¿Perejil or perros?

My friend Gene is our neighborhood’s sentinel for well-being, and a master collector of the stories of people who dare to cross all of the different borders that intersect along the Rio Grande in south Texas.

Gene notices, over and again, that life’s goodness is invariably disguised, and in that way, he is a quite the detective.

I sat on the front porch this morning, reading the Sunday paper and watching a military helicopter cross back and forth through my home’s air space. Gene rolled  up on his bike, and tossed me a copy of the Sunday Matamoros newspaper, El Bravo. “Good reading, there,” he says, and then tells me that the other night, while taking  what he calls his moonlight bike ride, that he had run across a group of Mexican nationals walking toward the bus station.

“Where are you going?,” he shouted at them.

“Florida!” they said.

“What for?” he asked, and they said, “Para trabajar en el perejil (to work in the parsley fields)“.

Gene, misunderstanding “perejil” for “perro” said, “You guys are going to Florida to  take care of dogs?” and the group laughs as one, “Perejil, no perros! (Parsley, not dogs),” they shout, laughing as they continue on their way.

Gene points out to me that the farmworkers didn’t even know the name of the town to which they are heading, that they are going to be working under the hot Florida sun squatting over a weedy plant that is essentially a garnish–and that that seemed liked a good deal to them.

The men were coming from northern Veracruz, a Mexican state so rich in natural resources, with endless deposits of gas and oil as well as a world-class agribusiness, that it could be its own independent nation.

Things have become so bad there, though, that families are having trouble feeding their children.  So these men are leaving behind all those that they love–wives, children, grandchildren, parents and friends, and heading off for Florida, for a place where folks easily confuse perejil and perros.

Gene steps off  the porch and heads on home. “People,” he said, “are incredible.”

As his bike turns the corner, the black helicopter comes roaring out of the east, seeking those who would stoop to harvest the garnish we place on our dinner plates.

I return to the Sunday paper, first pausing, however, to offer a prayer for those laughing, courageous fellows. They have earned at least that, I think.

Between the Borders

The solution lies somewhere between the borders

By Taisha Sturdivant  |  July 26, 2010
MARTIN LUTHER King’s assertion that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’’ is true, but, much like self-defense, we are conditioned not to act unless the threat is immediate. Yet only in acting are we prompted to correct the ills, in order to alleviate unjust practices and keep them from spreading.

When it comes to immigration, we are failing.

Border Fence in south Brownsville

My older cousin believes that she cannot find a job because of immigrants. For her, the whole idea of migrant rights and services feels like a stab in the back. My work last summer as a live-in volunteer at an emergency shelter on the US-Mexican border was repulsive to her, disrespectful even. I wish she could have heard an immigrant named Maria Eugenia talk about the conditions she endured in factories and fieldwork.

One of my mentors made it clear that my work with “that population’’ could destroy my chances at attending law school. But if I am granted the opportunity to attend law school, I would not only work for “that population,’’ but other subjugated people as well.

On the border, I slept in a closet-sized room with no windows, like our shelter guests often do in their homes. I ate donated, rationed food, like our guests. I wore tattered, donated clothes, like our guests. I attempted to absorb guests’ stories of joblessness, rape, and corruption. To have avoided this experience, witnessed the injustice from afar, and turned my back on those in need would have been unconscionable. That is our mistake as a nation.

The dichotomous, black-and-white concept of race relations that I, having grown up in Roxbury, am most familiar with does not exist along “la frontera’’; however the extreme poverty of the immigrants, which I had often read about, does. It’s heartbreaking.

People often say that living in solidarity with the poor is eye-opening. I have come to find that it is impossible to live in solidarity with the poor. No matter how hard I try, I cannot become unprivileged. I also understand that those who stand most firm in their xenophobic beliefs have not even attempted to put themselves in immigrants’ shoes. The refusal of asylum, forced deportation, and resentment towards migrants is cruel. The border we have built between our nations seems to be encrypted with words like “alien’’ and “thief.’’ “Ignorant’’ should be spray-painted over the side that faces the United States.

For many people, there are two solutions: open the border and let everyone who would like to come, come. For others, closing the borders, placing Border Patrol agents every 250 feet, and denying anyone who does cross access to services is an even better idea. Like most things in life, the solution will not be found at either end of the spectrum. It lies somewhere in between. As clichéd as it sounds, it’s the truth.

Admittedly, I had not grappled with the issue of illegal immigration until I traveled to the border, nor do I have a groundbreaking solution to the problem. In my heart, I am ashamed of the United States’ 19th-century seizure of Mexican territory, anti-immigration referendum propositions, and hateful vigilante groups. Loving thy neighbor seems to be outdated.

If that is the case, when the rapture of lovelessness comes ravaging, I hope I can find refuge in the eye of the storm. Sadly, many immigrants, particularly those south of the border, are looking to do just that. Some are willing to face systematic dehumanization in the United States, to be treated more humanely than they are currently being treated in their own country.

This is the nation of migration. It should not have taken a trip to the border for me to understand that.

This was published in the July 26, 2010 Editorial page of the Boston Globe. Someone did me the favor of leaving the Boston paper in the waiting area of the local medical clinic. (Taisha Sturdivant is a guest columnist and student at Brandeis Univeristy.)