She stood at the pay phone, repeatedly dialing, listening, and replacing the receiver. I pulled along side her, smiled and said in Spanish, “Can I help you? Are you having car trouble?”
She was frightened. It isn’t often a white woman speaks Spanish, especially in rural North Carolina. The child with her was of school age and at this hour, should have been in school. She looked at me, her son, the highway and nodded, trembling as she clutched a small bag of groceries.
“Can you take us home?” she asked.
“Sure. Which direction do you live in?”
“It’s that way,” she said and pointed to the right.
We introduced ourselves. I asked about her son’s age and she proudly responded, “He is six years old.”
Casually I asked, “Why isn’t he in school? Do you need help? I can help you if you want.”
“No, no! I’m leaving tomorrow. We’re going back to Florida. The nursery work is almost finished.” Her voice was shaking as she spoke.
“You don’t want him to go to school?” I asked.
She hesitated before she replied, “If we’re sent back, he’ll be abandoned. I’ll lose him forever.” Then she finished firmly, “He stays with me.”
We talked about the crops she had harvested and which states she preferred. After a brief, uncomfortable silence, I revisited the dilemma of education. “Where was he born?”
“He’s American – born in Florida,” she said it proudly as if it were a true gift.
Gently but firmly I replied, “He needs to be educated.”
She responded, her voice again shaky, “Right here is fine, you can stop right here.”
There is a war inside my soul. It rages unchecked at times. Driving away, I revisit a familiar daydream. I imagine myself with a microphone, speaking to my countrymen. I remind them sternly, “Immigration is not a political platform. It lives, breathes, laughs, cries, becomes ill and dies.” I pause, content that I have their attention. I look to my right, to the United States government, point and declare, “You are pretenders; you allow persecution and prejudice to spread like a disease in my country. As a result, you are all fired.”
I turn my head toward the masses, point at them and say gently, “We are all part of the solution. We are all involved.”
Movement in a far-off field catches my eye and interrupts my fantasy. I pull off the road next to acres of sweet potatoes. I watch as they work furiously to fill and carry the twenty pound buckets for a ticket worth forty cents. I don’t see anyone that looks like me. I hear strong Spanish ballads, the words indistinguishable in the gusty wind.
Soon, my country will remember its national identity. We once populated this field, singing our songs, our hearts full of promise for the future. Soon, we will remember that this nation was not born of greed and industry but of the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants. This, I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.