When my family arrived in Monterrey, Mexico, in July of 1957 we might as well have landed on the moon. Monterrey was Mexico’s second largest city and the industrial capital of the country. To us it was a huge, snarling beast, penned in by majestic rugged mountains and high desert wastelands. It was notorious for congested streets, traffic jams, dust, smoke, rickety old busses and…the infamous “mordida.”
La mordida, literally translated “the bite”, was a tax you paid in Mexico for doing business--or perhaps for doing most anything at all. In order to accomplish almost any task it was necessary to cross someone’s palm with silver in order to grease the wheels of progress.
Upon arrival in our ’57 Chevy station wagon, we settled into a motel room on the northern outskirts of the city. As a thirteen-year-old with two brothers ages eight and nine, I was happy as a clam splashing in the pool and trying to figure out the unfamiliar date palm trees that shaded it. It fell to my father to find us a place to live and to get us settled in to more permanent quarters.
My father was to supervise the construction of eight church buildings in the northern part of the country in order to accommodate the rapidly growing church membership. Upon notifying church officials of our arrival, Dad was assigned a man to help orient him and to be his mentor until he got his feet on the ground.
Benjamin DeHoyos was the perfect gentleman. He was almost as round at the waist as he was tall. His kindly face was permanently etched with deep smile lines. He put himself at our service and showed us how to survive and even thrive in our new and somewhat intimidating surroundings. He helped us find and furnish a house in a decent neighborhood and showed my mother how to shop in the marketplace. He was our guide, confidant and, most of all, our friend.
When the buildings began to go up, it fell to brother DeHoyos to get the building materials from Monterrey to the various building sites. As he did his job, he became increasingly frustrated by “la mordida.” At every few miles on each and every highway, his heavily laden vehicle was halted by some official or policeman and he was required to undergo an inspection of the truck and its load and to show bills of lading, receipts, driver license, this permit and that permit. Each stop invariably ended by his having to pay “la mordida” in order to continue on.
One day before starting out to haul a load across country to Cananea, Sonora, a mining town near the border with Arizona, he said to my dad that on this trip he was so prepared he was determined not to have to pay one single mordida. “Look here,” he said. “I have everything in order. I have all the required paperwork, the fire extinguisher, the emergency flares, the proper tire inflation, the load properly secured, etc., etc., etc.” He was sure that on this trip he could stand his ground with those who demanded money from him. And so it was until he met one particular inspector. The man was impressed that brother DeHoyos had everything in order. But before the man allowed brother DeHoyos to go on his way, he asked him for a match with which to light his cigarette. “I don’t smoke,” said brother DeHoyos, “so I don’t carry any matches.”
“That is a good thing,” said the officer. “I have been trying to quit smoking for years. These things will kill me some day. But,” he went on, “without matches, how do you intend to light your emergency flares?” Brother DeHoyos had to pay the mordida.
“Stick to your task,” said the unknown author, “’til it sticks to you; Beginners are many, but enders are few. Honor, power, place and praise will come, in time, to the one who stays. Stick to your task till it sticks to you; Bend at it, sweat at it, smile at it too; for out of the bend and the sweat and the smile will come life’s victories, after a while.”
As we travel along, life extracts a lot of “mordidas” from each of us. Brother DeHoyos taught me to smile and to just keep on truckin.’ May each of us have the courage to change the things we can while accepting with a smile those things we can’t.