Unfulfilled Dreams 

The lure of a better life in the United States ends in dark despair for some Mexican immigrants.

Jimmy Breslin makes no bones about it--we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

It is not a new message, certainly not for Breslin. He is a skilled, old-school reporter in the best sense of the word and he has chiseled out a career pointing fingers at high-priced hypocrites and crooks while fighting for the underclass.

He has a stunning résumé, especially when one ponders how long ago Breslin could have cashed in the chips of his four-decade-old reputation and gotten fat on the TV pundit circuit or perhaps something even more whorish. But anyone who has followed Breslin--anyone who is a fan of his--knows it is not something he would do. What makes him tick is his dedication to his readers and his shoe-leather abilities as a reporter and columnist.

Here he delivers a heartbreaking story of people trying--and failing--to make it in an unfriendly land. In this case the hostile landscape is the United States and the newcomers are a group of illegal Mexican immigrants who travel north of the border in hopes of earning a living. One in particular, Gutiérrez, of the title, takes center stage. He dreams American dreams, leaves his family and tiny Mexican village and sneaks across the border, eventually making his way to Brooklyn--Breslin's turf. There, crammed into a tiny apartment with a dozen or so equally desperate illegals, Gutiérrez begins a brief, grim career as an American laborer.

It doesn't last long. Gutiérrez makes the cover of The New York Times when the rickety building he is working on collapses, dropping him to his death in wet concrete. Actually it is not Gutiérrez who makes headlines, but rather the Hasidic developer who regularly hired cut-rate, illegal workers such as Gutiérrez and then put them to work on lethal job sites. The fact that the developer, Eugene Ostreicher, had a history of safety violation notices in his back pocket and fund-raising ties to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration only adds to the pathetic scope of the story.

In Breslin's dark retelling of the tale everyone--Giuliani, Ostreicher and a host of others--is guilty. They all have their hands in the tragedy because they help stoke a system that looks the other way while bargain-basement workers and sweatshop laborers operate in the shadows. Politics, business and money join hands. Corruption is everywhere.

To make his point, Breslin recounts one Big Apple scandal involving the Skver Hasidic group, which operates a dairy company and maintains ties to a Brooklyn "college." The school is a sham and it drains $40 million from the Pell Grant student aide system in its decade of operation. Breslin calls Pell Grants "American government at its most indescribably beautiful" and the four people who operate the school end up in jail. For awhile anyway. Later, after Hilliary Clinton meets with Skver officials as she courts the Hasidic vote in her bid at the Senate, her husband pardons the four felons.

Everyone is guilty.

And in this case, the stream of guilt starts in Mexico where high-priced coyotes take family fortunes from their clients for the promise of delivery to the Holy Land of the U.S. Once here, most of the immigrants might as well be on Saturn. In one dramatic scene Breslin follows Gutiérrez through a nine-hour nightmare that unfolds after he steps onto the wrong subway. Unable to speak English, Gutiérrez ends up in an unfamiliar part of New York trying to make his way back to his dank apartment.

No one knows better than Breslin that this brand of bleeding heart populism does not play well these days. On a recent radio show, Breslin took calls from the audience as he promoted his new book. One suspicious Tucson listener phoned in two questions for the author. He wondered if Breslin planned to stay in contact with the Gutiérrez family now that the book was complete and he asked if the family would be partaking in any of the profits the author realized.

The implication was not missed and Breslin assured the caller that he was in constant contact with the Mexican family as they worked their way through the legal maze of suing Ostreicher and his company. As to the second question, regarding the money, Breslin had only this to say:

"It's a book about Mexicans. Who's going to read it?"

More by Jeff Hinkle

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    New books consider two famous Americans and their newspaper roots.
    • Jan 30, 2003
  • Two Thumbs Down

    A harsh film critic takes a sharp look at the film industry.
    • Dec 19, 2002
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