Although the debate over labeling immigrants as illegal or undocumented has died down somewhat, it has left me for a longing for my coworkers from my restaurant days. I have worked with people from Mexico, Guatemala, and Central America, and they are very dear to me. Freddie, the school teacher from El Salvador. Dear sweet Freddie, who comforted me in the midst of a personal crisis. Marcelino, with his brilliant smile, gold tooth flashing. He worked seven days a week, double shifts, with ceaseless energy, and always wearing that smile. Roberto, the shy, blue-eyed dishwasher from Mexico who haltingly asked if I could help him with his English. Arturo, the chef who got arrested in the parking lot behind the restaurant for smoking a cigarette. (Littering.) After his arrest he was detained by ICE for several weeks and then deported back to Mexico, only to return three weeks later.
I lost Freddie during the Proposition 187 era when the restaurant decided to do a sweep on Social Security numbers. Freddie and everyone else who made that restaurant run were gone. It was during Fiesta week, and talk about a complete disaster. Dirty dish tubs literally lined up out the back door, and no food was coming out of the kitchen. Customers were screaming so horribly that no waitress wanted to go onto to the floor, and many that did wound up in tears. And, oh yes, they did try to hire some “legal” employees, but they just couldn’t keep up.
Unfortunately I never got to see Freddie again. Last I heard he went to Chicago. I miss him to this day. I hope that he and all of my compadres are doing well. I know that Marcelino is doing great, and I have a feeling that Freddie is, too.
My friends exemplify hard work, grit and determination. Is this not the essence of the American Dream? I don’t know what the answer is, but demonizing these people, who I have come to know and love, is definitely not the answer.