I Am Not A Hero*

* This is part of a profile I wrote on a family member. I have abbreviated the name for privacy purposes. Enjoy.

Juan stands in front of a mirror trying on a black baseball cap with the letters “L.A.” engraved on the front. He has just bought this and another red baseball cap from the corner market. Juan is about six-feet, two inches tall, and about two-hundred and eight pounds, with light-brown-desert-sand skin, hazel eyes, and a cropped haircut. He wears a pair of dark-blue, loose-fitting jeans and a faded, white baseball tee with blue sleeves. The face reflecting off the mirror shows disappointment. He takes off the black baseball cap, curves the beak with his two hands, and snuggles it back on his head. After a few seconds, he turns ninety degrees to the right to see a profile of himself in the mirror. He pauses for a moment and says, “I don’t like it. It‘s too big.”

“It doesn’t look bad,” I comment, but Juan does not react. Perhaps he did not hear me. Then again, I am standing two feet away fro
m him. No. Right now, it is just him, the baseball cap and the mirror.
“Yeah,” he says, coming into a final verdict, “It’s too big.”
“Did the red one fit you okay?” I ask, unsure if he was actually directing this last comment at me.

“Yeah, the red one fit me fine.”

“Well, maybe you should return this one,” I say - but there is no point to my comment. Juan has already moved onto something else.


“Did I tell you about the three-hundred pound girl I boned last night?” Juan asks me as we sit down at a table at Red, a trendy hotel restaur
ant and bar in the City of Industry. He is joking with me, of course, because he knows I am recording our conversation.
“Yeah,” I say, “Tell me about that.” Juan pulls out a black flash drive and hands it to me. Inside it are a plethora of pictures and videos - no, not of the three-hundred pound girl, but of the southern U.S. border and of drug and human smuggling. Juan has worked for the Office of Border Patrol in Yuma, Arizona since 2005. Before that, he was a member of the Marine Corps where he spent the last eight months of service in Kuwait and Iraq.

“What made you want to join the border patrol?”

“Well, ever since 9/11 I’ve been wanting to prevent terrorism,” he says matter-of-factly, “and I want to prevent these characters from cross
ing the border.” He stops, looks at me and smiles. He is being facetious. “No, it’s just work man. It’s a scary feeling, your last year in the military. I think that the decision you make when you’re getting out of the military is the most important one because you can put yourself in a rut.”

After Juan graduated from high school in 1998, he worked at Pep-Boys Auto Parts as a clerk. One day he noticed a new employee in the store. He was a former Marine. “This was before I thought about joining the Marines myself,” Juan says. “This was when I thought it was a joke to be in that. Oh yeah, I thought, that’s why I would join the Marines, so I can get out and get a job at Pep-Boys.” But, in fact, Juan did join the Marines shortly thereafter, and quit Pep-Boys to do so.

When he finished his military service in August 2003, Juan went back to visit his former co-workers. He came to learn that one of the clerks had now become Assistant Manager of the Pep-Boys store. He also offered Juan a job. “He told me, ‘You were a good worker when you worked here four years ago. I know you have leadership. I’m going to put you in charge of my service department.’ But I thought - no, because I’m going to be stuck here. I knew I didn’t want to do this as a career.” That was when Juan decided to apply for a position as a Border Patrol agent.

“Why the border patrol?”
“Because somebody mentioned it my last year as a Marine. Somebody said, ‘Hey, have any of you guys ever thought about joining the Border Patrol?’ It didn’t even cross my mind. When you’re in the military you don’t ask yourself, ‘Is this what I really want to do?’ Somebody who grows up in a border town like El Centro or Yuma is more likely to think about that kind of job. A lot of the guys who work as a Border Patrol agent are from around there.”

“Are any of them from the military?”

“Oh yeah, quite a
A charming young waitress with plump cheeks and big, dark eyes arrives at our table. Juan orders a Fat Tire.
“What’s a Fat Tire?” I ask.

“You never had a Fat Tire? It’s supposed to be like a Belgian beer, but it’s made in Colorado or something.” A Fat Tire is, in fact, Amber Ale produced by the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. I am convinced and order one along with some Kung Pao Chicken. Juan says he has already eaten, so he orders the ceviche appetizer and an order of short ribs.