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José Muñoz

 

is a Chicano author of the novel, To See It Through. His imagination was nurtured while growing up in the agricultural town of Lamont, California.

The Awakening of Benny Benavides

 

     Benny Benavides was happy it was Thursday afternoon. It had been a long, hot work week, but now it was winding down and almost party time. He saw his crew clean up their work areas for the day, which allowed him one last opportunity to fuck with the newbies. He turned off his truck, stepped out and walked up to the youngest of his crew and began to berate him, extra loud so that everyone could hear. “Carl Craft, what am I goin’ to do with you kid? What did I tell you about the importance of cleaning your tools? Tools are your friend, so you must treat them with respect. Now look at this bullshit over here?” He pointed with his fingers. “This pipe wrench is fucking drenched with grease and is a safety hazard. Are you retarded, or just a little slow?” He looked around to make sure everyone heard him, and he had a pleased smile on his face.


     “I’m sorry, I’ll clean it up immediately,” replied Carl, as he retrieved a rag from his back pocket and then wiped the pipe wrench clean.


     “Craft, let this be the last time I have to tell you. You do know that there are ten people waiting for you to fuck up so they could take your job? Be better tomorrow, Craft,” said Benny with a scowl.

 

     “All right, bring it up! Bring it up!” Benny waited until the men gathered. “We are finished with this site tomorrow. We’ll leave at noon, so when we get back to the shop, you can pick up your checks and start getting drunk for all I care. Just don’t be lagging on Monday morning or you’ll be on my shit list. Let’s go back to the shop.” 

     Benny Benavides had been with the company since high school. He worked his way up from green Roustabout, to Motorman, to Derrick man to finally becoming a Driller, or as he liked to call it, a Tool Pusher. He worked hard, and he’d always been abrasive to people, but the oil workers under his tutelage knew that he cared about them and their safety, thought Benny had an unconventional way of showing it. Benny was old school. When a person was assigned to his crew, he worked with them, he taught them, but he also expected hard work from all and for them to be a quick study. Those that had trouble paying attention to detail felt his wrath, and quickly grew thicker skin working under Benny.   


     Benny had just turned forty-one years old. He was living his dream of working for a company where he could hone his leadership skills. He enjoyed being the leader of men. He loved that his worth in the company corresponded to the results the company earned under his watch. Benny was okay with this because the production showed that his crew took care of business. Plus, the company worked fast when a mechanical issue developed. Benny looked at himself like a football coach, and every week the opponent was making sure their production quotas were better than the week before. Benny liked that his crew’s progress could be traced to increased oil production, because Benny thought it showed the bosses that he had the respect of his team. He was tough on the greenhorns, but if a person was assigned to his crew, they knew they’d be treated fair. Sure, they got a lot of shit from Benny, be it that someone was a Raiders fan, or music that Benny objected to, or if a worker was a bleeding-heart liberal, but if they landed on his crew, it was because they knew their jobs, and more importantly, were not a bunch of lazy shits that Benny detested with a passion.


# # #


     “Okay, good work on this site. Ya’ll kicked some ass and I appreciate it. I’m buying the first two rounds, so you fuckers don’t be too late, or my generosity will quickly disappear,” Benny announced. He looked over at the greenhorns who were standing next to each other, then said, “And to the fucking new guys,” FNG’s to the veterans of the crew, “you work in the oil fields, so don’t be ordering any sissy drinks. We’re beer drinkers!” The crew clapped and hollered, and even the newbies joined in.


     The crew met at Greenhorns; a watering hole close to the oil field industry district. The bar was a fabricated building, but the owner, Lawrence Lapinski, tried to put his own personal touches to the bar, so everything was painted black to get more depth. He even brought in wood paneling from the seventies, so his bar would stand out from the others that dotted the area. He wanted it to appeal to the men working in the area.


     “It’s about time, I was already looking at my watch and saying, ‘what the fuck,’” announced Benny, before taking a drink from his frosty twenty-four-ounce mug of delicious Modelo. The whole crew was together, and their server took their drink orders.


