Two days ago, in a Facebook posting, a guy from my hometown named Jim called me “an anti-American asshole.” Why? Because I had the nerve to express empathy for the plight of Mexican immigrants lining Mahopac’s Route 6, seeking out work (I didn’t say I support illegal workers. I didn’t say they deserve jobs that should go to documented U.S. workers. I said I have empathy for their plights—that seeing anyone lining a street in the 90-degree heat, desperate for a gig, deserves sympathy). Jim also expressed disdain and confusion about the Mexicans, and why police don’t simply arrest them. He used an insanely derogatory term to describe them. Like, horrifyingly offensive.
Initially, I decided I would ignore Jim’s posting and move forward. But then I thought about it. And thought about it again. Throughout my youth, I too often ignored the Jims of my hometown. When someone made a racial slur, I often pretended I didn’t hear it. When my seventh grade teacher (yes, my seventh grade teacher) told us how blacks can’t ski and laughed about Jews “roasting” in the ovens, I silently squirmed. Now, though, I’m an adult. I own a voice. I am not intimidated by people like this, and I don’t feel compelled to conceal or run from their ignorance. In fact, just the opposite. To me, being a racist or a sexist or a homophobe or—in this case—an apparent xenophobe demands you to be called out; to be uncovered for your true feelings.
So let me be clear: I see immigrants sitting on the side of a road, itching for work—I feel sadness for them. And you, Jim, should, too. Not because they’re documented or illegal; not because you’d like them personally or hate them personally. You should feel empathy because, come day’s end, they’re human friggin’ beings, and life has led them to a roadside in the midst of Nowehere Bumblehell, N.Y., trying to land a gig that’ll probably pay $8 or $9 per hour. You know why they’re there, Jim? Probably because, back home, the pay sucks. And they have families to support. And Mexico, in 2011, happens to be remarkably dangerous.
If that doesn’t at least give you pause … if that doesn’t make you think, “Man, it must suck to be them,” well, one must question your humanity.
Oh, and one last thing? Who the hell are you? What I mean is, how does owning a company, or being a sports writer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a janitor, provide you with exclusive ownership of the American dream? You’re here for one reason: Blessed luck. The Mexican getting killed by a cartel is there for one reason: Bad luck. So don’t treat citizenship as something you earned via greatness or hard work; don’t act as if it’s your possession, prized and secure. Because, truth be told, you’re proud to be an American based solely on womb placement. Or, in more simple terms, blind luck.
And before you start screaming “Speak English”—learn to spell.