By Luis Perez. STAFF CORRESPONDENT
Guadalupe Santana, Mexico - The hearse, a converted pickup truck, rumbled 600 miles south of Mexico City, slowing to a crawl as it approached the main dirt road just before dawn.
A dozen pickup trucks led it to the meager home where Jesus Perea was born. There, the women carried foot-long beeswax candles and long-stemmed yellow lilies. The men carried the white coffin into the unfinished cinder-block home next door that Perea, 28, and his brother Manuel were building with funds sent from New York.
"They took away my heart!" cried Isabel Herrera, 54, Jesus' mother, placing a white rosary around her son's neck as scores of men, women and children looked on.
"Marcos, forgive us!" cried an uncle, Javier Guzman, 45, calling his nephew by his middle name. "We could do nothing for you. You were born here. You were raised here. Why did you go?"
Only the barest details of the brothers' ordeal had made it this far south. Last week, Jesus and Manuel Perea were aboard a No. 2 train in Manhattan en route to their night-shift janitor jobs at Planet Hollywood in Times Square when they were both stabbed.
Manuel Perea survived wounds that came close to his vital organs.
"A land that is not worth visiting!" said Guzman, who traveled to New York three times, eventually found work and returned to Mexico in 1993. "The famous United States! This is what they give us."
Daylight soon arrived, but Jesus Perea's body had only been mourned under moonlight for two hours, not the whole night as is the custom, so the funeral would have to wait another day. A bull had already been slaughtered for the feast planned for mourners coming from this and neighboring villages.
Like Guzman, most said they would not return to the United States.
Herrera, in her two-room adobe house, said she understood why her sons had gone to the United States, even after her eldest son, Graciano Perea, was beaten to death in Los Angeles 10 years ago.
"There are not jobs here, only cultivating the land," she said. "We don't know what else to do. We go there to work hard. But we don't expect to be treated this way when we get there."
"In some way, it is our fate," she added.
Now that Jesus, who was the oldest of three remaining brothers, is gone, the family will depend on Manuel to finish the house, said their sister, Graciela Perea, 36. Another brother, Feliciano Perea, who lived in the Bronx apartment with Jesus and Manuel, is married and has a child.
"The one who is going to help my mother now is Manuel," Graciela Perea said. "Feliciano has his own life, his kid. He has to help them get ahead."
All day, the mourners continued to arrive. They were fed homemade corn tortillas, beef and chicken soup, rice and beans, beer and whiskey.
"That is our custom," said Jose Perea, 45, an uncle of the slain immigrant. "We believe that if we go somewhere else, we should be treated the same way."
ART/GRAPHICS: 1) Photo - Jesus Perea; 2) AP Photo for Newsday - Relatives of Jesus Perea, who was fatally stabbed last week on a No. 2 train, mourn in Mexico.