Personal Stories

Most of us know of undocumented people and their families living among us: we share neighborhoods, we play sports together, our kids go to the same schools.

Since the last Presidential election, the lives of these families have changed in every way imaginable. Now they wake up and go to sleep with the fear of someone being deported – usually a mother or father – and family life torn apart.
Here are some stories of people we know and love. These stories are about real people with fictionalized names who live here in Monterey County. They are the ones who motivate us.

It is because of them that the Immigration Task Force exists and why it stands in defense of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Mateo. Luis. Oscar.

Recently_Deported_Immigrants

They left their families and headed out from deep in central Mexico north to California. They were caught by border patrol soon after they crossed. Released, they crossed again. This time, they made it. Teens do things like that.

They’re in their 30s now. They’ve lived almost half their lives in Monterey County. Each is talented, kind, motivated. They’ve become highly skilled craftsmen. One has an incredible eye for photography. One loves his Reggae and has the best laugh ever. One is a runner with a philosophic soul. He works in construction, but studies to become a physical therapist. He is in love.

This one is the one I call ‘mijo’ – my son. He’s really the first friend I made when I moved to Monterey and the son I wish I’d had. A friend recommended him to me for a job at my house. We hit it off, using a wild mix of Spanglish and radio music to bond. Over the years, his English and my Spanish improved. We hang, meet for lunch. He stops by and we catch up. He’s supported me after tremendous loss. My mom loved him immediately when she met him.

Today, my friends are technically criminals. ICE and the administration are casting a wide net to catch ‘bad hombres’, which now include those who simply crossed an invisible line that separates the U.S. and Mexico.

My friends are in double jeopardy. They had the audacity to cross the line twice. They’ve tried not to let the increasing pressure get to them, but I know it does. I’ve seen it in their faces. They drive carefully. Luis doesn’t go to Reggae jams as much any more. They dress to not stand out. I hardly see two of them at all since ICE has been around.

Mateo. Luis. Oscar. I would never want to imagine a life without them. This is why I resist.

My students

For thirty-five years I taught English as a Second Language to immigrants, many of them undocumented. Most came for economic reasons, some were political refugees, some were fleeing violence and oppression. They were nothing like the dark menace politicians have invented. They were the hardest working people I have ever met.

They were devoted to family. They were resilient and never complained. They had hope, for themselves and their children. They had strength of character: There is nothing easy about being an immigrant. I liked and admired and respected them.

Now they have been re-branded as criminals. Yes, they broke the law. But so did the growers or restaurant owners who knowingly hired undocumented workers. So did anyone who knowingly hired a housecleaner without papers. We all knew – didn’t we? – but we are never called criminals. It seems it is all right to hire an undocumented worker but a deportable offense to be one. Even though we need them.

Illegal immigration is a fake issue, cynically manipulated to stir the worst impulses of the American voter. It victimizes the vulnerable. It is hypocritical. If you think all this is wrong, so does the Immigration Task Force. This is why I resist.

Henya

 My story begins in the early part of the 20th century, in a small town in what’s now Belarus.  The two oldest sisters in this family had already left for America.  My maternal grandmother, then known as Mindl, is the young woman on the left with the dreamy eyes; her sister Henya is the young woman on the right with the stubborn jaw.  Mindl, renamed Minnie by the steamship company, made it to the US before the First World War, but her sister stayed behind with her husband to take care of their parents.  Between World War I and a typhoid epidemic, by 1922 Henya was the only one left.  My grandmother, by then married and the mother of three small girls, convinced my grandfather that they needed to rescue her.  They sent her a steamship ticket on the Red Star Line out of Antwerp and a train ticket from Warsaw (the nearest big city to the village where she taught school) to Antwerp.  My grandfather wrote a letter, or most likely got someone with better English to write it for him, telling the authorities that he had a job for her.

Henya was what we would now call a stateless person; she lived in Poland but was a citizen of a nation that no longer existed, the Ancient Empire of Russia.  I know this because that’s what it says inside the passport that she somehow convinced the Polish authorities to give her, along with a stamp from the American consulate in Warsaw authorizing entry.  Somebody in the consulate wrote my grandfather’s name and the town where they lived, in English, in the passport.

Henya bought a third class ticket on the train from Warsaw to Antwerp.  By the time she arrived, she was very ill.  The Red Star Line would not allow her to board the ship because it was the policy of the US Customs and Immigration Service not to admit anyone who had a contagious disease; instead, the steamship companies had to carry such passengers back to their European port of embarkation at their own expense.  So she was stranded, all alone, in a crummy waterfront lodging house in a country where she didn’t speak a word of the language — she spoke Yiddish, Russian, and Polish, but those languages were no help in Belgium.  Somehow she got herself to the American Consulate and somebody sent a telegram to my grandfather in Manistique, Michigan.  How do I know?  Because I have the telegram my grandparents sent in response.

My grandparents must have wired money to her, and she must have seen the “best doctor,” and we know she was brave, because she was on a Red Star liner bound for Ellis Island, where I found her name on the ship manifest. Henya, the tiny fierce old woman whom I knew as Auntie Helen, saved the telegram all her life, because it had literally saved HER life.  When she died, it came to me as the family archivist.  And it hangs in a frame on the wall of my dining room here in Pacific Grove.  It is my family heirloom.

It is in honor of my grandparents and their generation, who were braver than I will ever have to be, that I am part of our Indivisible Monterey Immigration Task Force.

Mariana

Mariana is a U.S. citizen, born in California 11 years ago to undocumented parents from Mexico. Until the last presidential election, she was an outgoing American pre-teen with pink high tops, after-school projects, and good grades (especially in math). She used to giggle a lot.
But not any more. Now, when her father drops her off for school, her eyes frequently fill with tears. Each time he drives away, she fears he’ll be swept up in the chaos of deportation and she won’t see him again.

Now that ICE has begun their detentions and raids in the County, the family sticks close together at home. Her family life includes furtive trips out to school, to work, to get groceries. Now, there are no after-school projects. No trips to the Boys and Girls Club or even to the library.

A U.S. citizen who has never lived anywhere except Seaside, Mariana’s whole life has shrunk to the size of her family’s apartment. There, she exists, trying to cope with her parents’ fears and her own. It will not take her parents deportation to harm this 11-year old’s spirit, because the damage has already begun.

Mariana is a young friend of mine. This is why I resist.

Travel ban

It seems timely to be writing this on Independence Day.

I work in an elementary school. When the ‘travel ban’ was initiated, 2 things happened in 1 week. A first grader was exhibiting behaviors that were new – a kind of hyperactive acting out. I asked his teacher what she thought might be causing it. She replied that his mother was at home, in tears, wondering if she would be “sent back”, to her country of origin. A kindergarten boy had been in China with his family for 3 months. They returned, and his classmates were ecstatic to see him again. I spoke with his father. The family planned on staying in the U.S. for at least the next 2 years. Days later…… they were gone. Back to China. The explanation – ” visa problems.”

I wondered where I could best make a difference for these families and our children. I chose the Immigration Task Force.