Mexican Proofreading Ring Discovered
by Laura Buchholz

" '...not even working by candlelight...' "


June 1, 2000

Investigators today uncovered a child-labor proofreading ring in Mexico with ties to several high-level publishing companies in New York City. Undercover agents posing as pencil sharpener salesmen were allowed to enter the premises of !Burrito Fiesta Proofreading!, where they found dozens of dirty children hunkered at a large table, poring over manuscripts that were stacked chest-high on the tables.

"Conditions were just awful" reported one of the investigators. "These kids were not even working by candlelight, but by the dim glow of cigarette lighters. They had to edit with one hand while struggling to keep their lighters lit with the other. Many of them complained of carpal tunnel syndrome."

The investigator said he has never, in his 11 months of experience, seen conditions as stark as these. "Sweatshop supervisors stood in shadowy, dank corners and would periodically turn on large barn fans without warning," he explained, "scattering the children's work across the floor. I guess they thought it was funny. The children would then wearily retrieve the unnumbered pages and have to re-sort entire stacks before resuming their tedious, ceaseless copyediting tasks. It just makes me sick."



Of the 30 children in the proofreading sweatshop, only one had a pen, and it wasn't even red. It was black. Most of the children used stubby eraserless pencils to make their comments.

The average age of the sweatshop worker was 13.

"Few spoke English," remarked another investigator, "and when I asked one if he knew even the most basic English grammar, such as the nature of pronouns, or comma use, he tried to distract me by pointing to the antics of a small ratty Chihuahua who would jump to great heights for a bit of sausage. It was very disturbing."

The !Burrito Fiesta Proofreading! ring has suspected ties to New York publishing giants Conde Nast, as well as Scholastic and Kaplan Educational Systems. All declined to make an official statement on the child-labor ring. However, a disgruntled former Kaplan employee came forward, noting that he had been in on the meeting where executives decided to outsource their proofreading services.

"It was more about the bottom line than fluency" remarked the man, who wished to remain anonymous. "In fact, in later years it became more important to find people who actually spoke no English whatsoever, since we could obviously pay them less."

"...the proofreading ring might be more extensive..."


The !Burrito Fiesta Proofreading! ring was found to be responsible for answer choices on Kaplan's test prep materials, which, to the bewilderment of dozens of standardized test-takers were, occasionally and without justification, written in Spanish.

"Usually the Spanish answers would be 'choice C' on the tests", remarked the former employee, "and usually those answer choices would translate into something offensive in English. I remember once finding an answer choice C that translated roughly as 'suck it American Satan pigs'. There was another one that read, 'bite my piñata'. Kaplan thought about hiring someone to catch these inconsistencies, but ultimately decided that it wouldn't be cost-effective to have someone pick through every word of the text."

The !Burrito Fiesta Proofreading! warehouse will shut its doors next week while further investigation takes place. Meanwhile, an anonymous source in Mexico has hinted that the proofreading ring might be more extensive throughout the non-English-speaking world than originally suspected. The source alleges that there are also outposts in the Kaliahari desert of Africa, where locals communicate only in clicks and other guttural sounds.



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