Sunday, July 18, 2010

Black, Brown and White

Since October of 2008, I've been an employee of FSI (food service) at Ave Maria University. Ave is located in Southwest Florida, near a small town called Immokalee. Immokalee is a town populated largely by immigrants - both legal and illegal - from Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic especially. It is probably one of the poorest places in all of Florida with the average yearly salary of just over $17,000 which contrasts nicely with Naples (about 40 minutes away) where the median income is close to $100,000 a year and the median house/condo price is more than $800,000.

Naples is where really rich people retire. Their backyard in Immokalee is where really poor people are sometimes enslaved. ( ) It's quite the difference. Some of my coworkers at FSI are from Haiti and Mexico and Cuba and Argentina and ..well, you get the picture. I think there may be four Americans working there total: me, my boss, the director, and one of the chefs. LOL. A lot of my coworkers live in Immokalee. Some live in Naples (but definitely not the richer part).  I've always respected these people, but since I've been working there more this summer and it's slower, these people have really come to wriggle their ways into my heart. There's Roberto, from Argentina, whose wife is actually a bio professor here. She's had cancer for a while and he works in the kitchen with us. I'm not sure what his story is, but it must be really rough for him. He has two teenage girls and a sick wife. He's always smiling. He makes fun of me for.. a lot of things and he laughs as much as I do (which if you know me, you know is quites a bit). Then there's Cesar, a chef from Cuba. I also don't know his story because he speaks very little English, though he has started to pick up more and more. Our conversations are rarely more than 2 minutes, but somehow, we always manage to have a laugh at something. Sometimes he even makes fun of me. Then there is Bruno. He's one of my favorites. He's from Haiti and he left a wife and a little baby girl there. He's very dedicated and works hours that I would never want (though I think I am getting them the week after next. LOL). When I describe him to people they always - not one person hasn't yet- say "oh you mean the one who always smiles and is so happy?" Yes. That's the one. The one who even when he didn't know if his family was alive for more than a week still came to work and still smiled. There's Daisy, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, a highschooler in Immokalee. She's worked at FSI longer than I have and everyone loves her. Her biggest dream is to get into FSU or FGCU. She's determined, realistic, and super sweet. She's got a good head on her shoulders and I hope to highest heavens that she succeeds. I think she will. There's Illar, the other Cuban chef, whose stories from Cuba always either entertain or humble me. He's held down two or three jobs consistently while putting himself through trade school since he's been here. He learned English and expects others at work to do so as well. I think it is his influence that swayed Cesar to learn. I don't know a single person in the kitchen who doesn't like him or respect him and I've seen several people treat him horridly because of where he's from.

I've lived in Alabama and as much as I hate to say it, I've seen racism since I was in grade school. I remember one girl pulling another girl off the slide by the hood on her jacket for no real reason except that she was black and ahead of her in line. But I've seen so much racism this summer that I've been re-appalled all over. I've seen one of my (now former) coworkers say things to them that were entirely uncalled for. I've seen students automatically assume that I owned Illar's really awesome truck that we were using to carry tables to the pool, just because I'm the white one and he's the brown one. Then I saw him shrug and say "It's ok. They liked my truck."

No, it's not ok. It's not ok to have someone tell them that they deserve the menial kitchen tasks because of where they're from. It's not ok for someone to automatically assume that they are here mooching off the welfare system. It's not ok that they are disliked because of their accents (which I usually think are pretty cool) or their skin. It's just not ok. And it's not ok for someone to tell them that because of where they were born or what they look like, they can't take care of their families and they aren't welcome here. I really think this new Arizona legislation is a hideous thing. It won't solve any problems, it will just create more hatred.

I realize that there all sorts of legal and political things that go along with border patrol and such. And I am lucky that I work with people who are here legally. But if they weren't here legally, I don't see the how someone could say  "yeah, they should just leave. In fact, they shouldn't be here in the first place." Why shouldn't they? Can you imagine what it's like to live under Fidel Castro (and, from what I'm told, it's actually worse under his brother) or Hugo Chavez or to live in some poverty ridden place deemed "the most dangerous place on earth"? Can you? It's not like you told God where you wanted to go and He graciously put you there. We just got lucky in where we were born. That person who grew up in the slums of Port Au Prince, that could have been me or you or anyone. So why.. why would we say that just because you weren't born here, you shouldn't come and sure as Hell won't be welcomed if you do? What gives us the right to decide that someone is less than human because of where they were born?  I've had people tell me that "you can't make immigration a personal matter". What? How can you not? These are, after all, persons we are talking about. Persons that other persons love and depend on. Persons that have probably endured more suffering than most Americans will in a lifetime. And yet... we would like to think of them as somehow less than a person?

 I don't know any solution, I don't know anything except that what I've seen this summer is sad and the people I work with are kind of amazing. But I leave with this: 

‎"No human being-no matter how poor or how weak- can be reduced to just a problem" - Archbishop Thomas Wenski (Archdioceses of Miami) July 1, 2010

And I ask you to keep Bruno in your prayers. For the first time in over a year, he's going to visit his wife and child! 

1 comment:

BG45 said...

Well said. The slums of Haiti are always a humbling thing for me to behold, if only in PowerPoints from a group I was once involved with, the media, and the stories of former orphans who have come to America.