Monday, August 31, 2009

Some things in life are more important than others but most have significance sooner or later. As I listened to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, I realized it was the "other side" to Till We Have Faces. All of the participants and their actions "unseen" in Lewis's novel are explicitly apparent in Sinclair's. Amused, the thought occurred to me that many hardline capitalists adopt socialist views when the topic of discussion turns from economy and profits to sin and redemption.

Anyway, I have been thinking about illegal immigrants again after watching a program on HBO (and after reflecting upon The Jungle). I agree that people who have waited longer for legal status should be first, but right now our country has a larger problem - we can't even keep kids from crossing the border. It is a sad, dangerous path for so many children. I was thankful my husband let me know that some people were using their resources to bring attention to the many children who risk their lives trying to come here, to the United States.

Which Way Home. That is the name of the HBO documentary. I knew I would cry before it ended, but I did not know I would feel so afraid when the boys did not meet up with the crew when they were supposed to. I am still angry and upset that no one knows where Olga and Freddy are. I wish I could tell Juan Carlos that he is doing the right thing. Kevin, that I am proud of his Level 4 and that he does not hurt others. Jairo has his head in the right place – my husband has done pretty well as a mechanic. Yurico is too happy and naturally good, letting the younger ones go with him, telling them to not goof off too much. He is too good to end up on drugs. Fito, a dreamer with a big heart. He lied when he said he did not care what happened to Kevin. But he was too scared to say so. I wish I could do something for them. I understand their desire to follow their dreams, to have a better life, but my heart breaks at the idea of them losing their lives on the trains or in the desert.

I want to help kids like that. They are here, too, in the U. S. Most of them have never needed much motivation to achieve, just someone to believe in them. In fact, many of them have inspired me. The documentary made me think of a child I had not thought of in a while. I don’t remember her name. But I went to see her at the hospital about ten years ago. When I still waited tables, some familiar guests, who knew that I speak a little Spanish, told me about a girl who had been in an accident. She had no family here and spoke only Spanish. When I went, I was torn to see her so small and pitiful. Sad, scared, yet somehow still proud, tubes were sticking out of her everywhere. The nurses said that she was paralyzed from the neck down. She was in a pickup truck accident and was not wearing a seatbelt.

The girl tried to smile back at me. She was 15 years old, she said, and had come up here to earn money for her family. She had a cleaning job. The worst part for her was that her mother and father could not come see her. I recall trying to imagine how I would feel if that were my daughter, ten at the time, but I could not. She had her faith, she told me. Feeling a little awkward, I held up the box with the necklace that I brought her. Slipped it onto her slender, feeble hand. She wanted me to pray with her. I am not good at that, but she wanted it. I was not allowed to stay long because of her condition. It was hard to leave, but the nurses said that someone else who spoke Spanish was coming tomorrow. Gently, I kissed the girl’s head, said goodbye.

I do not know where the girl is now, only that she is a grown woman and not a girl anymore. Or did she lose her childhood long ago? I do not forget ever when I meet people whose light shines no matter what happens. This girl who kept her dignity, did not want pity – like the beautiful girl in Which Way Home who lost her legs under the wheels of the train. I do not remember her name because I was struck by the determined pride and beauty in her face. Certain people have something internal that drives them. Something that people will try to take away or beat out of them. But children need to be children. Documentation and legalization of immigrants – different from citizenship – would not entirely cure but help to decrease the number of illegal child laborers in this country. Our America.

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is a metaphor for so many instances. Note: I do not agree with Sinclair’s treatment of certain minorities in this novel. However, he correctly assessed the need for regulation of the food industry at that time and the need to protect immigrants. I have always been thankful for the Food and Drug Administration but now even more. The lessons learned at the turn of the last century are being learned again as we breathe. The parallels are uncanny, even to the trainhopping, the danger, the oppression that drives people of poverty to extremes, and the apathy of too many others. It’s about being human. It’s about being a world economy. It’s about peoples’ lives. Children’s lives. It’s about whatever you need it to be about, as long as you want to do something.

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