     It was a festive day. This was the last day on site, and the company was happy with their performance, and to top it all off, it was payday Friday. The mood was light, and everyone was enjoying themselves, as the start of the weekend had commenced for them.


     “Hey boss, I had to talk Craft out of ordering a goddamn white wine,” yelled Donald de Klerk, as he tried to show his comedic skills. Benny gave him the old finger across the neck and a dirty look.
Benny liked to use this bonding time with his crew to speak to the newly hired roustabouts, but he loved to use the term greenhorns. He understood, to them, he was just a screaming asshole who got to stay warm in the winter, and cool during the summer, and all from the confines of his company issued Ford F-250. “Craft! Come over here and sit next to me,” he said as he patted the seat cushion for emphasis. A tall young man of twenty-three with short brown hair appeared before him. “Ah, I see you’ve been doing some damage already. Look Craft, while I drink this truth serum with you, I want you to know that I’ve seen you work, and each week you will improve as you get to know more and more. Keep it up!” Craft listened to him and nodded his head, then Benny dispatched him back to the group with four quick pats on the back, which was code to Benny for ‘get the fuck out of my sight’.


# # #

 

     “Primo, are you home?” asked Brenda Benavides as she pounded on the heavy black screen door. After about a minute, she heard stirring inside and a muffled voice told her to hold on.


     Slowly Benny opened the door while still trying to remove the lagañas from his eyes. “Prima! Come in!” Brenda was Benny’s youngest cousin. She was nine years younger than Benny’s forty-one. “Sorry it took so long to answer, I took my crew out and you know how things go, but you know what they say about the importance of bonding.” He rolled his eyes in disgust.


     “Mom wanted me to bring you some real food for when Brigitte stays with you. Ya’ll can’t survive on Micky D’s alone.”


     Benny smiled at her and replied, “Thank you, but we don’t always eat at McDonalds.” He took the food containers and walked into the kitchen and put them on the counter. “Can I get you something?”


     “No Cuz, I’m just following orders. Mom said, and I quote, ‘Give Benny this food, last time I saw Brigitte, she had patas de araña. She must eat some real food.’”


     Benny smiled at Brenda’s comment. His tía was always so dramatic, but she did have a way with words that even if the insult was directed at him, it made him laugh. “Can I get you some coffee?”


     “Sure, I’ll have a cup.” Brenda walked into the kitchen and put two containers into the freezer. “My mom says to use blue container first.”


     “Sounds like my Tía Belinda is trying to get rid of some old food.” He smiled and put his right hand up, then added, “That’s a joke, or as kids say today JK, or so I’ve been told by my lovely daughter. So, que haces?”


     “After this, I’m going to do some phone banking to gather support   for what is occurring at the border.”


     “The Kids?”


     “How can you just say, ‘the kids’? Do you know what this child separation is going to do to children’s mental health?”


     “Well, they should stay their asses’ home in Mexico or wherever they come from,” said Benny, as they walked into the living room and sat on the sofa.


     “Primo, I know you like to sound like a chingon bad ass, law and order type, who is able to see the world in black and white,” replied Brenda, opening a box of chocolates that were on the coffee table, then took a bite before taking a sip of her coffee. “But the world is not black and white, there’s a lot of gray. You don’t know the circumstances of these people’s lives. What would make people try and make such a dangerous trip if their lives were not already fucked up?”


     “We can’t save everyone.”


     Brenda looked at him and then gnashed her teeth together . She was wearing a white tank top and some Levi shorts. Her black hair was tied in a bun and she shook her head. “You are the only Benavides that puts money over people. When you make a comment like that, you sound cold blooded Cuz, and putting economics ahead of people? I know you were taught well, but I don’t know what happened to your empathy gene.”


     “Chingado, stop talking politics.”


     “Cuz, it’s not about politics, it’s about thinking of others. You know there are more important things in the world than money.”


     “Look, my mom and dad went back to live in Mexico, and I stayed here and made my own way. Look at me now,” he replied, his arms extended outward for emphasis.


