- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

SANTA MARIA TEPANTLALI, Mexico In the fictional village of San Gumer, an impoverished young man's thoughts are candied by images of U.S. dollars, the Statue of Liberty, hamburgers and blondes posing with brand-new cars.
"It's a paradise, brother," a veteran migrant named Checho devilishly tells Berny, the naive country youth who has lost his factory job and is tempted to migrate illegally from Mexico to the "Yunaites Staites."
From this scene forth, an unhappy tale of dashed dreams unfolds on the pages of a new comic book designed to show that illegal migration is no laughing matter. The 20-page comic features heroes and villains, tearful mothers, grieving widows and sage village elders.
"What Are You Betting When You Migrate, Oaxacan?" is based on true stories blended into a cautionary tale by the State Office for Attention to Migrants in Mexico's southern Oaxaca state.
The comic is a popular attempt to reach people in a state where migration has emptied some villages of all their young men and some of their young women. Journeys over the border are claiming more and more lives.
Oaxaca has a healthy tourism industry, but it is also home to vast numbers of poor villages, including towns in regions where little Spanish is spoken and where migration has exploded during the past two decades.
Many villages rely heavily on dollars sent back by migrants who have settled, legally and illegally, in the United States.
"We came up with the comic book because we wanted to demystify the idea that everything goes great for the migrant. It's very true that some do quite well. But for others, there is a big price," said Aida Ruiz, director of Oaxaca's migrant office.
As long as there is no migration accord between Mexico and the United States, which the presidents of both countries promised, Mrs. Ruiz said, "We want our migrants to be informed of what their rights are and what to watch out for."
On the cover of the comic, thuggish smugglers, bandits and a menacing U.S. Border Patrol agent greet a frightened migrant as he comes upon a sign in English that reads, "Welcome to USA."
In the fictional story, bandits in the Arizona desert descend on a migrant and kill him with a pistol blast to the back when he tries to save his wife from being raped.
Since November, Mrs. Ruiz's staff has distributed 20,000 copies of the Spanish-language comic in towns throughout Oaxaca. The office intends to translate the book into some of Oaxaca's main indigenous languages.
Last year 24 Oaxacans died crossing the border, including a 12-year-old girl. Many perished from dehydration, but three men were found fatally shot in the Arizona desert under circumstances the FBI is investigating.
Oaxaca's population is less than 3.5 million, but about 2 million people of Oaxacan origin live in the United States. Most are concentrated in California and Oregon, but increasingly they are in other states, including Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York.
As part of the state's information campaign, two of Mrs. Ruiz's aides recently took their lecture and a stack of comics to the town of Santa Maria Tepantlali, a Mixe (pronounced "Mee-hay") Indian village at the end of a twisting road about 100 miles southeast of the state capital, also named Oaxaca.
Townsfolk greeted the aides with a village brass band and a roasted bull, Cokes, Squirts and mescal.
Santa Maria's neatly painted one-room adobe houses and its tidy public buildings showed ambition and modest prosperity.
A few donated computers sat on tables in a small library, and everyone seemed to have electricity, if not toilets. The town has a junior high school but no high school.
Santa Maria used to have a toehold in the world coffee market, and the beans the farmers produced here fetched enough income to keep most men close to home.
During the past two years, however, world prices have crashed, and the town is bubbling with fear that more of their youth will choose to migrate.
Many have gone to work as menial laborers in Mexico City or the state capital. Perhaps a dozen men of a village population of less than 2,000 have found their way to Philadelphia to work.

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