Illegal

Read a penetrating chapter from former Phoenix New Times investigative reporter Terry Greene Sterling's book: ILLEGAL: Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone

The warehouse carried the largest variety of candles Inocencio had ever seen. There were cases of Shut Up candles (you lit the candle, and by the time it burned out a few days later the person who’d badmouthed you would shut up) and cases of Come Back to Me candles (for jilted lovers) and cases of Jesus Malverde candles, to name a few.

Inocencio purchased a case of Virgin of Guadalupe prayer candles, a case of Mexican Coke in bottles, and a case of Fanta sodas. Soon we were driving down Indian School road in his old van, listening to cumbias.

The second warehouse was stocked with goods ranging from Love Rose tubes to baby diapers to manicure chairs.

Inocencio hoped to sell a lot of Mylar balloons on Valentine’s Day (he would rent a helium tank and fill the balloons at the dollar store) but he seemed stumped by one balloon that said: When I said I liked you I was Lion! I love you! I translated.

He didn’t say anything.

Inocencio chose instead a dozen bright pink balloons with the words You are my best friend and I love you! along with It’s a Girl! balloons and It’s a Boy! balloons, a large case of Soft and Silky Bathroom Tissue, and a big carton of bleach.

Back in the van, Inocencio got lost so we had a long time to talk. He told me Americans tended to have tidier yards than Mexicans. He told me the economy failed in part because immigrants had returned to Mexico. And he told me some immigrants cheated on their taxes claiming more children than they had, just so they’d get refunds. This infuriated Inocencio, who paid his taxes and wanted Americans to have good impressions of Mexican immigrants. “These cheats,” he said, “don’t make it easy for the rest of us.”

We drove around an industrial park, trying to find the small warehouse owned by the American who’d stopped by the dollar store just to get Inocencio’s business. The American worked with a lot of Mexican corner store owners, and unlike other wholesalers Inocencio patronized, the American delivered the goods to his customers in his delivery truck.

We finally found the warehouse. The American wasn’t around, but a Latina clerk greeted us. Inocencio spent almost an hour in the showroom, sniffing after shave, puzzling over boxes of cake mixes - he almost bought a case of spice cake mix, mistaking it for vanilla – pricing candies, soap. He purchased cases of Mentos, cases of cleaning products, several bags of Mexican candies, laundry soap, and a few boxes of cake mix.

The total bill for all three warehouses came to $391.21, and Inocencio had paid once with cash, and twice with his credit card from Wells Fargo Bank. He owed about $3,000 on the credit card, most of these expenses related to the store.

When we returned to the dollar store, Araceli helped him unload the soda and candles, the bleach and Mylar balloons.

I thought back to what she’d told me when we first met.

Mexican consumers, she told me, were impulse buyers who liked to enjoy themselves when they had the money to do it.

“They like to eat and they like to buy, eat and buy, eat and buy,” she’d said.

Inocencio and Araceli figured if Sheriff Joe had a change of heart and the recession let up and immigration reform got passed, they’d once again have a robust clientele who would eat and buy, eat and buy. They would hold out at the dollar store as long as they could, regardless of the personal sacrifices, because, honestly, they’d never been happier.

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