     “Yes, you’re one big bad Tejano, but where is your humanity? All you seem to care about is the bottom line, and you have a price tag for everything,” replied Brenda, as she shook her head. “All of our family was taught to have compassion. What happened to you, Primo?”


     Benny slowly took in a breath, trying not to blow his stack and say something he’d regret later, so he searched for the right words. “Look, I get it, you were born with the biggest heart in the family, and I must have got the leftovers, and that’s why I’m perceived as the chulero of the family. That’s okay, I can be blamed for whatever, I really don’t give a fuck, but that’s who I am.”


     Deep down Brenda knew Benny had a heart, and he always contributed to the family when needed, but he was seen as the family viendido, or sellout. Benny embraced his Republican political stance of getting ahead by working hard. Brenda knew he supported his politics because he feared opening the border could somehow affect his way of life. Brenda knew he was scared, and he wanted to hold on to what he had for as long as he could. She felt sorry for her cousin because his identity was closely related to what he did for a job. “Look Primo, we’ll never see eye to eye on this, but you’re still my family and I love you, and I don’t care about all the crazy shit you believe.” She tried to keep a straight face but failed. That made Benny smile and he walked up and gave her a hug.


     “Thank you, Prima, thanks for everything.” Brenda was the diplomat of the family, a conduit for communication for the family. Benny always gave her some leeway about her beliefs because she had such passion, but they had always been close, so she never caught his wrath. One thing about his cousin, she always had a way of making him see her point of view.


# # #


     Monday was set up day for the new work site. The night crew had done most of the work, and Benny’s crew made sure that everything was secure and safe. Everyone on the crew had their own responsibilities before the next shift arrived. Benny looked over at Craft and was happy to see that he was the hard worker Benny thought he could be. The crew’s last break was at four in the afternoon. Benny stalked around the site, making sure that everything was in order. As he checked the derrick, he heard his crew talking.


     “Well Monday’s about done,” announced Delton Dawson, another of the greenhorns.
Donald de Klerk heard the comment, then said, “Jesus Christ, this is our first day here, why are you making a big deal about it?”


     “I was just making small talk, trying to keep things positive,” replied Dawson.


     “Leave him alone de Klerk. What? Are you still hungover, or are you just trying to make yourself feel better?” replied Paul Parson, the crew’s floor hand.


     “Parsons, mind your business. I can say whatever the fuck I want,” shouted de Klerk.


     “Okay Trump, I can see your having one of those days, but don’t start with your Nazi shit today,” said Todd Greene, the motorman. 


     De Klerk pounded his chest with the fist and said, “Now you want to start fucking with me for my beliefs?” He extended his middle finger into Greene’s direction. “What, you want to defend those little wetbacks who want to leech off the government?”


     “Oh, here we go again,” said Greene, as he cupped his hands together then announced, “De Klerk’s going full Hitler on us.” He got laughs from some of the crew.


     “All I’m saying is if you break the law, you had better be ready for the consequences,” said de Klerk, calmly explaining himself.


     Craft was quietly listening to the conversation. He looked at his tools and then subconsciously took the rag from his back pocket and started to clean them, then he grew bold and looked in de Klerk’s direction and said, “They’re kids, Adolph.”


     De Klerk ignored the comment, then said, “Where the hell are the parents? Why would they risk their children’s lives by letting them go north unaccompanied?”


     “You ever wonder why they would send their kids to the border alone. Perhaps their home life is for shit, and they want to live a better life for their children,” added Craft.


     De Klerk was pissed, and everyone could tell from the deep breathing that made his chest heave outward and then back in. “You shut the fuck up, newbie, stay the fuck out of this.”


     “Calm down Adolph, everyone has their own opinions,” warned Greene, with his right hand extended out in the universal signal to stop. Break time was over, so the men went back to their stations and resumed working.


     Benny had observed the argument from his truck, and seeing de Klerk was involved, he could only assume it was his usual racist shit. Benny and de Klerk were not too different politically, and the only difference was that Benny knew how to get his point across, while de Klerk vomited out his racial bullshit and made enemies at work.


