There was a man named Frederico who washed dishes in the sweltering kitchen of a hotel I also worked in along my travels, somewhere here in America. He wasn’t here for handouts, or to screw other people out of their jobs. He was here for “The American Dream,” to get his shot at the two garage house in some suburb of some city, and create a better life for his children.
As I would roll silverware in the back room of that T.G.I. Fridays after we pushed out the last drunken business traveler, Frederico and I would talk about our day and sometimes our families, interrupted only by his occasional trip back to the kitchen to bring another rack of forks and knives as the pile of rolled linens grew ever higher. In his broken English and my even worse Spanish, we spent a number of evenings getting to know each other. Eventually, I found out that he took the majority of every check he received and sent it back home to support his family in Mexico — and to hopefully bring them here to live one day.
We’ve heard this story over and over — immigrants coming to this country, becoming successful and leaving a legacy to their kids. It is the scenario that politicians and pundits love to point to as “proof anyone can make it in America if they just work hard enough.” They use this to then paint anyone who hasn’t become rich and successful as a lazy failure who got to their lot in life because “they just didn’t try hard enough,” and therefore they deserve no help from the government — while at the same time demonizing immigrants as moochers who just want access to free healthcare and welfare.
The fact of the matter is very few of us are “natives.” If you think about it, almost every one of us is descended from ancestors who came here without permission from the original occupants. Both of my grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants. One was “legal,” the other one wasn’t but they both contributed to America for many decades, which is more than can be said for a lot of people who’ve had families here for generations.
Immigrants are indeed the lifeblood of our country. They are what makes our nation great, keeping our society fresh with new culture, food and ideas. They are not “drug haulers with calves the size of cantaloupes.” And trust me, they are not stupid. They pay attention to politics and they know exactly who has shown sensibility on immigration policy. Because of that, I firmly believe they’ll make their voices known loud and clear in 2014.
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