Eduardo was from Monterrey, a “global city” in northern Mexico where American corporations set up factories to capitalize on the plentiful supply of cheap labor. Eduardo worked in these factories for over a decade from the age of thirteen, until one day a machine caught a bit of his clothing, slowly pulling him in, crushing his fingers then his hand, until the machine was stopped just before finishing off his upper arm. He was immediately unemployed as a result. He depended on family during the recovery but urgently needed to discover a new way to support himself with one less arm.
When I met Eduardo he was wearing baggy pants made of a colorful style of fabric favored by hippies and European yogis traveling through Latin America. He had a bright rastafarian hat, a toothy grin and carried a small case filled with little earrings. I met his Argentine girlfriend. I wondered at this happy, one-armed man, traveling like a tourist with a foreign girlfriend, visiting beaches and exotic destinations across Mexico. My Spanish was still limited but he was patient with my questions. Using broken English and charade like body-language he told me the story of how he lost his arm and began a new life as a traveling salesman of artisan jewelry.
I didn’t fully believe him. I thought maybe he was just spinning a tale for the sake of pity to sell more earrings, employing his girlfriend to actually make the jewelry while he hustled it. I watched as he playfully negotiated a trade for a mountainous hamburguesa ahogada which he was glad to share with me. He was genuinely one of the happiest people I had ever met and it all felt impossible, like there was some detail I was missing. How could this working class man lose an arm, a job and then proceed to create a better, more fulfilling life for himself?
I spent three days with Eduardo before parting ways. I watched him wire wrap stones and thread beads using his teeth and only hand. It was deliberative work, obviously difficult but he maintained a cheerful, patient disposition. I would meet him twice more, always somewhere sunny. On the beaches of Mazatlán, his sales were frustrated by territorial local vendors with mafia connections, so we lamented together over a few bottles of Pacífico, watching the sun fade as turquoise waves crashed onto purple rocks. He hadn’t made any money but he was confident he could trade some jewelry for a bus ride down to the next beach town. The last time I saw him, in Puerto Vallarta beaming his trademark grin, he proudly displayed his freshly emptied jewelry case.
Eduardo’s humble example of self-determination in the face of difficulty, has been a constant source of inspiration, reminding me to adapt and find ways to thrive even when faced with undesired opposition. The choices we make when responding to the challenges of life make all the difference. Through adaptation, our destiny may be altered such that the outcome is better than we could have even imagined.