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September 26, 2007 News » Cover Story

Crap Shoot 

Mexican immigrants bet on a better life in Wendover. But is there a better payout for the kids?

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Anna Aboite’s eldest child Anais is a senior at Wendover High School and plans to graduate. Unlike many of her former classmates who’ve dropped out, her sights are set on college.

“We succeeded in this environment because she’s going to graduate,” Aboite says. That’s because Anna Aboite and husband Moises did what many parents fail to do, Rowley says. “Moises asks me once a week, ‘How’s she doing?’” he says with a smile.

The Aboites’ daughter wants to be a therapist and work with teenagers, partly because, her mother says, of the number of pregnancies she’s long witnessed among her friends. But Anais’ college plans are the exception because most of Wendover’s Hispanic youths have little or no idea of the possibilities beyond the city limits of the two towns. Aboite still fears, though, that her daughter may be waylaid from her plans by the lure of her friends idling around town or working at the casinos.

Jose Salgado, 17, daydreams of becoming a professional boxer. He dropped out of school last year and works in one of the alternatives to casino labor: fast food. “I never thought about leaving Wendover,” he says.

Something of the same lack of direction is evident in 18-year-old high school graduate, Lleselia Rosales. “I want to go to college,” she says, “[but] it’s hard.” One obstacle Rosales faces is convincing her parents that going on to further her education is a good idea. But, whatever they think, she says she doesn’t want to stay in Wendover. Yet, she hasn’t applied for any scholarships. “I thought I would never qualify for one of them, so why try? I’m not one of the smart people.”

Aboite corrects her. “Only the dumb people don’t graduate from high school,” she says archly.

“Here, there’s nothing,” Rosales says. “I’m not going to just work and work. I want to see what’s out there and try different things.”

And how does she see herself escaping Wendover?

“I don’t know,” she says. “Talk to my friends and have them encourage me.”

Aboite says Rosales is already working weekends as a waitress, making good money at a casino. “And once they go into it, it will be harder to leave,” she adds.

Cap in the Hand
“All the kids in our town, their dream is to have a car, dress up really nicely, have money in their pockets,” Aboite says.

“If you talk to the parents, most will barely speak English, most didn’t finish elementary school,” she continues. “How can they make their kids stronger, have a stronger self-esteem?”

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Probation officer Saucedo has an answer to that question: “If I’m not strict, and the parents aren’t strict, the kids don’t stand a chance.”

His workload, he says, is about 95 percent drug and alcohol cases. The first week of September, he has 51 youths to supervise. He goes into the bathroom of his mobile-trailer office by West Wendover High School and counts the number of urinalysis tests that are positive for drugs or alcohol. Five kids, he says, are going to be arrested and taken to Elko, two hours west. Along with no hospital or jail in either of the Wendovers, there’s little in the way of drug-and-alcohol counselors, therapists and other resources judges order for the teenagers. So they have to be transported to Elko to comply with judicial orders. Without these resources locally, Saucedo says, “We are sending these kids to failure.”

Saucedo had a clinical social worker coming out Tuesdays and Thursdays to do Alcoholic Anonymous sessions and group and individual counseling. But then the money ran out, and the contract wasn’t renewed. So Elko County asked Peppermill Properties for a $150,000 donation to pay for drug-and-alcohol counseling, hair- and follicle testing and Alcoholics Anonymous and narcotics counseling for a year. As yet, Saucedo hasn’t heard anything.

Darkness at the Edge of Town
Even when high school graduates escape Wendover to go to college and forge successful careers for themselves, the casinos’ honey trap can lure them back. Shirley Shelton’s eldest daughter got a college degree outside of Wendover. But she returned and now works in one of the casino’s administration departments. “It bothers me,” her mother admits.

For parents who’ve sold themselves to the casinos so their kids can have a future, that so few actually leave Wendover must be as heartbreaking as whatever nameless despair drove Deepak Sharma to strike that fatal match.

For the most part, Wendover’s immigrant children and grandchildren seem as trapped as their parents and grandparents. Indeed, they appear almost transfixed—torn between the money-drenched lure of the overlit casinos and the unknown worlds that lie beyond the forbidding desert darkness bordering these lonesome towns.
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