This house renovation project is bringing me closer not only to hard physical labor, but the danger involved in living as a Hispanic person in the United States. I learned today that one of the men that are working on our house was arrested last Thursday night. He was stopped at a traffic checkpoint and was arrested because the name on the registration for the vehicle was not his own. These traffic checkpoints are set up randomly throughout the city to check people’s license and registration. Apparently they are randomly far more likely to be positioned in Hispanic communities. In several instances these simple traffic stops result in people being deported, legitimately or not. The man working on our place was fortunate. He is here legally and was given the latitude to prove that. Despite his ability to do that, he still had to spend the night in jail while his status was verified in consultation with ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (I will simply mention that he was at work on Friday.)
One of the men, on their last project, was shot and robbed on his way home one evening. Another of them, during that same project, was held up at gun point, beaten and robbed. These are the daily experiences of random Hispanic men that I now know. Apparently Hispanic men are the targets for theft and assault because criminals know that they are often paid in cash and, because of their status, cannot call the police. Not only are the men terrorized, I’ve learned recently that Hispanic women attempting to cross the border are extremely likely to be raped by whatever men they encounter. The violence against them is fueled by the same knowledge of their powerlessness.
In addition to the daily street violence, they are confronting a raging anti-Hispanic sentiment in the country at the moment. It is driven in part by the poor economy and the idea that Hispanic workers are stealing jobs from willing American workers or undercutting the wage rate for legitimate services provided by Americans. It is also fueled by people like Lou Dobbs who is encouraging vigilantism and going to the border of ethnic cleansing in his zeal to rid the country of illegal Hispanic immigrants. Hispanic people are being arrested by the hundreds per week in Cobb and Gwinnett Counties here in Georgia and by the thousands across the country in ICE raids on factories where large concentrations of them work. The mantra seems to be – arrest them all and we’ll sort out their status later.
I am struggling to consider what it must feel like to be one of these men – here, in the United States, separated from their wives and children, working non-stop, without complaint, under extremely difficult conditions to improve the lives of American people who in turn spit upon them. How does this man, who is ultimately working for me, feel when I ooh and ahh about how phat he is making my house and then he goes home and is nearly deported because Georgia doesn’t want his kind to be here?
My wife and I passed by a Home Depot one day and a pickup truck with two white men drove up to the long line of Hispanic day laborers who post up there. A whole set of the men dashed to the truck to be first for an opportunity. As soon as the men were close, the truck peeled off with the white men laughing and yelling, “Look at those bastards run!”
I am seeing in these Hispanic men the dignity and quiet fortitude that American black people have been singing about themselves forever. I do not see the lessons that black Americans supposedly taught the nation about acceptance, equality and justice being extended to these newest Americans. Unfortunately, I also do not see black Americans themselves extending an arm of understanding, support or encouragement. I am sure that in the end this group of Hispanic Americans will end up teaching us how to be Americans again. When they are finally able to stand up straight and not be subject to American indecency they will greet us.
Hola amigos, Buenos dias.