By Ryan Gregory
Growing up in the Midwest, you don’t get to see a lot of cultures and ethnicities. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Midwest. Its home, and just like any other home, it’s my comfort zone. With that said, it is also home to a lot of people who are closed-minded to other cultures and ethnicities which, in itself, can be a debilitating disease, in my opinion.
But I myself wasn’t immune to the influences of what I now see as a closed-minded way of thinking. Growing up, I was a boy who thought that people on government assistance were the drains of society and illegal immigrants were taking our jobs. I watched “The O’Reilly Factor” and was convinced there was a war on Christmas because we had to say “Happy Holidays.” I was also raised by a dad who is a staunch, Reagan-era conservative. My view of the world was about to all changed in June of 2007.
At that time, I was just getting ready to finish High School. My single mom was having trouble raising me, and her only solution was to send me on a one-way flight to West Palm Beach, Florida where my dad had been stationed for NASA. I was terrified. I didn’t want to leave my friends or family. I became angry. That was such a great distance away from my comfort zone. I couldn’t drive back if I missed my friends. How would I survive? I arrived down in West Palm Beach and became immediately depressed. My dad said, “We need to get you a job. You like mowing lawns, why don’t you get a job at the country club next to our gated community?” I shrugged it off, but he forced me to go in and apply anyway. I instantly got the job and they said I would start at 6 a.m. on a Monday. I showed up on time but was so tired. That was so early! In the break room, I saw my future coworkers. Not one of them was American. I began to feel my stomach sink. They just stared. I knew they were Latinos, but I didn’t know from which country they came. The others were Haitians from Haiti and people from St. Kitts, another Caribbean island. Haitians spoke Haitian Creole, which is basically a slang French, and all were of African descendants. The people from St. Kitts spoke a more Jamaican accent which I could understand. I had forgotten most of my French and Spanish teachings from High School and I felt completely out of my element.
Over the next few weeks, I picked up on a little Spanish and the guys started including me. For awhile, they just seemed to ignore me. The work was exhausting. It was putting me to the test for sure. I eventually bought Rosetta Stone and learned Spanish again at the apartment. I wasn’t just going to work at a place and be silent all day. Eventually, I started picking up on a lot more and before I knew it, we were speaking full conversations with each other. I learned of all of their struggles. It made me look at my own life a lot. I wasn’t working so I could send money back to my country so that my children could afford to go to school.
Over the next few months, we ended up hiring two Americans. One was from Minnesota and the other was from Lake Worth, Florida. They lasted only one month before quitting due to the nature of the work. That’s when I was I realized that illegal immigrants weren’t the problem. They didn’t come here to steal our jobs. They came here because they know we don’t want to do these types of jobs. I began to educate myself about their lives. I learned, for once, that they do in fact want to be legal, but we’ve made the immigration process so difficult that many of them don’t have the time to wait around. Some of the guys would pay American women thousands of dollars to just marry them so they could gain legal status. That, to them, was better than paying tens of thousands of dollars for the immigration process.
Months had gone by and I developed a close bond with my coworkers. No longer did I view them as illegal, but they became brothers to me. I learned that before they did golf courses, many of them were picking vegetables in the farms of the Midwest or some of them were working in factories sewing clothes in the Northeast and even a few of them worked in the poultry factories all across the country. These are real human beings, but a lot of American’s think they are just dregs of society that come here to rape women and deal drugs. Many Americans interact with illegal immigrants, they just don’t know it. Unless, you’re border patrol, you don’t just walk up to people and ask to see their papers. These men and women who come over here are in search of a life they wished they had, but unfortunately, didn’t get so now they get the option to give that to their children. Some of these men hadn’t seen their kids in years since crossing the border. They can’t return to see them every year and risk being caught. A Donald Trump-proposed wall won’t hold back the drive these people have to come over here to provide a better life for their families. The next time you sit down and eat vegetables, remember the men and women who came from nothing have just provided you with delicious fruits and vegetables and even deboned that chicken you’re eating. In my opinion, the state of Florida wouldn’t be so beautiful if you didn’t have the millions of illegal immigrants living there, taking care of every inch of landscaping. The majority of them do pay taxes. They get actual checks with taxes taken out. Some would say, “Yeah, but some of them get cash money.” And my response would be “so do many Americans.” The solution to illegal immigration is simply make the immigration process easier or grant amnesty but closing borders does nothing.
That’s the thing about any human of any race. If they want to achieve something, they will put in the time and effort to do it. No wall or human can stop someone. Immigrants are part of what makes this country so great. They’re a part of the mold of America, and I’m grateful for their services every day.
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