Friday, July 19, 2019

American Dream, American Nightmare

I have been in a foul mood all evening, and it's not due to the fact that I sweat through three shirts over the course of the workday. We had a lovely event, a dinner for a cadre of visiting teachers who have been at a workshop all week. The president of the organization attended, as did the head of HR and another vice president. Assorted other mucky-mucks were also present. Because we had a crowd of almost fifty attendees, we needed a cleaning contractor present to make sure the bathrooms were cleaned and stocked, and to assist in getting the post-dinner trash out to our dumpsters.

Tonight, our cleaning contractor was my Chilean friend, whose mother brought her here three years ago so she could pursue a STEM education. She's a vivacious young woman, quick with a joke or an anecdote. When there was a lull in the workday, while all of the guests and VIPs were dining, she told me that she had had a nightmare... it was a nightmare specifically about ICE. Her family had gotten a visa extension, but still felt tension about the process going through. She told me that her mother had instructed her not to answer the door, not to talk to strangers, and to dress in her best clothes when she was in public. She recounted how, when she came to the US, she was shy, but that her confidence had grown as she learned English and started to take honors classes. Now, her confidence had been shaken. She came here to study, to learn, to live up to her limitless potential.

Luckily, one of my favorite co-workers, a manager who serves as den mother for the younger staff, saw us conversing in a manner other than our accustomed jocularity and noted that we seemed concerned. We recounted our conversation, knowing that she was completely trustworthy. The gauntlet had been thrown down, how do we protect our vulnerable immigrant friend? I told her that I could drive her to work on Saturday and Sunday mornings so she can avoid public transportation, and we both pledged to her that she could contact us if ever she had a problem. She's smart, so she downloaded an app which provides advice in case she is stopped. My co-worker and I told her we'd help her to dress in a more 'American' fashion (note to self, buy New York Yankees cap ASAP) so as to look inconspicuous. When she was occupied with a task which took her away from us, we discussed educating ourselves about actions we could take if something arose.

It's particularly infuriating that this charming young woman, who should be stressing out about taking the SATs and applying to colleges, is now preoccupied with raids, with keeping her head down when she should be beaming with pride about her accomplishments. In a very big way, I am now forced to confront the question, what will you do if the unthinkable comes to pass? The topic came up at the end of the night, when the guests left, and a skeleton crew helped to rinse off and pack the dishes and glassware. We have all come to know and love someone who believes, with reason, that she could have a target on her back, how will we respond?

I remember hearing from all sorts of people back in 2016 who feared that discrimination against them would ramp up. I gave a half thought-out statement of support back then... now, I have to think about concrete means of support. What do I do should the unthinkable come to pass?


StringOnAStick said...

You're a good person B^4.

Li'l Innocent said...

I know what you mean. I've come to be chat-friendly with several immigrant folks. I don't know what their legal status is; they're all regular working people, and it's no business of mine -- or is it, for the reasons you state? Suppose they were theatened with Trumpian action of some kind?

There must be other people who are similarly trouobled. Maybe a group specifically about this - how can I help my friends if the thug administration threatens them? - has started on social media or elsewhere online. Maybe one could be started.