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“What a vivid portrayal of the Arizona immigrant underground. Illegal is not afraid to show the bad decisions immigrants make along with their resilience and strength of spirit. This is the total picture, a heartbreaking one in a state that has chosen to demonize its Mexican residents.”
—Tony Ortega, editor in chief, The Village Voice
Terry Greene Sterling: “Here’s a taste of the book, from Chapter 10, Dairy People. Over the span of a few months, I visited Eduardo and Juana and their kids at a dairy on the outskirts of Phoenix.”
Eduardo had climbed as high as he could in the dairy. He was the de facto veterinarian, a prestigious position. He understood the science behind dairy cow diets, how to proportion maize, cotton seed, silage, barley, millet, DDE, alfalfa, green almond leaves, grapefruit, oranges, and cantaloupe. Eduardo was also in charge of the cow infirmary, a lean-to near the corrals with a refrigerator full of medicines and carefully kept logs with Spanish headings in uneven handwriting.
Este mes vender. Sell this month.
Este mes muerto. Dead this month.
Tienes que escribirlo. Tienes tu pluma y libretto? You have to write it down. Do you have your pen and notebook?
Next to the dairy infirmary was a chute where Eduardo treated the sick cattle. Eduardo knew when a cow was taking ill. She became triste, or sad. Her behavior would change. She would stand apart from other cows. She wouldn’t eat. Eduardo would check her for diarrhea, constipation, fever. He would figure out the proper remedy—fever reducer, penicillin, Terramyacin, doses of mineral oil. Sometimes, cows would collapse after giving birth and would be unable to get up. He would give these animals calcium and Dexamethasone, and soon they would improve. Occasionally, a cow might act crazy, biting and licking the air. Such animals might have given up so much milk that their internal blood sugar was unbalanced, and Eduardo knew the exact doses of dextrose that would heal the cows in five days. He could also perform surgery. Say a cow had an infected hoof. Eduardo would load the cow in the chute, secure her with belts so she couldn’t move, administer an anesthetic, and then cut her cloven hoof with a lathe-like tool. He’d dig out the infected parts, sand the hoof, then pack the clean wound with antibiotics. Sometimes, a cow would get “blue bag,” a staph infection that ate away at a cow’s tender udder. He would doctor the suffering animals with antibiotics, and took pride when they survived.
He had a special compassion for las pobrecitas vacas, the poor cows. “These cows don’t have a very good life,” he once told me. He knew the cows would live only a few years before they could not give sufficient milk and would be slaughtered, just as he knew the young calves that were taken from their sides were regularly butchered for veal. This was the way life was, and there was nothing he could do about it. It was his job to keep the cows healthy when they were alive. For this, he earned an annual salary of about $24,000, plus the free trailer.
~Excerpted from ILLEGAL, Life and Death in Arizona’s Immigration War Zone, by Terry Greene Sterling © Globe Pequot Press Guilford, Connecticut