It was ninety-five at noon today and everything was happening at once. I never talk about work because people who talk about work have problems at work, so suffice it to say that I work around construction. There are many young Latinos where I am and its rare you see a black or a white worker. Those days have long since passed and as usual there isn’t One Big Reason but there are a multitude of smaller ones.
Nearly everyone at the office grew up on or near a farm and everyone did farm work when they were teenagers. Farming was once an incredible brutal way to make a living and the wages sucked. I worked fifteen hour days six days a week for seventy dollars a week. There were days it hurt just to breathe. The heat was terrible. There was no relief and damn little water. By the middle of the afternoon most of us were shuffling along hoping it would end soon and it never did. At dawn the next day we would be in the fields. Day in, day out, we worked and no one ever wondered if there was any other way to live. Everyone worked for a living.
So the same men and women who were out there in the fields are now raising kids who whine because they have to mow on a riding lawn mower. They want jobs in the Mall or delivering pizza. They want to work inside. They want to work short hours and have weekends off. They want to have access to their phones at all times. And their parents allow this, because the work was so terrible back then. They feel all their hard work pays off when they can spare their offspring the same work ethic that allows them to do so.
So here’s some kid, maybe twenty or so, and he and I are having a conversation about why he’s here. He’s here because back home there is no work and even less pay. He can send enough back to get his brothers here, maybe even legally, and he wants to start his own business. He’ll tell me these things because it’s 93 degrees and I’m out in the heat with him. Some people in my position won’t get out of their offices after lunch.
You’ve heard about the crackdown the government is having in Mexico because of the Drug Lords? This guy tells me there are Drug Lords who take care of the poor people in their district and the government hates that. He says it’s the government who is to blame for all the violence and the poor people are better off with Drug People running the show.
I have no idea if any of this is true or not. But I do realize it is hot. It will get hotter. This will feel like a cool day after a week of triple digit heat. So this guy gets here from Mexico and despite the fact we might call them all “Mexicans” he points out the men who have come in from Central America and a very dark man from some island country. He tells me that most of them speak English enough to understand but most don’t like to show it. Work, get paid, send money home, work, get paid… And these men work very hard indeed.
You don’t have to speak to them. Just show them what you want. Draw a picture. They want to understand. They are driven to do things right. They are polite. None of them seem afraid to fail but rather afraid not to try. I don’t remember us being this way, even though we must have been at one point in time.
The Immigrants smell differently in the sun than we do. That may seem to you a bit odd but I grew up working hard, grew up around hard working people, and the smell of sweat doesn’t offend. The smell of soap and perfumed stuff on a man who is just getting warm enough to reek of those chemicals after lunch is offensive. Give me someone who has been at it since the sun and there you’ll find a conversation worthy of the day.
I can speak enough Spanish to get by. I know when they are talking about work and when they are talking about my female co-worker. I busted on of the guys for that one day by asking him to repeat what he just said and everyone laughed, but my female co-worker. That was the end of that, or at least where I could understand it.
This guy is going home for Christmas because that’s when his company shuts down for the year. He’ll drive down, taking shifts with the other guys from the same area, and they’ll get to see their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and their kids, for the first time since last year. They do this until they can get who they need over here and to do this, they will work their asses off each and every day.
Immigration reform ought to look a lot like this: if a man gets a job and works hard, that ought to, in some way, make him an American. Those who fret and wring their hands over the fact there are too many of “them over here” well and good. We’ll hire you to do the same job at the same price and you can produce the same product. If you can’t…
I know what these people make. I know they’re getting top wage because it’s hard to find specialized labor skills. They can get better wages in worse jobs. They can get lower wages in the field. But all of those jobs are theirs because no one else will do them.
Here’s the thing; our kids are working for toys, for distractions, for things. These guys are working for the people they love the way we did when we were that age.
You can take your immigration reform and shove it up your ass.
I need the help.