MEXICO CITY – Auvaldo Lopez Reyes has become an institution for the hundreds of porters at Mexico City’s Supply Center, the world’s largest wholesale market, who come from every corner of the country fleeing poverty to take on this herculean work.
“I started working the land at the age of 4 in a village in Hidalgo (state). There I plowed, sowed, herded sheep and rounded up horses,” Lopez Reyes, called Chavo (The Kid) because of the tender age at which he started work, told EFE.
In one of the hundreds of aisles running through the Supply Center, which occupies 327 hectares (790 acres), Auvaldo has his workshop and warehouse, where these days youths go in and out earning their living as “carretilleros,” shifting goods around the vast market on hand-trucks.
His business was one of the first in the facility inaugurated in November 1982, and today Lopez Reyes has some 400 hand-trucks that he rents to men of all ages, at some 20 pesos ($1.11) a day.
“I rent them so they can carry food to a family, since each family depends on a carretillero. And the carretillero comes, loads up his hand-truck and takes the delivery wherever he’s told,” said this 62-year-old man, whose blue eyes have begun to squint with the years.
He said that many of the estimated 13,800 porters at the Supply Center come from far away with very little or nothing in their pockets.
“The hand-truck pushers are normally poor – they don’t come here if they’re doing well economically. The ones most eager to get ahead are normally the worst off,” he said.
Once, he recalled, a kid came to him from the poor southern state of Oaxaca, barefoot and “dying of hunger.” He was 17 years old.
In Auvaldo’s warehouse, there’s an air of good humor mixed with the aroma of tobacco and food cooking. And that starts as soon as the sun comes up. “If I make tacos, I first offer them to my workers,” he said.
Saul, 23, and Cesar, 34, confirm that brotherly feeling, and thank Auvaldo who, for example, has taught them to weld and solder in his workshop.
Though his retirement approaches, Auvaldo doesn’t dream of quitting work. “I can’t leave my people. If another person takes over he won’t treat them as well. Some people get all arrogant when they see they’re the boss,” he said.
A widower at 42, he’s proud he could provide careers for his children. He has three – a lawyer, a doctor and a psychologist.
Though he loves his work and how helpful he can be to people while doing it, the fact is it’s hard labor and the income is often not that good.
As for the carretilleros, several youths in Auvaldo’s warehouse told EFE they earn an average of 250 pesos ($11) a day for moving tons of goods along the aisles of the market while dodging thousands of shoppers and plodding up and down bridges.