# # #

 

     The crew made one more round around the site to remove any safety issues for the next shift when de Klerk began again. “I don’t know why the media is making such a big deal out of the child separation at the border. The kids are provided toys, probably more than they’ve ever had in their lives.” He had a smile on his face.


     “Damn dude, you’re just so filled with hate,” replied on of his co-workers.


     Benny heard the comment from de Klerk and it made him recall the conversation he had with Brenda. She had told him how she heard snide remarks like the one coming from de Klerk, with glee in their hearts at the emotional trauma being inflicted on the children. It dawned on him that despite their shared political loyalties, he and de Klerk were nothing alike. While Benny believed in law and order, he also believed people should be treated with compassion, especially the children who didn’t have a say in the matter. “Goddamn Brenda,” he said out loud. The talk he had with his cousin made him think of his family. Benny was the only Conservative in a family of bleeding-heart Liberals. He felt a cold chill on his back thinking that his family probably thought he was just another racist conservative pig. That made him sad to be seen like that. Whenever the family needed help, he was always there to help. In truth he voted with his wallet, and since his livelihood was tied to the oil industry, be made sure to support those candidates who didn’t want to hurt the oil industry, but de Klerk supported conservatives because it helped to punitively punish immigrants, the more humiliation, the better, in his opinion.


     Benny shook his head because he was still thinking about what Brenda had said. He had always been impressed with his younger cousin’s passion for the things she fought for. Brenda Benavides was always trying to improve the world around her. She was unselfish, well read, and had excellent communication skills. Yes, she had opened Benny’s mind to other reasons why immigrants would want to come to America, and it certainly wasn’t to leech off the government, while watching daytime television and eating chocolates. It made him sad that his political party liked to scapegoat immigrants by calling them drug dealers, rapists, and lazy bastards. He sighed deeply, uncomfortable with the Republican stance that Latino immigrants were going to ruin America. It made him think about how much he was probably hated in his own family for the views that he held.
“Fuck those wetbacks kids, they should send their ass back the minute they catch them,” shouted de Klerk, as he stowed his gear into the work truck.


     Benny heard what was going on and stalked towards de Klerk. “Look, shut your ass up with your racist shit, de Klerk.” His patience was wearing thin for an employee nobody liked. De Klerk was a good worker and always punctual, but it was his continued comments about the tragedy occurring at the border, that alienated him from the other members of the crew. Benny was smart enough to know that de Klerk’s views where probably shared with others on the crew, only de Klerk was the only one who said it out loud.


     “Well, they should stay their ass home if they don’t want to get locked up,” shouted de Klerk to no one in particular. The other men turned around and ignored him.

     
     “De Klerk! De Klerk! Guess what? Your bullshit earned you the night shift on Kern’s crew for a month. You can spout your shit to them. I’m not going to have some asshole fuck with the mojo of my crew. We’ll switch you out tomorrow.”


     “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I take it all back,” de Klerk pleaded, but Benny would not hear a word. He just put his right hand up because he would not change his mind.


     Benny drove ahead of the crew truck to get the transfer paperwork to payroll. On the way back to the shop, he played de Klerk’s comments in his head. It troubled him that in his arguments against immigrants, he used the same rhetoric as de Klerk, only he was a little more refined. His reasoning was strictly economical and tied to his job, while de Klerk was just a racist asshole, hoping to keep children in cages so it could inflict as much emotional pain on those seeking a better life.


     Benny arrived at the shop and into the office to inform his superiors of his decision to switch de Klerk to the night shift. His bosses didn’t care as long as production wasn’t affected. Benny walked back to the shop just as the crew truck pulled in. He waited until all the men were together and then said, “Okay, men, we’ll see you tomorrow. De Klerk, you’ll start tomorrow on the night shift.” Benny didn’t bother to contain his smile, as he hoped to piss off de Klerk. 


     On the way home from work, Benny called Brenda. “Prima, I’d like to talk with you, can we have breakfast on Saturday morning?”


     “Sure, que paso?” she replied. 


     “You know, all your talk got me thinking.”


     “Ah, my Primo actually has a conscious?” she said playfully.


