There’s been so much uproar over the last few years about immigrants and illegals, and I’ve concluded that’s actually code for “Those brown-skinned people.” I have a German friend who, if she could get a green card, certainly wouldn’t be lumped in with all the “undesirables” so many complain about, and she wouldn’t have her immigration status checked on the roadside in Arizona…or anywhere else. In fact, my state of FL is trying to pass a law that would exempt her even if she overstayed her visa.
Not so for brown-skinned immigrants. They would be presumed illegal until they proved otherwise.
But I’m not here to rant about our national racism and paranoia. Not directly. I’m here because I want to discuss a trip last week that brought me into a circle of brown-skinned people, all but one of whom were immigrants.
And I’m here to say I want more of them.
When I travel, I need a wheelchair because of my back and my dizziness. Put me on a jetway with all its slant and uneven steps, and I will probably do a face-plant on the floor. And I sure can’t drag my carry-on without hurting my back. So wheelchair it is.
There were plenty of white people along the way, including gate agents and others who worked for the airline who didn’t give me the time of day, a smile, or even a nod. But those brown-skinned folks, including those new to this country, wrapped me in warmth and caring that made me feel special, and not at all like a drag.
The guy who took care of me twice at Jackson was not an immigrant. He was African American, he recognized me when I arrived for my return flight, and called me by name. He helped me every step of the way, including putting my shoes back on my feet after the security check. (The white folks in Tampa made me hobble to a seat and gather my own stuff.) When I expressed wonder at his kindness, he told me he’d used to work in home care, but it got too painful because he attached to his patients and then they died. But he said he enjoyed his current job, because, “It’s all about helping people, you know?”
In Memphis I was helped by an immigrant from Dakkar in Africa. He was also extremely kind, and chatted about how glad he was to be in this country, and how much he was looking forward to citizenship. I made him promise to vote Democratic as soon as he could. He laughed, gave me a beautiful smile and said, “I want so much to vote. And I will vote Democratic.” He too cared for me as if I were his own mother.
The experience was repeated in Tampa on my arrival. I got TLC from someone who had come here from the Caribbean. He smiled, asked me to let him know anything I needed, and returned me safely and carefully to the arms of my family. He, too, wanted citizenship.
I found myself wondering why these people, hearing the way we talk about immigrants, would want to be citizens here. How they remain so friendly and caring.
But you see, I learned from a neighbor that these folks aren’t just being nice because it’s their job. Our neighbor is Mayan. Ten minutes into my first conversation with his brother, I was being invited to Michoacan to see the arrival of the Monarch Butterflies, and assured that his mother and the rest of his family would take care of me and make sure I had a good time.
These are the kind of people we want in America: hard-working, kind, generous. They impressed me hugely, and they were doing jobs most white Americans don’t want. What’s more, from my experience I would judge that they do it far better. They don’t see an old lady in a wheelchair as a nuisance, like some I encountered. They saw me as a person in need of their care.
We could do nothing better for our country than to welcome these warm-hearted people. They would thaw our increasingly cold hearts.