A trip to Arizona last week opened my eyes to a part of society I have only witnessed from afar, with interest, yet not a lot of investment. I had heard many opinions from our conservative representatives and senators in Arkansas, but had never personally known anyone affected by those opinions.
Then I met Miyra, a part-time worker on an organic garlic and onion farm located in the southern-most part of inhabited Arizona. When I first met her she was friendly, quiet, yet immediately displayed her sense of humor, which she used regularly to relate to the foreign couple — me and my husband.
While digging up carrots out of the fertile bottomland soil, we started talking about our homes, families and things that every human has in common. Then we moved to our heritage, extracurricular activities, both bad and good, and then even some past negative experiences that defined where we were in life.
She had been through a lot. Her parents were both from Mexico, and she was their first child — their “anchor” baby, as she called herself. She had five siblings that she rarely spoke to, a grandma still living in Mexico and a four-year-old daughter by a “white” guy who her family almost disowned her for and who drank up all of their money and then later died of an overdose after getting out of prison.
She didn’t finish high school because she didn’t see the point, and hadn’t gotten her GED because she had been “too busy making money.” And then we started talking about immigration. Something she had obviously dealt with regularly, and those experiences formed her opinion and respect for our government, and its authority.
Basically, she had no respect for it. She had heard the same conversations I had, and of course being the brunt of the attacks, she had negative connotations with white men, authority figures, the U.S. government. She feared the border patrol because at stops throughout the country they can take family and friends in a small, locked truck back to Mexico, even if their families are still here. That’s one of the reasons many take on the challenge of walking through the unforgiving desert, risking death at every turn — to get back to their families left here. She had seen countless reports of deaths in the desert from immigrants fleeing Mexico, most recently a brother and sister. The 15-year-old girl died shortly before making it to the small, rural, low-income border town we were in.
She told us about the nonprofit organizations who put water in the desert, helped I.D. dead bodies through teeth analysis and worked to connect with the remaining family so they don’t have to forever question the outcome of their loved one’s escape.
I asked her what the situation was like in Mexico, to make these people take on such risk. She said she wasn’t sure how dire the situation was, although her grandma never complained. But there were places in Mexico “even I won’t go, and I’m Mexican.” It seemed she never questioned why people of her same heritage were crossing. She showed only concern for their safety and the families waiting for their successful entry.
And then without knowing what she was doing, she gave me an inside solution to a problem long debated by people similar to me, with little knowledge of the culture, experiences or circumstances of the people to which they’re dictating.
“They should just tax us. Shit, my family alone could bring in a good amount,” she said.
Basically, she and her family wanted to be respected, accepted and to pay their dues like everyone else, if it means they can have the security and economic opportunities they risked their lives to get.
Although she was mostly uneducated about how American influence in Mexican politics and economy affects the people of Mexico, she felt the tension and bitterness many “Americans” held for people like her right here in her own country.
I once heard Congressman Steve Womack tell a Hispanic boy, about the age of 18, that if he had lived in Mexico where he couldn’t feed his children or provide shelter even for himself, he wouldn’t leave. I’d stay and try and fix it.” As the mostly-conservative crowd clapped the boy’s head hung and shook in disbelief.
Womack surely didn’t realize how naive and ridiculous that claim actually was, since political powers that be have been controlling resources in Mexico for generations, making it impossible for economic and social growth for the majority of people. He, like many Americans, think only out of fear and bigotry, not reality.
My experience with Miyra and her small child, who had blonde hair, blue eyes and a shining personality and love of nature, was that our only option, when working with our current institution and not starting from the ground up, is to accept those who are here. Instead of investing money in border patrol and their forces — 21,370 border patrols making at least $36,000 a year, driving Raptors with 13 mpg, and a total Homeland Security budget of $39.5 billion — invest in education, immigration reform to gain the taxes now being lost under current laws and maybe even invest in changing U.S. relations with Mexico, including ending the drug wars and stopping big corporations from taking advantage of the Mexican people.
Big tasks, but we have to start making steps, for Miyra’s family’s sake, and so many others. To learn more about immigration reform and/or to get involved, visit www.fairus.org.