By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
So he called up Jorge and struck a deal with him. "I found this place where there's mayates," Ruiz told him. Jorge got excited and made Ruiz promise that he would buy the beer. Since they got to El Amanecer just before 2 a.m., there wasn't much time for drinking. Besides, they had to get down to business.
Because Ruiz had said that El Amanecer was a popular place for mayates, I went there thinking I'd find hard evidence as to why HIV is escalating among immigrants. But the men there were dancing with women, and if they were into other men, they were doing a good job of hiding it. A man in jeans, a white cowboy shirt and a white cowboy hat came up to the bar and ordered a Corona. He vigorously shook salt all over the lime stuffed into the lip of the bottle. The band's baleful little accordion--painted to resemble the Mexican flag--wheezed out a song about being drunk on love. No one was dancing, but a couple of cowboys in the bathroom were drunkenly talking with a guy who told them he was a chilango, from Mexico City. They joked with one another that they didn't care whom they ended up with at the end of the night.
A man sitting next to me at the bar assumed, because I was the only white man there, that I was interested in picking up a Latina. "You can have any of them here for $12 to $14," he said. They were the prostitutes Enrique referred to as "mujeres sucias," "dirty women." After all, no one believes that it's only through gay sex that HIV is increasing among immigrants. Enrique first heard about AIDS when he was 12, he said, and he heard that men who have sex with dirty women get AIDS, and then those men give it to other women, "como una cadena," like a chain. In his little hometown, though, he never heard about men getting AIDS from gay sex.
Talking to a mayate requires the ability to stomach public humiliation, something Ruiz has learned to endure while conducting Southwestern's behavioral study. The night Ruiz took Jorge to El Amanecer, "there were some guys dancing with women," he recalls, "and there were some guys standing by the bar by themselves, not really blending in but not standing out too much." The lights came on and everyone started to amble out. Jorge and Ruiz stood by the door, where some mayates noticed them and delivered a few taunting catcalls. Jorge whistled alluringly right back and blew them kisses. "Some of them called us muchachas," Ruiz says. "And then they would say jokingly, but halfway-serious, 'I'll get the blondie and you get the bigger one.'" (Ruiz had blond highlights at the time.)
"It served my purpose, because it proved that there were guys there that were willing to go home with another guy," Ruiz points out. "Unfortunately, it didn't yield the 75 percent that was required in our protocol to conduct our research."
But he knows that having a girlfriend in Mexico and occasionally having sex with men in the United States is, at the very least, a complicated situation. "We don't put words on everything like you all do," he says. "We don't have all the labels that they have in America to describe ourselves."
He told me that he wanted to go back to Mexico for Christmas, and when I called him late last month, his apartment mates told me he had already left. He missed his family, but he wanted to see his girlfriend most of all.
It would have taken him about a day and a half by bus to get back to his rancho, his little hometown. Many AIDS workers in the United States have been worrying about Enrique's trips back home, and the trips of all the other male immigrants who go back home and have sex with their wives or girlfriends. The University of California's university-wide AIDS Research Program published a study in November that found that HIV rates are three times as high among Mexican migrant workers in California as in the general population, and that pregnant women at Tijuana General Hospital are four times more likely to have HIV than the general population in both Mexico and the United States.
But Enrique wasn't thinking about AIDS data. Back in Mexico, "everyone knows me," he said, and he wouldn't have to scrounge around for work or pay a woman to have sex. He, for one, isn't worried about his health. "Some people have diseases," he said, "and some people don't."