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Tucson Weekly The New World Border

The Maquiladora Industry Has Transformed Nogales, Sonora.

By John Dougherty and David Holthouse

NOVEMBER 23, 1998:  Virginia's a bad girl, and she's good at it. Eighteen years old, with a nightclub walk that purrs. Long, auburn hair. Tall and sleek, with cinnamon-sprinkled skin. She could be a model if she weren't a factory worker.

It's Friday night. Party time. Virginia clocked out two hours ago, cashed her 450 peso ($53) weekly paycheck, and went straight to Coco Loco (Crazy Coconut).

A downtown discotheque two blocks from the border, Coco Loco is the club of choice for hundreds of young Nogales plant workers with a taste for sex, cocaine and bass-heavy Miami techno music.

The sun's still up, but Virginia's dressed for midnight--tight, black designer jeans and a black lace bra under a creamy, sheer silk blouse. She sips her beer and writhes to the music.

Swirling in the strobe lights, dancers grind and grope beneath Canadian, Mexican and American flags, tacked together at the corners.

Every week, Virginia comes here for the payday blowout. Factory workers get into Coco Loco free on Fridays, and there's a frenzy on the sidewalk outside, where security guards in black fatigues check employee IDs and frisk for weapons.

Inside, the anxious throng ascends a narrow staircase, leaving another 48-hour week on the assembly line behind. Lubricating the steamy melange are drinks with names such as Slippery Nipple, Sex Drive and Flaming Doctor Pepper for 15 pesos ($1.75) a pop. Beer is 40 pesos ($4.70) for an iced bucket of seven, 10-ounce Tecate bottles.

Behind the men's-room door, a cluster of vatos dressed for a hip-hop video--baggy jeans, shades, Tommy Hilfiger pullovers--snort cocaine by the sink. The floor is littered with used coke bindles.

Most Coco Loco patrons work in American-owned factories called maquiladoras. They earn about $1 an hour for mind-numbing labor.

Tonight, they're wearing expensive urban costumery and doing expensive things. Tomorrow they'll wake up in cramped apartments or squatter shacks, a day or two's wages gone.

Virginia moved to Nogales in March 1997 from Sinaloa, 700 kilometers to the south. There was nothing to do there, she complains. No jobs. No fun. The word in Sinaloa was, Nogales had both. The word was right.

Two days after she got off the bus, Virginia was hired by Milotec, a maquiladora owned by Tucson-based Atronix Inc. For eight months, she assembled computer cables, earning 315 pesos ($37) a week. Now, she works in quality control, and makes 450 weekly.

What does she spend her money on?

Virginia purses her lips, thinking. Well, first there's rent, 600 pesos ($71) a month for a one-bedroom apartment, split four ways with three other girls from Milotec.

Also, she sends money home to her mother and spends a lot on makeup and clothes.

And where does any left over go?

Virginia stretches her arms up, Egyptian style. "¡Coco Loco!"

Read the rest of the story from Phoenix New Times at:


Contact John Dougherty at his online address: jdougherty@newtimes.com

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: dholthouse@newtimes.com

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