Back in 1994 I was working as a programmer/analyst in the defense contracting industry in Panama City Florida and for a variety of reasons I was getting desperate to get out of the defense business.  I started looking about for job opportunities all over the country and I was willing to consider almost any job as long as it wasn’t in defense contracting.  A guy contacted me who had seen my resume and was interested.  He was head of the testing department for a major company (I’d rather not say which one) that manufactured electronic circuit boards, and whose main manufacturing plant was located in Reynosa, Mexico.  Reynosa is located just across the Rio Grande from McAllen Texas.  I talked with the testing manager on the phone.  He wanted to bring me out to their plant for an interview.  I said I would do it.  He arranged for a plane ticket for me from Panama City to McAllen.

I got to the Panama City airport and the first problem I noticed was that there was no Continental terminal at that airport.  My flight was supposed to be on Continental.  I checked with an agent for another airline who checked my flight number and told me that I was booked on a flight from Panama City Canal Zone to McAllen, not from Panama City Florida!  So I went home and called my contact and told him the problem.  He did some checking and found that their travel agent had in fact screwed up and made the airline booking from the wrong city.  He arranged for the correct booking and I went back to the airport and flew to McAllen.  I was picked up at the airport and taken to a hotel.  I was supposed to be picked up next morning at 6:30 AM to be driven across the border to the plant for a day-long round of interviews with various people at the plant.

Next morning the day started off badly because the hotel’s restaurant didn’t open for breakfast until 7:00 and I had to be ready to be picked up at 6:30, so I missed breakfast.  Missing breakfast is usually kind of bad for me because, due to my quirky metabolism, I have to eat fairly regularly or else I don’t feel right at all.  If I go for a few hours without eating I get very dizzy and fuzzy-headed.  So anyway I’m picked up by the testing manager in a little van and we go on to the company’s McAllen offices and I’m greeted by one of the managers who asks me, “So you brought your birth certificate, right?”  Uh, no.  I did not know I needed to bring my birth certificate.  He said that I was told I needed to bring my birth certificate for the security check at the border crossing.  I was certain I’d been told no such thing but I didn’t want to get into an argument with the guy.  I tried to be tactful in my response but made it clear that I had no birth certificate because I didn’t know one was needed.  He sighed and shook his head and said, OK maybe we will be alright without it.

We went around in this van picking up the various American managers who live in McAllen and who work at the plant in Reynosa.  They were all middle-aged white guys.  They struck me as all being rather sophomoric and boorish.  This initial impression was confirmed as we continued on and they made a lot of racist and sexist jokes about all the Mexican women who we passed along the way.  I was thinking, these bozos are the managers of the plant?  They talked like frat boys at a keg party.

At the plant I was interviewed by the head plant manager, the testing manager, and several other managers, basically all of the jerks who I rode over in the van with.  The management team consisted of about 9 guys, and all but one of these managers was from the USA.  None of them, except the one manager who was a Mexican, impressed me as having much intelligence.  Then the testing manager told me he wanted me to meet with the testing engineering team he was in charge of, although he warned me that those guys were “not very smart” and “almost useless.”  I met with the test engineers, all of whom were Mexicans.  Contrary to the manager’s pessimistic assessment, I found all of these Mexican engineers to be smart and knowledgeable.  They were also very clear communicators and did a great job of explaining to me how the automated testing of the circuit boards worked.  I got the impression that it was the testing manager himself who was out of touch with what was going on (he certainly didn’t seem very technically knowledgeable himself).  The engineers who worked for him seemed like they knew what they were doing.

Lunch time came and went and no one offered me anything for lunch.  By afternoon I was definitely feeling dizzy from the lack of food and it was getting harder for me to think clearly.  We toured the factory floor, where a couple of thousand young Mexican women (no men worked on the factory floor for some reason) worked on assembly lines.  We met and talked with some other people.  I’m not sure that I was fully conscious of who I was meeting with.  Things started to get very hazy for me.  I was losing track of where I was.  It took all of the concentration I could summon just to stand, walk, talk and do other ordinary movements.  I was so dizzy I had no idea what I was saying to people and I just hoped I was saying things that were somewhat coherent.  Finally at the end of the day the group got back in the van and drove back to McAllen.  The testing manager took me out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant.  I got something to eat just in time because I thought I might actually keel over if I went any longer without food.  Over dinner it became clear that he wanted to hire me.  He sensed I was reluctant and tried to talk up the job opportunity.  I was non-committal.

When I finally got back home I was left with a bad feeling about the whole experience.  This was mainly because of the appalling arrogance, stupidity and bigotry of all of the American managers I’d encountered.   There were approximately 3,000 people working in that plant, all but about 8 of whom were Mexicans.  And those 8 men were the top-level management of the plant, and they were all fools.  It also did not speak well of them that nobody seemed the least bit concerned that I had to go almost a whole day without eating anything and that I was in some distress on that account.

And from a more existential point of view I was bothered by the fact that this company’s plant is in Reynosa at all, because of course the only reason it’s south of the Rio Grande instead of north of it is because they can get away with paying the workers a lot less money there.  Which implies that the Mexicans are somehow worth less than the Americans, and this implication bothers me.  I know that from a practical point of view, locating this plant in Mexico is probably a very good thing for the Mexicans because it brings a lot of additional job opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have, but on an impractical, idealistic level I’m still bothered by America’s longstanding assumption that Mexicans are worth less than we are.

I declined the job offer, and a year later I found myself in Ithaca, New York, which is another story.

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