by Linda C. Wisniewski
Once a week, a white flatbed truck pulls up on our street, delivering riding mowers, short Hispanic men and one white guy, the obvious “boss.” They spill from the truck like bees, everyone in a hurry, armed at different seasons with leaf blowers, jugs of liquid fertilizer, or shovels and rakes.
I wonder what they are spraying. But mostly I have a bigger worry. I wonder if they are undocumented; if they have families here or in another country.
A local activist gave me two lists in Spanish: What to Do In an Emergency (when you have to leave home in a hurry) and Know Your Rights (when ICE comes to your door) with a phone number for free legal advice. I make copies and take them home.
One day I see a lone guy spreading mulch.
“Habla?” He looks up, smiling.
“No,” I say with a shake of my head. He looks puzzled. What does he see? A gringo lady making fun of him?
Almost all my neighbors are white. Some of us have talked about the ICE raids, the deportations, the family separation. The kids in cages, sleeping on the floor in silver blankets.
My country was unprepared for these refugees and I fear we have lost our heart. We have tax breaks for the wealthy but not enough room for the willing to work. My busy landscapers look at me with wary eyes. Was it always like this?
My grandfather’s family traveled overland from Poland to Germany, crossed the ocean, then boarded a train in New York City to Amsterdam, New York. They came because they heard about jobs in the rug, broom and glove factories. They left loved ones they would never see again.
They sat all day in the train station, hot and tired, with no idea what to do next. They spoke no English. In the evening, men who spoke Polish came down to the station and led them, on foot, to flats for rent. They took them to the factories and introduced them to bosses who taught them jobs. They were needed, if not necessarily welcomed.
We don’t need migrants in 21st century America. Our factories are closed. I understand the fears of the underemployed. I remember the layoffs when my parents worried about paying the mortgage when they lost our car because they couldn’t make the payments and we had to walk everywhere. I understand the fear that there is not enough to go around. But I don’t believe these refugees from crime and poverty are here to rip me off.
I research what I want to say, and memorize a sentence:
“No hablo Espanol, pero quiero darte esta.”
I don’t know Spanish but I want to give you this.
My heart pounds when I go outside and hand two slips of paper to the man in the yard. He looks at them and nods.
“Gracias,” he says, shoves them in his pocket and goes on working.
Linda C. Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, PA. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published by Pearlsong Press. Linda has been a member of Story Circle Network for many years and a longer version of this blog appears on her personal website. She blogs at www.lindawis.com.