Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mexican Migrants Send Money Home `Lost Manpower' Becomes Venture Capital

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mexican Migrants Send Money Home `Lost Manpower' Becomes Venture Capital

Article excerpt

The first time Salvador Espinoza went north looking for work, he was 16 and so broke that he had to walk the 1,400 miles from his hometown to the Mexicali border crossing.

Forty years later, he commutes between his vegetable processing plant in Salinas, Calif., and his cattle ranch and hotel in Jerez in a maroon Cadillac with his name emblazoned on the side.

His collection of Stetsons, a red Corvette and a gold chain that ends with his initials set in diamonds have earned Espinoza the nickname "Pancho-dolares."

The poor rancher's son is not shy about sharing the secret of his success:

"America is a land of opportunity, if you work. But you have to work. I left Mexico, because I had no chance to better myself here."

His advice repeats the common wisdom that has sent generations of villagers north to seek their fortunes. In the process, half a dozen Mexican states have developed a migrant tradition that has transformed rural hamlets into international communities.

Just as there are no good estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in the United States - figures range from 3.5 million to 8 million - no one really knows what proportion of Mexicans migrate rather than put down roots in the United States. But the number is large - a majority, most researchers say.

The most successful immigrants, like Espinoza, become employers.

After his three-month hike to Mexicali, Espinoza roamed America for two years, getting jobs wherever he could as a farm worker or on construction cleanup crews. He eventually became a contractor in California's Central Valley, finding workers in Mexico for U.S. growers.

One Sunday, he filled a rented pickup with lettuce that pickers had left in the fields the week before and sold it for $1,000 to a business that cuts up vegetables for salads for fast-food restaurants. The next week, he rented two trucks. As the business grew, Espinoza planted his own lettuce, using a loan from his customer to rent the fields. "Even my daughters have chopped lettuce," he said. "I want my kids to know how money is made."

Now, he employs 400 people in Salinas, Calif. …

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