Image: A man stands next to his truck
Eduardo Verdugo  /  AP
A man stands next to his truck Sunday at the entry of the 9th Annual Paisano Day truck competition in Jalpan de Serra, Mexico.
updated 12/29/2008 9:54:41 PM ET 2008-12-30T02:54:41

Organizers of central Mexico's annual competition for the most tricked-out "troca," or truck, say more migrants are returning to their homeland, and many are planning to stay for a while.

The U.S. economic downturn didn't hurt the 9th annual "Paisano Day" competition on Sunday, when 94 pickups and SUVs turned out — more than double the average number of contestants in past years.

In fact the meltdown is precisely the reason more migrants have come back, and some are thinking of staying in their hometown while they wait out the tough times north of the border, said event organizer Iber Silva.

"The turnout increased because of the crisis, a lot of migrants are returning," he said after the top prize of $1,000 was awarded to Daniel Gutierrez, who has spent the last 18 years working as a plumber in Miami.

The annual competition celebrates the large, custom-modified "trocas" migrants acquire in the United States — some with gull-wing doors, pneumatic lifters and statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Contestants parade the vehicles down Jalpan's main road, music at full blast.

Fascination with large U.S. vehicles
The spectacle reflects a fascination with large U.S. vehicles that is widespread in this impoverished mountain region in the central state of Queretaro.

"Bringing a vehicle back from up there is a symbol that you're earning good money, you're doing well," said Gregorio Mar, an immigrant who spent 10 years in Atlanta.

Image: A man carries cans of beer
Eduardo Verdugo  /  AP
A man carries cans of beer during the annual 'Paisano Day' truck competition in Jalpan de Serra, Mexico.
Silva said that for young people in Jalpan, "ever since grade school, they want to go to the United States. Why? To bring back a truck with a full sound system."

"Some of these trucks have 200,000 peso ($14,500) sound systems," he noted. By contrast, daily wages in the region average $7 to $10 per day.

Local people don't begrudge the migrants their success; instead, many are worried they won't return to the United States after the holidays — depriving the region of a key source of cash income.

"A lot are thinking of staying here. They say, 'Let's wait and see if things get better, if this crisis ends," Silva said. "Unfortunately, the remittances they send back are what keeps this state afloat, and if they don't go back, there will be less access to goods, more austerity and crisis."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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