     “Yeah, I guess you can say that.”


# # #

 

     They met at Johnray’s Cafe at nine. As they sat in a booth, they looked at the menu. Their server brought them coffee. 


     “Well, what’s up Primo?” asked his cousin, as she poured cream into her coffee.


     “When you came to my house, you said some things that really made me think. Then this week at work confirmed what you told me.”


     Brenda tried to recall what she said. “Confirm what?”


     “All this shit going on with kids in the cages.”


     “What about that?” she asked.


     “It makes me mad that my political beliefs are in line with all these fuckin’ racists. Let me explain my view. If people can come in, then they could one day take my job, and that is my real fear. Others though, they like these policies because they want to see immigrants punished punitively, the harsher the better. They say they keep the children locked up as a deterrent, but that’s just an excuse to treat the children like shit because they don’t look like them.”


     Brenda was shocked to hear such candid talk from her cousin. She smiled, patted his hands that were on the table, then said, “Awe, I knew my cuz had a heart after all.” Benny looked at her and was not happy with her humor. Perhaps he’d made a mistake by opening up to her. Brenda seemed to read his mind and then turned serious. “No, cuéntame.”


     Benny looked in her eyes, cleared his throat and began. “All this shit we talked about.”


     Brenda interrupted him and said, “What shit are you talking about?”


     “The kids in cages,” he said more loudly than he meant to.


     “What about that exactly?”


     Benny sighed and looked uncomfortable. “I saw firsthand the glee of one of my workers as he talked about children in cages. You should have seen that asshole’s smile. I could literally hear the joy coming from his voice as he laughed at the situation.” 


     After they placed their orders, Brenda said, “And that’s surprising to you?”


     “I’m pissed that I have the same views on immigration as this racist pig co-worker.”


     “Is that the only reason you’re mad? Maybe if you looked at this issue another way, it would give you a different prospective.”


     Benny shook his head. “No, I was wrong on this. Children should not be held accountable for their parent’s actions… It isn’t their fault, but they’re facing the brunt of all this bullshit. It makes me sad.” Just then, their food came.


     A smile came to his cousin’s face, happy to know Benny cared for others, then an idea came to her. “So, all this is troubling you?” She cut the top off her biscuit, and then lathered the gravy on top of it, before using her fork to take her first bite.


     “It really does, I think you’re a bad influence on me, making me think about this shit.” He reached for the catsup and poured it on his country fried potatoes.


     “Hmm, how much guilt do you feel?” asked his cousin, as she began eating her Denver omelet. She looked him straight in the eye.


     “The bottom line, I don’t want to be associated with these racists in my political party. Your talk about family really got to me.”


     Brenda smiled then said, “What if I told you that I know an organization that helps immigrants. They are brought into the US and provided with jobs.” She put her fork down to see his reaction. 


     “Have I heard of them?” He took a sip of coffee and then wiped his face.


     “I doubt you’ve heard about them, but they’ve been around since 1995.”


     Now Benny was intrigued. “Tell me more.”


     Brenda explained to Benny about the La Lady Organization, and how they helped hard working immigrants to come to the US and prosper. “Look I know you’re in shock, but if you wanted to help out, I know they take donations,” she explained, as she scooped the last of her potatoes and dipped it in catsup. Brenda explained the vetting process and the training the people had to go through before coming to the United States. “Look, it’s the real deal. They make sure these people are hard workers, give them jobs and support so that they can take care of themselves. All these people want is a better life and they are willing to bust their ass to achieve it.”


     Benny had a perplexed looks on his face. “But how do you know all this?” He finished his breakfast and then wiped his mouth, before crumbling his napkin and putting it on his plate.


     Brenda smiled. “Come on, you know I read the pulse of our people. I even send fifty dollars every month myself.”


     Benny was still in shock at how he and de Klerk had similar thinking, so he took his wallet out and pulled out two crisp hundred dollar bills and gave it to his cousin. “Can you please make sure they get this?” He wanted to distance himself from the dirty racist who he worked with. He was not one of them.

 

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