. I like to drive. If we get across the border early, we finish sleeping in the car until time to work."

In their jobs and their tenure, the sisters are aristocrats among the fifteen thousand or so who commute each day from Tijuana to serve San Diegans.

We see others step off San Diego city buses on their way to domestic jobs after a three hour commute, their faces seeming as stoic as an Orozco mural.

We don't often remember how essential such people are to life on each side of San Diego's border. They are part of the human traffic along the most populous border metropolis in the Western Hemisphere.

The traffic soars despite a century of debate, of shifting laws, and moral judgments. Its terms and consequences are continually disputed, but it has become an immutable economic force that neither nation intends to halt.

In San Diego we profit from the hereditary dedication that many Mexican people bring to their work, whatever it may be. For generations, work has come to mean food.

They return northward each day, never seeming to dwell on the searing economic imbalance along this border, the one they call "la frontera?. But Americans and Mexicans on both sides of this churning border are the most likely people on earth to begin to help heal its deep troubles.

From both sides, we could try to bring more tolerance and wisdom to its daily affairs. It could begin, I believe, if everyone met someone like Coco.