Inain Santiago has never been late in 14 months of working for Key Tronic Corp.
The cheerful 22-year-old worked his way up to trainer within a year. He dresses sharply in a new Nike sweater, pressed jeans and a shiny black and silver belt.
“In me, Key Tronic is represented,” he says. “I have to set an example.”
Santiago attends church every Sunday, and in his free time he reads the Bible his pastor gave him.
His goal is to make his parents proud.
Santiago came to Ciudad Juarez via a 30-hour bus ride from Veracruz, on Mexico’s southeastern coast. The best workers at Mexico’s foreign-owned factories are frequently the ones who have traveled farthest for work.
He’d never seen snow, which was falling on Juarez when he arrived in January last year. He stayed outside a long time, touching and playing with the white flakes.
Then he got busy.
On Jan. 6, he applied for a job and was hired at Key Tronic. He trained on the 7th and 8th, and started work on the 9th.
Within two months, Santiago had saved enough money to pay his parents the $175 he’d borrowed for bus fare and getting settled. He knew they needed the money.
He continues to send his parents one third of the $220 he receives in wages every month. Santiago also pays $35 for rent, $16 for lights and $6.25 for water. Like many maquiladora workers, Santiago doesn’t buy groceries, relying instead on the two free meals he eats at work to carry him through the night.
Santiago quickly mastered each position on the Key Tronic line, earning promotions and raises. He’s been a trainer for only three months, but already his supervisor wants to keep the young dynamo in human resources and promote him.
He has other plans.
In September, he intends to enter a college degree program in industrial engineering, courtesy of Key Tronic. The company pays for employees’ educations, provided they earn good grades. Santiago will keep working full-time while attending school.
He will be the first in his family to attend college. His parents instilled in him the desire to succeed, scraping together money for school books and uniforms and encouraging him to think of college.
Santiago’s father worked long hours in Veracruz’s sugar fields. He took his son fishing and to play baseball. The family went on picnics and to the beach on weekends. Santiago misses his hometown but will stay in Juarez because the city offers more opportunity.
When he finishes his degree, Santiago hopes Key Tronic will promote him to engineer. As an engineer, he says, he might make enough money to bring his parents to Juarez and perhaps buy a house.
The journey toward a professional career has been difficult. When Santiago finished high school, he entered a government program, volunteering to teach people in a poor community to read and write. At the end of the year, in return for his work, the government promised a college scholarship.
On weekends, he traveled eight hours, by donkey, foot and bus, to visit his family. He’d return to the village two days later the same way.
“Some days we would go two days without eating because the communities were very poor,” Santiago says.
When the year ended, the anticipated government scholarship evaporated. None of the volunteers Santiago knew received what they’d been promised.
So he asked his parents for bus fare to Juarez, promising to return it when he found work.
There’s work in Veracruz, but it doesn’t offer the same possibilities, Santiago says. The sugar companies there don’t offer bonuses or vacation and don’t pay consistently, he says.
At Key Tronic, Santiago is one of four trainers who prepares new employees for work every week.
He’s certain new recruits will goof off if they’re left alone.
“If the trainer gives them a lot of trust and confidence, they take advantage of it and then you can’t control them,” he says.
In one January training session, 33 men and women, ages 16 to 48, began work. One teenager wearing a gray baseball cap laughed and joked about everything.
By day’s end, he and another class member no longer worked at Key Tronic.
“I don’t tell them not to do things,” Santiago says. “I only tell them, ‘You’re behaving badly.’ “
Santiago’s work ethic comes from his desire not to dis-appoint his parents, as he believes his 18-year-old sister did.
His sister also lives in Juarez, but Santiago has never visited her home. She got married and works the second shift (4 p.m. to 1 a.m.) at another foreign-owned factory. She abandoned high school.
“I’m not like that,” Santiago insists, his cheeks reddening in a rare flash of anger. “I want them to see that I did something with my life.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
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