La Mariposa en la Pared

The everyday experiences of latino immigrants through the eyes of an outsider. Las vidas típicas de unos inmigrantes latinos a través de los ojos de una forastera.

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Location: Upstate NY, United States

"To me it’s always interesting when you get accepted somewhere you don’t really belong. It’s interesting when people open up and let you in their world." - Gilles Mingasson

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fear & Despair: Thanks, Department of Homeland (In-)Security!

I've heard more and more lately something along the lines of, "I changed my tune about immigration issues once I got to personally know some immigrants." That has been the idea behind this blog from the very beginning, to present the lives of immigrants, some documented and many not, so that more people can get to know them as people, as fellow human beings, each with a story, each worthy of love and dignity.

Occasionally, though, I have to show the ugly things that are happening to them, all in the name of the Law. For every victory in the name of human dignity, it seems like we are suffering a thousand defeats. I say "we" because injustice against any person is cause for alarm; an injury to one is an injury to all.

I become overwhelmed at times with it all, hence my long spells of silence, when my stories of migrants learning to live here and dance here and love here seem frivolous in light of the increasingly nerve-wracking reality that they live with every day.

Sunday morning two kitchen workers showed up to the restaurant bright and early to begin preparing food for the day. They stood by the door finishing off their cigarettes when a car pulled up beside them, and a voice in Spanish called out from a lowered window, "What time do you guys open?" Always happy to hear his language spoken in a town where it hardly ever is, Jaime smiled and approached the car to answer the question.

More questions followed. Did he know of any Hispanic barber shops in the area? How about Mexican grocery stores? Because the occupants of the car were clearly Hispanic, perhaps their questions were innocent, he thought. But Jaime knows as well as any of us that the hispanos around here all know each other, and they know where to get their hair cut, and where to buy their groceries.

Milton hung back, frowning, as an eerily familiar feeling of dread and mistrust washed over him. Their language and their ethnicity did not put him at ease. He felt uneasy, and catching Jaime's eye, shook his head ever so slightly and took another step back.

After giving vague and unhelpful answers to their questions, Jaime stepped back, too, and the car drove away.

Both boys climbed solemnly back into their little truck and went home. The restaurant did not open that day, and they both lost a day's pay. Living in fear is not only demoralizing, it is also costly, as a restaurant and it's workers lose their income even as bills still need to be paid.

Now, who in my community feels safer from terrorism? How, exactly, is this kind of fear and loathing helpful to our economy and our security? How does the intimidation and detention of kitchen workers make our country better?

It doesn't.

Nor do things like this. Or this. I could go on, but that's enough despair for one day.