Primitivo Cortes sits on a short brick wall that frames the garden next to his home in Walker’s Point. Cortes, 60, smokes a cigarette in his work uniform, a collared, grey shirt that displays his first name.
Primitivo was born in Mexico but came to Milwaukee in 1994. “Better opportunities, better jobs.” he says. “In Mexico the situation is terrible.”
Growing up, it was different. “At that time, [it] wasn’t as terrible,” says Cortes. “I’m afraid to go to Mexico, now. I’m afraid to travel to Mexico … because [there are] a lot of narcos.”
His father worked in the fields, his mother was busy with the home and her 11 children. “It was a hard time because I am the second-oldest in the family,” Primitivo says. “We are poor now but that time was so terrible because we [had] no jobs. I am from a little town in Mexico and I moved to a big city to work.”
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Eventually Cortes ended up in Milwaukee, where he has some family, and found work at an El Rey tortilla factory. He’s been at his current job for 24 years. “I work for a salt company … by the lake where there are the big piles of salt, I work in a warehouse,” says Cortes. “I drive a forklift, stacking pallets, bags of salt. Yeah, I’ve been doing that for a long time.”
Primitivo, who is single and doesn’t have any children, says he likes his job. “We have a lot of rules but … it’s close to here. I don’t drive so much; in 10 minutes I am there. If, for any reason, the car is broke, or whatever, I ride my bike or I take the bus.”
Even though Cortes hasn’t been to college — it’s too expensive — he says there are better educational opportunities here than in Mexico. “I went here to UMOS to get my GED,” says Cortes, who has taken English classes, as well. “I don’t need a GED but … knowing more is better.”
Primitivo says he would like to “take a shot at [a] career” but says his current job wouldn’t allow for it. “I don’t got time because we have different shifts and insane hours working — that’s why I don’t.”
And, at this point, there are other factors at play, says Cortes, who plans to retire in two years. “I am a little tired.”
He’s looking forward to relaxing a little, perhaps visiting family — in the U.S. and Mexico — or maybe going somewhere else altogether. “I’ll enjoy my retirement. I would like to travel,” Cortes says. “For me, it’s interesting traveling to a different place I’ve never been.
“I enjoy everything, I enjoy everywhere.”
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