The Fender Bender
Ramon “Tiaguis” Perez
Ramon “Tiaguis” Perez is an undocumented alien and does not release biographical
One night after work, I drive Rolando’s old car to visit some friends, and then
head towards home. At a light, I come to a stop too ate, leaving the front end of the car
poking into the crosswalk. I shift into reverse, but as I am backing up, I strike the van
behind me. Is driver immediately gets outs to inspect the damage to his vehicle. He’s a
tall Anglo-Saxon, dressed in a deep blue work uniform. After looking at his car, he
walks up to the window of the car I’m driving.
“Your driver’s license,” he says, a little enraged.
“I didn’t bring it,” I tell him.
He scratched his head. He is breathing heavily with fury.
“Okay,” he says, “You park up ahead while I call a patrolman.”
The idea of calling the police doesn’t sound good to me, but the accident is my
fault. So I drive around the corner and park at the curb. I turn off the motor and hit the
steering wheel with one fist. I don’t have a driver’s license. I’ve never applied for one.
Nor do I have one with me the identification card that I bought in San Antonio. Without
immigration papers, without a driving permit, and having hit another car, I feel as if I’m
just one step away from Mexico.
I get out of the car. The white man come over and stands right in front of me.
He’s almost two feet taller.
“If you’re going to drive, why don’t you carry your license?” he asked in an
“I didn’t bring it,” I say, for lack of any other defense.
I look at the damage to his car. It’s minor, only a scratch on the paint and a
pimple –sized dent.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Tell me how much it will cost to fix, and I’ll pay for it; that’s
o problem.” I’m talking to him in English, and he seems to understand.
“This car isn’t mine,” he says. “It belongs to the company I work for. I’m sorry,
but I’ve got to report this to the police, so that I don’t have to pay for the damage.”
“That’s no problem,” I tell him again. “I can pay for it.”
After we’ve exchanged these words, he seems less irritated. But he says he’d
prefer for the police to come, so that they can report that the dent wasn’t his fault.
While we wait, he walks from one side to the other, looking down the avenue this
way and that, hoping that the police will appear.
The he goes over to the van to look at the dent.
“It’s not much,” he says. “If it was my car, there wouldn’t be any problems, and
you could go on.”
After a few minutes, the long-awaited police car arrives. Only one officer is
inside. He’s a Chicano, short and of medium complexion, with short, curly hair. On
getting out of the car, he walks straights towards the Anglo.
The two exchange a few words.
“Is that him?” he asks, pointing at me.
The Anglo nods his head.
Speaking in English, the policeman orders me to stand in front of the car and to
put my hands on the hood. He searches me and finds only the car keys and my billfold
with a few dollars in it. He asks for my driver’s license.
“I don’t have it,” I answered in Spanish.
He wrinkles his face into a frown, and casting a glance at the Anglo, shakes his
head in disapproval of me.
“That’s the way these Mexicans are,” he says.
He turns back towards me, asking for identification. I tell him I don’t have that,
“You’re an illegal,” he says.
I won’t answer.
“An illegal,” he says to himself.
“Where do you live?” he continued. He is still speaking in English.
I tell him my address.
“Do you have anything with you to prove that you live at that address?” he asks.
I think for a minute, then realize that in the glove compartment is a letter that my
parents sent to me several weeks earlier.
I show him the envelope and he immediately begins to write something in a little
book that he carries in his back pocket. He walks to the back of my car and copies the
license plate number. Then he goes over to his car and talks into his radio. After he
talks, someone answers. The he asks me for the name of the car’s owner.
He goes over to where the Anglo is standing. I can’t quite hear what they’re
saying. But when the two of them go over to look at the dent in the van, I hear the cop
tell the Anglo that if he wants, he can file charges against me. The Anglo shakes his head
and explains what he had earlier explained to me, about only needing for the police to
certify that he wasn’t responsible for the accident. The Anglo says that he doesn’t want
to accuse me of anything because the damage is light.
“If you want, I can take him to jail,” the cop insists.
The Anglo turns him down again.
If you’d rather, we can report him to Immigration,” the cop continues.
Just as at the first, I am now almost sue that I’ll be making a forced trip to
Tijuana. I find myself searching my memory for my uncle’s telephone number, and to
my relief, I remember it. I am waiting for the Anglo to say yes, confirming my
expectations of the trip. But instead, he says no, and though I remain silent, I feel
appreciation for him. I ask myself why the Chicano is determined to harm me. I didn’t
really expect him to favor me, just because we’re of the same ancestry, but on the other
hand, once I had admitted my guilt, I expected him to treat me at least fairly. But even
against the white man’s wishes, he’s trying to make matters worse for me. I’ve known
several Chicanos with whom, joking around, I’ve reminded them that their roots are in
Mexico. But few of them see it that way. Several have told me how, when they were
children, their parents would take them to vacation in different states of Mexico, but their
own feeling, they’ve said, is, “I am an American citizen!” Finally, the Anglo, with the
justifying paper in his hands, says goodbye to the cop, thanks him for his services, gets
into his van, and drives away.
The cop stands in the street in a pensive mood. I imagine that he’s trying to think
of a way to punish me.
“Put the key in the ignition,” he orders me.
I do as he says.
Then he orders me to roll up the windows and lock the doors.
“Now, go on, walking,” he says.
I go off taking slow steps. The cop gets in his patrol car and stays there, waiting.
I turn the corner after two blocks and look out for my car, but the cop is still parked
beside it. I begin looking for a coat hanger, and after a good while, find one by a curb of
the street. I keep walking, keeping about two blocks away from the car. While I walk, I
bend the coat hanger into the form I’ll need. As if I’d called for it, a speeding car goes
past. It is gong so fast that its wheels screech as it rounds the corner. The cop turns on
the blinking lights of his patrol car and leaving black marks on the pavement beneath it,
shoots out to chase the speeder. I go up to my car and with my palms force a window
open a crack. Then I insert the clothes hanger in the crack and raise the lock lever. It’s a
simple task, one that I’d already performed. This wasn’t the first time that I’d been
locked out of a car, though always before, it was because I’d forgotten to remove my
1. How serious is the accident?
2. Why does the van driver insist on calling the police?
3. What makes this incident a dangerous one for Perez?
4. How does Perez attempt to prevent the van driver from summoning the police?
5. Perez answers the Chicano in Spanish. Was this a mistake? How did the police
officer treat Perez?
6. Critical Thinking: Perez implies that Chicanos have been offended when he has
alluded to their roots; they insist on being seen as American citizens. What does this
say about assimilation and identity? Does the Chicano officer’s comments about
Mexicans reveal contempt for immigrants? Have other ethnic groups—Jews, Italians,
the Irish—resented the presence of unassimilated new arrivals from their homelands?
1. Why is a minor incident like a fender-bender a better device to explain the plight of the
undocumented immigrant than a dramatic one?
2. How does Perez use dialogue to advance the narrative? Are direct quotations more
effective than paraphrases? Why or why not?
1. What words does Perez use to minimize the damage caused by the accident?
2. What word choices and images stress the importance of paper documents in the lives