After graduating from high school, I spent the summer with my parents in Mexico City. We had had a parrot for several years that would sing, say “piojitos” (fleas) when its head was scratched and, with a little encouragement, would repeat some words and phrases as well as whistle and sing.
It was a bird of normal size with florescent green feathers and a bright red head. Now, as anyone who has had a parrot knows, they are noisy, messy beasts. Yet, over the years I had become rather fond of the feathered pet. When I asked my mother if I could take the parrot to school, she was only too happy to indulge me. I thought the bird would be fun to have around to entertain my friends and roommates while at the university.
I knew that taking birds across the border had become a racket. Unscrupulous bird traffickers on the Mexican side would sell parrots, parakeets, canaries and various other colorful native species to tourists knowing they would be turned back on the American side of the border. The bird vendors would buy them back from the hapless buyers at a reduced price and then turn around and sell them again to somebody else.
I made a trip to the American Embassy on Paseo de la Reforma and inquired about what I needed to do to import a bird legally to the U.S. I was sent to the Mexican Secretariat for Hunting and Fishing and filled out a myriad of forms. I then made a trip to a certified veterinarian who declared the bird free from any and all bird diseases. From there I returned to the American Embassy, waited in long lines, filled out a plethora of paperwork, obtained signatures, seals and stamps, paid a fee and finally was declared worthy to take a native species across the border.
When I arrived at the border crossing between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, the Mexican customs officer informed me that I might as well take the bird back to whomever had sold it to me because, he said, the Americans were going to send me back anyway. I told him I would take a chance. When I arrived on the American side a U.S. Customs agent looked through the side window at the bird which was strutting her stuff in her backseat cage. He smiled a knowing smile and asked if I had any papers on “that bird.” “Yes, sir,” I declared confidently.
He did a double-take and asked if he had heard me right. I handed him a sheaf of official looking documents written in both English and Spanish, all covered with stamps, seals and signatures. He was incredulous. “I have worked on this border for many years,” he said. “If all this is legit, it will be the first time I have ever seen a bird cross this border legally.” He took the papers inside the customs building and emerged about twenty minutes later with the sheaf of papers in hand—along with a few more stamps, seals and signatures. He handed them back to me and declared, “I’ll bet this is the only legal bird in America!”
True to my expectations, the bird proved to be highly entertaining. I especially enjoyed coaching her from an open window, where both the bird and I were out of sight, to whistle at the coeds who would pass by every morning on their way to classes. After hearing a shrill “wolf whistle” the girls would stick their noses in the air and pretend to be offended, not realizing that the perpetrator was neither a roommate nor I but a feathered green and red parrot. They were later embarrassed--and delighted--when introduced to the real whistler. I met a lot of girls that way.
On one occasion when I was away from the apartment, some relatives from out of town dropped by and knocked on the door. Sometime later when I went to visit them, they expressed their disappointment that I had refused to answer the door when they had knocked. “We know someone was home,” they said. “When we knocked, we could hear someone singing and whistling at us but whoever it was refused to come to the door; and we had traveled a long way to see you!” Once they learned the truth, they laughed at themselves and I was forgiven.
Over the years that bird provided countless hours of entertainment. It was comforting to know that I hadn’t just smuggled it across the border. Besides, I had on competent authority that I was the proud owner of the only legal bird in America.