As Saratoga Springs celebrates 150 years of thoroughbred racing, visitors swell the population of the “city in the country” and our quaint little town becomes inundated by people from both sides of the track. Literally.
We welcome sleek, leggy athletes from, among other thoroughbred racecourses, Aqueduct, Del Mar, Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park. Sometimes we barely acknowledge their grooms and hot-walkers, who come from, among other places, the United States, Chile, Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, Guatemala, Russia and Uruguay.
With the immigration reform bill being tossed around, and border militarization a key element of its passage, it is more important than ever to recognize the local impact of policy written in Washington.
If we make U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a proud man and turn our border to the south into one of the most militarized boundaries in the world, we may well set in motion a paradigm that heightens racial profiling and racism, repeating the sentiment that was prevalent under the nation’s “Operation Wetback” project in the early 1960s. Militarized borders, after all, keep out the enemy, or the undesirables (think Korea), or keep in the desirables (think Berlin Wall),
So, while we are enjoying our trackside luncheon, it is important to keep in mind that those individuals who keep a quiet profile working behind the scenes, all 3,000 of them, make horse racing possible in our own little Manhattan perched on the edge of the Adirondacks.
The majority of the behind-the-scenes track workers are migrants, traveling great distances to follow the horses from one track to another, year after year. Hundreds of these workers speak Spanish, with very little English. They rely on the help of the locals to help make sense of things in the grocery store and at the doctor’s offices. Sometimes that is what happens.
For example, a mother working on the racetrack and fighting cancer cannot cover chemotherapy bills. Her trainer and other track workers and a local church rally to cover the costs for a round that very possibly saved her life.
On the other hand, a local equine surgeon relayed this story to me: Several years ago, a prominent trainer asked this veterinarian to treat an elderly groom who needed emergency medical assistance. This veterinarian told the trainer to call 911. When the trainer refused, the veterinarian broke down the door of the dorm room where the individual lived and found him inside, dying. The local veterinarian said, “I will never forget that man looking up at me gratefully and calling me ‘Doc.’ He died in my arms.”
When you attend the races, when you are in town or when you have to make a wide swerve around a bicycle with an impossibly balanced, enormous bag of cans on the rider’s back, take a minute to contemplate the contribution our migrant population makes to our community. Most guest workers labor early and late, in the heat, outside mostly, a long way from their families and their culture. Many have crossed the border to get here.
Without them, the horses would not run, and area farms and restaurants would lose an imperative workforce.
Make room for these temporary visitors and know that most of them, if the immigration reform bill passes as written, will have to cross a war zone to go home and then back here to work. While they are here, find a place to respect their good work and let our elected leaders know that a militarized border is not something to be proud of.
A militarized border is designed to keep out enemies. Our neighbors are not our enemies.
Diana Bryson Barnes is a Spanish literature professor at Skidmore College who travels frequently to the U.S.-Mexican border for research and has been involved with border issues since the mid-1990s. The Gazette encourages readers to submit columns for the Sunday Opinion section.