As I was saying the other day, my people—the working people from Latin America—most of us were actually invited to come here. You don’t believe me? Rich folks even ran Spanish-language “Jobs Available” ads in the local newspapers in our countries. And for those of us who were already working here—working ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day, six or seven days a week doing hard work, back-breaking labor, working for rich folks—Do you know what they said at the end of the day?
They asked, “Are there more like you?”
“What do you mean, ‘like us?’” we replied.
“You know, Mexican—or whatever. People who will work real hard. If there are, tell them to come! There are plenty of jobs!”
So others came. And there were jobs. Lots of them.
We worked very hard. Rich people trusted us —they trusted us to come into their beautiful homes to care for their children. And we did! We bathed their infants and comforted them when they were sick; we held their hands and took them to school; we fed them, washed them—heck, let’s face it, we raised them. We did everything we were asked us to do! And often they said, “Why, you are like a part of our family!”
Pues. Except one thing. We were not. We were not even a part of their country, much less their family…
Still they trusted us to plant seeds, to grow and tend crops, to harvest their fruit and vegetables; they trusted us to raise and care for their livestock, to butcher their cattle and pigs and chickens, to package them and ship them to their stores. They trusted us to work in their kitchens and restaurants and prepare their meals while they sat back and relaxed, smiling, like kings, complimenting our work ethic (though paying us next to nothing).
They trusted us to bring food to their table, to wash their dishes, to clean their kitchens and their bathrooms and bedrooms, to do their laundry and to care for their parents and grandparents.
And we have done that—and much more.
Would they hire a criminal to do those things? Of course not! Yet that’s what some of them say. They say we are “criminals.” Why? Because we came here “illegally.”
I am curious about how some people use words. After all what is legal one day is illegal the next. Slavery was legal once. Sometimes I think some people would like to see it be “legal” again.
Anyway here’s a word for those who want to keep undocumented workers under their thumbs: Apartheid. That is what you have in this country when one group of people are able to enjoy the democratic rights guaranteed by the Constitution, while another–undocumented workers–has virtually no rights at all. That is apartheid, my friend.
The truth is that we came here the same way almost everyone’s ancestors arrived: Most of them were not invited, most did not have papers giving them permission to be here. And why did they come? Same as us, they came here looking for work, searching for a better life.
On A Street Corner waiting for work
Small businessmen, usually contractors, drive their pick-up trucks to the street corners where those of us looking for work gather. (We gather there early in the morning, while the dew still drips from street signs, waiting, hoping to find a job, even for just a day.)
These contractors, looking for “cheap” day laborers, often point at us and say, “You, and you and you!” That is how we are hired. We get in their trucks and are taken to a work site, usually for the entire day. It is hard work we are hired to do, and we work no matter how hot or cold it is. When the job is done, those who hired us count out the pay in U.S. dollars—perhaps twenty, maybe thirty dollars for 10 or 12 hours work—with just one short break for lunch. Then, before they hand us our pay, they pull the money back. Then they say, “Ah-ah-ah! you have to pay taxes, you know!” And they snatch away some money.
That whole charade seems to amuse some contractors. They look at each other and laugh, as if they think we are stupid.
But we know we are being cheated. We know it. And we know they will not report the “taxes” they withheld to the government. How could they? They did not even ask us our names.
We know what they are doing is illegal. There is that language thing again. But what can we do? That is the way life is for many of us. Why is it like that? Again, only because we do not have papers.
But that does not prevent the wealthy from hiring us.
We work in factories and in warehouses, at construction sites and in the garment industry. We have no benefits at all, not one. Usually we do not even receive the minimum wage.
Things are so hard here, sometimes people do and say things that I really don’t understand. I’ve been told they listen to propaganda repeated over and over again on T.V., on the radio. This propaganda convinces them we are their enemies…
Some people are just confused. They say we are “taking away their jobs” by working for less. Where did they get this idea?
Other people are just plain hateful. They act like beasts and you can see the hatred in their eyes.
Sometimes a group of these hateful men will grab us as we walk home from work and beat the heck out of us. And they do not fight fair! A bunch of them will grab one of us when we are alone, knock us down, kick us in the ribs and the stomach and the head, nearly beat us to death. Then they shout things like “Wetbacks go home! White power! Heil Hitler!”
There is some history there. I don’t know all of it, but this has happened to a lot of other people in this country, no? But we are not going to talk about history, remember?
To those of our working class brothers who are confused by the lunatic rants of evil people, let me explain: We do not set the wages—the bosses do. We do not do the hiring. As you know, that’s done by the rich folks and others who work for them. And finally—and I feel silly having to explain this because I know if you think about it you will understand—but we never said, “Excuse me, Mr. Bossman, but will you please do me a favor? Will you please pay me less than what you pay people who have papers?”
When our working class brothers and sisters ask us to join unions, most of us—those of us who understand that working people are all in this thing together—we join those unions, with pride and honor! Yet it is far more dangerous for us to do these things than for you. Why? We can be put in jail—and for a long time. There are no laws that protect us. The government can keep us in jail as long as they want. Then they can deport us. Still, despite that, in part because of that, most of us support the union movement! We have a revolutionary heritage in Latin America! Just like you!