Friday, March 19, 2010

immigrant discrimination

I can remember a time when I was adamantly against the "dirty Mexicans" who were taking over "our" country. It is not a time I'm proud of, but I will admit that in my ignorance, and in a voice that wasn't my own, I shunned and criticized a group of people I did not know or understand. Where did this voice come from? Was it my parents? My peers? Either way, it was decidedly hateful and with no knowledge to back it up - that's the scary part.

It wasn't until I graduated from high school and went on to college that I learned more about my "enemies."

I started working at a real estate office part time during my time in school. It was like the United Nations of real estate in many ways, as I met people from all over the world, Ghana, Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Columbia, Peru...

I became especially close with one Peruvian girl in the office. We talked and laughed about everything, thus my feelings regarding Latinos, Hispanics, etc. began to soften in a major way. Then one day she told me her story of coming to the U.S. Her parents left her and her brother, both around the ages of 8 or 9 at the time, with a relative. And on their own, they came to the U.S. to carve out a life for the family. It was not out of greed that her parents decided to go north, but out of necessity. Peru at that time was being run by a military dictatorship, fraught with corruption which crushed civil liberties. They didn't leave because they wanted to, they left because they felt that had to.

Her parents spent several years working as much as they could, and saving for the opportunity to bring my friend and her brother up north to join them. She spoke to her mom, as much as she could, over the phone. She paused as she began to explain the time that she told her mother she had gotten her period. I could tell she wanted to cry, and it took her some time to continue. Her mother was so overcome with the fact that she could not be there for her daughter during this milestone. Her mother knew that the years of childhood she missed could never be brought back, she couldn't stop time from bringing her daughter and eventually her son, too, into adulthood.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Never in my sheltered existence had I thought of a situation so desperate and difficult within a family. My feelings regarding "Mexicans" and immigrants would never be the same.

This was the first time I saw immigrants as humans, as families, as people who are fighting for happiness just like everyone else. But, due to the hand they were dealt, they have to fight harder. They have to travel further, they have to endure more.

That is why it is so frustrating for me to listen when I hear Americans belittle their struggles. For a country that has done a pretty good job of taking what is not ours, (hello, Native Americans), we certainly have a lot to say when other people want in on the American dream.

In an article on Yahoo! regarding Obama's promise to reform immigration, the comments flood in from all over, many negative.

Strange to think that being born in this country instills the right to guard it from all enemies, real or imagined. And we can do so in our own broken and abhorrent English:

Jim C says: You want result! pack the Illegal criminals in busses and take them back where they came from!!

Jack M says: At the least learn and speak english, pay a big fine, and go to the back of the line.

I could give these comments to the immigrant students in my English class to correct. "At the least" they would know how to spell "buses" correctly.

I think if we really want results we should get to know the people who are working to make our lives easier, at McDonald's, cleaning our offices, our homes, doing our gardening, taking care of our children and much, much more. Maybe then we could see them as people who really just want what we want, to be happy.


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