PCC Professor David S. McCabe’s new novel puts a human face on complex US-Mexico border issues
By Sara Cardine 06/29/2012
“Whether they’re stringing barbed wire or drawing imaginary lines of longitude and latitude, (people) tend to want to carve up whatever corner of the world they find themselves in and call it their own. It’s a primordial instinct imprinted on us and it is just as strong as the drive that sets us longing to see whatever might lay beyond the horizon. For as long as there have been people wanting to migrate someplace, there have been other people wanting to stop them.”
This journal entry from US Border Patrol Agent and former Navy Seal Garrett Harrison, the main character in a new novel, “Without Sin,” demonstrates the moral ambiguities behind policies and relationships along the US-Mexican border. Written by Pasadena City College Professor David S. McCabe and released April 15 by Sunshine Press, “Without Sin” attempts to put a human face on the complexities that unfold in the lives of immigrants and the Americans who interact with them on a daily basis.
The novel tells the tale of Harrison, a PTSD-wracked Iraq War veteran now headquartered in Potrero, a “cotton mouthed, dreary-eyed hangover of a town that lies curled up like a sidewinder rattlesnake southeast of San Diego.” Against all odds, Harrison falls in love with Angelina, a young Mexican woman forced to work as a prostitute. As their improbable love story unfolds, McCabe explores the deeper, darker issues immigrants sometimes face in their quest for a better life.
Today, from 5 to 7 p.m., McCabe will be at Lucky Baldwin’s, 17 S. Raymond Ave., in Old Pasadena, for a reading and book signing. For $25, patrons will be treated to a copy of “Without Sin” along with a beer or appetizer. All are welcome to take part in a larger discussion to follow about the writing process and the challenges faced by new and aspiring authors.
For McCabe himself, an education professor and coordinator of PCC’s Teacher Preparation Program, “Without Sin” evolved from several different sources, some personal and others inspired by a growing concern about human rights abuses occurring in border towns.
A longtime California resident who lives with wife Lisa and 6-year-old son Carter on a ranch in the small town of Nuevo and commutes 150 miles to and from Pasadena, McCabe has always taken a personal interest in his students, some of whom are undocumented immigrants who came to the United States with their parents as small children and know no other way of life.
Through them, he has come to learn of the difficulties they face in the pursuit of an education, jobs and otherwise normal lives — some don’t even know they are illegal until they attempt to get a job, scholarship or driver’s license, he says. The connection McCabe has to his students’ welfare, combined with a lifelong interest in issues of justice and fairness, provide a general backdrop for “Without Sin.” But the author cites two other occurrences that played a concrete role in bringing the book’s issues and characters to life.
Fears run deep
In the mid-1990s, while working as a second-grade teacher at Park Avenue Elementary School in Perris, McCabe saw firsthand how constantly fearful undocumented students are of being caught and deported by immigration police. On the way back from a fieldtrip to the San Diego Zoo, their van passed a border patrol checkpoint near Escondido. A student shouted, “La Migra!” the slang term used for immigration enforcement, and seven or eight kids instantly hit the floor.
“I’m laughing at first, thinking it’s funny, that they’re joking around. Then I saw one of my students, Patricia. There were tears in her eyes,” he recalls. “All the students who ducked down were terrified these men were going to come and take them away. I realized this is the fear these kids and their families face every day.”
McCabe never forgot that moment and, from that point on, made a personal commitment to help students and their families access resources that could help them. In 2009, he participated in a 70-mile walk from Sásabe, Mexico, to Tucson, Ariz., under the direction of the nonprofit Coalition of Derechos Humanos (Human Rights) to show his solidarity with people who make the dangerous journey northward each day.
“I was never the same again,” he explains. “Nobody would do this, would make this hike and leave their families, unless they were desperate to leave and things were so bad at home.”
Another inspiration for “Without Sin” came in 2007, when McCabe read an article about an FBI raid of a sex-trafficking ring in Oceanside, where young girls were forced to have sex with migrant workers under threat of death.
“The youngest of the girls was only 12 years old,” McCabe says. “When I read that it really hit me hard, because I was an educator. To imagine one of my own students, one of those little girls, was heartbreaking.”
When McCabe personally visited the camp a few months after the raid, he was shocked at what he found. Built at the edge of a strawberry field, the camp was separated from a well-kept residential neighborhood by a patch of tall reeds that completely covered the camp’s makeshift huts.
“I saw there were blankets and burlap sacks laid down, and plastic bags tied up. Inside the plastic bags, there were tissues and used condoms — it was back in business again,” he recalls. “The sense of despair was overwhelming, and I decided I’ve got to write this story.”
Threat of deportation
Despite the dramatic plotlines in “Without Sin”— which involve the murder of two female drug mules and a teenager forced into prostitution after being lured from her home with promises of marriage and a better life — McCabe drew from his personal experiences with present and former students and their own stories to provide a vivid picture of the realities undocumented people face.
“In the past few years, two of my students have been deported. One of my students was on her way to school, and she was driving and got pulled over by ICE [US Immigration Customs Enforcement] agents,” he says.
Another student, who’d read the Jon Krakauer book “Into the Wild,” decided to visit Salton City during a Labor Day holiday, was stopped in a portable checkpoint and was eventually deported, despite having no close family members in Mexico.
In addition to its intrusiveness in daily affairs, the pervasive fear of deportation often prevents people from coming forth and speaking out about human rights abuses against illegal immigrants, according to Marisa Ugarte, executive director for the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition. Comprising 60 nonprofit groups and governmental agencies in the US and Latin America, BSCC works to prevent and intervene in human trafficking along and beyond the border.
Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are being exploited and used as labor and/or sex slaves in the US by known criminals, who threaten to kill them and their families if they escape or tell others of the trafficking ring.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that this is occurring, Ugarte says, Mexican authorities are reluctant to intervene, because the resultant deportations would have a negative economic impact on Mexico itself.
“The Mexican Consulate is afraid if they stop the rapes, [authorities] are going to deport everybody,” she says. “They don’t care about the victims as long as migrant workers keep sending money home to Mexico.”
Faces behind numbers
Since 2004-05, the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition has intervened in 92 cases of international trafficking in San Diego County. Ugarte says those numbers would be higher if people only knew they would not be deported for reporting human rights abuses.
In her praise for “Without Sin,” Ugarte writes: “McCabe renders the personal horror that thousands of young undocumented women experience daily. Weaving social commentary into a compelling and entertaining story is a task few writers can accomplish.”
McCabe admits that as immigration as a national issue continues to grow, it will become even more important to remember that behind every issue are real human beings, with hopes, dreams and fears that should not be forgotten.
“The media tends to paint with a broad brush on either side,” he says. “What I’ve tried to do is put a human face on who the undocumented really are.” n
PCC Professor and author David S. McCabe will read from and sign copies of “Without Sin,” his first novel and second published book, at Lucky Baldwin’s in Old Pasadena, 17 S. Raymond Ave., from 5 to 7 p.m. tonight. For $25, attendees receive a beer or appetizer and a copy of the book. To contact Lucky Baldwin’s, call (626) 795-0652.