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Sister Says Boxcar Victim Was Reluctant to Make Last Trip to U.S.

July 5, 1987

PABELLON DE ARTEAGA, Mexico (AP) _ Mario Garcia Alvarez didn’t like going to the United States to work, but he left his family here one last time to try to earn money to build a small house, his sister says.

Garcia, 19 years old and father of a 1 1/2 -year-old girl, was identified by the local mayor’s office as one of the 18 illegal aliens who suffocated in 130-degree heat while trapped in a locked railroad boxcar in Texas.

″He said it was the last time he was going and he cried and cried,″ his sister, Teresa Garcia Alvarez, said Saturday.

Local officials said six or seven victims and the lone boxcar survivor, Miguel Tostado Rodriguez, 21, were from this farming town of 17,000 people in north central Aguascalientes state. Six have been identified and a seventh man believed to have been traveling with the group has not been accounted for, the officials said.

The victims were found Thursday morning by a U.S. Border Patrol unit. They had been trapped for 14 hours in a freight car parked 90 miles east of El Paso.

Ms. Garcia, 18, said a 17-year-old brother who also is working illegally in the United States identified Mario’s body, but the name was not yet on the official death list.

Mario, the oldest of eight children, and Tostado Rodriguez were good friends and went to the United States twice before, each time working in a Dallas restaurant, she said.

But when he returned home just three weeks ago, she said, ″he came with sadness.″

″He arrived very exhausted, at least this time,″ she said. ″It was a very heavy shift, only at night.″ He came back ″because he wanted to see his family.″

″Really, it was something very sad for him, but he went to earn one more centavo ... this time to build a little house here and then never go again,″ she said.

The alternative, she said, was to work in the vineyards or in the garlic or potato fields like his mother, earning less than $2 a day, below the minimum wage, or as a laborer on construction projects.

Garcia dropped out of high school two years ago when he learned he was going to be a father, and a short time later went to the United States, his sister said.

But although the dollars he earned go farther here, he and his wife and daughter still couldn’t afford their own home. Once inside the United States, he had to pay the smuggler who took him across $300 to $350, she said.

Garcia spent some nights at his mother’s house and others at his wife’s parents’ home, where he was not fully welcome, she said.

Part of his pay also went to help his mother, 37, who supports the six unmarried children with the $11 she earns for six days’ work in the fields or in houses and what the younger son sends from the United States.

At the end of a short dirt street that looks to the cornfields beyond, the family’s sturdy white stucco house has one living-sleeping room and a kitchen painted bright yellow.

Bare brick walls, the start of an extra room the 17-year-old is building to relieve the crowding, rose from the kitchen roof.

Sitting at a plastic-topped dining table, Teresa showed a reporter snapshots of Mario walking down a Dallas street, in a U.S. supermarket and smiling as he cooked in what appeared to be a small restaurant kitchen.

His mother lay in one of the two double beds, ill since hearing of her son’s death. Friends came by to comfort her.

″Papa left us seven months ago for another woman,″ Teresa said. The family does not know where he is and is concerned that he may not know about Mario’s death, she said.

Teresa and Mario, the two oldest, worked from the time they were children. When she was in fifth grade, Teresa said, ″I went to wash dishes at houses. She (her mother) told me not to but you see the need at home and want to help.″

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