Next weekend, a movie called “Under the Same Moon” will open here. It’s a film about a little boy who lives with his grandmother in Mexico. The boy has a mother, but he has not seen her in five years. That’s because she is in Los Angeles, working, sending money back home. The mother’s work as a housekeeper keeps her family out of poverty, but the price is estrangement.
The film is high on melodrama, but it underscores the important point that thousands of Mexican families are in this position.
As you know by now, the Mexican immigration issue is front and center of the political debate, for no one disputes that a significant number of Mexican immigrants are “illegals,” and that some of these non-taxpaying “illegals” receive de facto aid from American taxpayers.
It’s not a simple situation, and there are points to be made on both sides of the issue. One argues compassion for the unfortunate, while the other asserts that hundreds of thousands of those hopping over the border are breaking the law, and the law is the law. Moreover, by not paying taxes on their wages, they leave American citizens with higher bills.
As the child of immigrants who arrived here legally, my heart goes out to these Mexicans. I am further swayed by my own observation from decades of doing a large share of work in and around Los Angeles, where Mexican workers abound. I add to this experience visits to Oaxaca, where I spent days with Mexican guides and peasants.
If there are some mean, villainous Mexicans in the hordes of illegals, the Mexicans I encountered are hardworking, poor, humble and kind. Call me a sop, but when I encounter them, I think of my father, who sacrificed his personal ambitions to make things better for his family. My father and millions of other immigrants upon whose backs this country is built.
It is an emotional argument, but when I think of immigrants, I do not ponder legalities but images of people trying their best to keep a family together. I further have registered the comments of dozens of employers who knowingly hire “illegals” and do nothing but extol their work ethic. Their kind words do not extend to Americans born here, many of whom have no work ethic at all.
I understand and appreciate the honest objections of those who hold legality paramount. Still, along with their righteous indignation, I cannot help discerning a mean-spirited attitude transcending the issues. Many of those potshots come from children and grandchildren of immigrants.
How soon they forget.
I have heard too many ugly jokes about “wetbacks,” and just recently I received an e-mail from a friend with an attachment; it was a clever game. It showed Mexicans running across the border; those who choose to play are snipers picking off as many “wetbacks” as possible in the allotted time.
These little games were designed by Americans, and I must tell you that if this kind of ethnic insensitivity is the norm for the majority of Americans, I am deeply shamed to be an American. In the 1980s, I witnessed the same sort of sniping in Germany, where I saw local teens insult visiting Turkish workers. “Goddamn, s*** Turk!” the son of a friend shouted at a Turk as he passed by.
“Why did you do that?” I asked the proud 18-year-old. “They’re taking our jobs,” he replied. The Mexicans are not taking American jobs — just those that Americans do not want to do.
Yes, I remain unimpressed by the tin-sounding clamor of citizens who sanctimoniously protest illegalities. If my friend who sent me the shooting gallery site was so upset about breaking the law, would he and his pals please send their tax statements to the IRS for a voluntary audit of the last five years? When I made said request, I received no reply.
Another factor looms large in the immigrant debate, one that speaks directly to the problem addressed in “Under the Same Moon.” Now, the illegal immigrants, their families and their defenders have Pope Benedict XVI on their side. As Michael Sean Winters reminds us in a New Republic commentary, the pope is to the left of Hillary and Obama when it comes to this one issue. For more than anything, “the Church respects the dignity of every human being,” which is why the pope implores Americans “to welcome the young people and the very young with their parents with sympathy — understanding the vicissitudes of their lives.”
In other words, the pope and the church come down squarely on the side of family values, and family values include having compassion for poor, hardworking people from other lands, no matter how they got here.
The immigration issue is complex; many questions need to be resolved. But in all this, the one common denominator should be compassion for people willing to work hard and long to make things better for their families.
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Categories: Life and Arts