Monday, June 22, 2009

Closer to the Hispanic Laborer

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.



Nicole Johnson, Volunteer Coordinator said...

Kamau, remember you wrote this post, I think it was on your daughter's bday. For some reason on that day it was weighing extra heavy on your heart that you wanted to make a lasting contribution to this world. Now here you are connecting to a group of people in a way that many care not to. In Oakland we used to call this Latino ability to provide excellent work for extrememely low rates the hook up. We counted on it to finish out major prjoects that we had initiated ourselves but couldn't finish for whatever reason. Remember that space I used to live in underneath my dad's house? All finished off by the hookup.

I've decided recently to sew all my soon to be first grader's uniforms for this coming year. I'm excited about this not only because I'll be saving a fist full of cash but because my sewing skills are the best they've been since I first learned to sew something like 28 years ago. I just never had anyone to help bring me up to the level I wanted to be at all those years. Finally last year I paid some white people for a 4 week class $90 to help me overcome challenges I'd been facing on my own all those years. With that class and some videos from the inna-net(lol) I can now add an element of motherhood to my household that I've always dreamed about.

Every night when I rush home from my plush engineering job to sit in front of my sewing machine I still think about the latino mother who has been sitting in front of hers all day, and still has to take care of her family and sit back in front of her machine all night to sew the clothes we buy from some of these boutique stores. I would have gladly paid one of them $90 to pass to me the skill that probably far exceeded the seasoned hobbyist I paid this time last year.

Okay, I can hear you saying "what's your point". The point is that the Latina seamstress don't know I need her, the landscaper don't know I need him and I am NOT going to pick any of them up in a truck. Also I do not have a burdening desire to make a world changing contribution (I've already birthed a great man geesh what more could the world want from me, lol).My other point is that God has been known to give his people choices and for whatever reason we never seem to be satisfied with the choices. And here's the biggest point...Don't pass up an oppurtunity to glorify God and possibly ease the burdens on your own heart waiting for the bestest (that's right I said bestest) choice. Just put two and two together and let God be glorifed.

Forgive any unintentional spelling errors this comment was all done from the blackberry. Peace.

luvlife0702 said...

Latinos like so many before and after will leave their physical mark in the USA. I may not hire them to build anything but if I drink a bottle of wine from the USA (as I'm sure Mr Dobbs does) I drink the fruits of their labor. If I am eating fruits or Veg they have either picked it in California , Washington, etc or under the fear of violence in Honduras or Ecuador etc. I think about this every time I buy food because without Latinos I would not eat.and they sacrifice their respiratory and physical health and safety so that I may eat a strawberry or my daily melon. P have never nor will ever take that for granted. And so I always teach about Cesar when I teach community organizing. I have my students learn to look for the farmworkers union label and to acknowledge the debt we owe those men & women who pay ICE agents to cross in San Diego or throw themselves at the mercy of the deserts of old Mexico.interestingly Black Latinos have better choices than brown ones since on sight everyone figures they were born in the USA