Juan Goes Home

Reading the opening of Jean Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew, he argues that Anti-Semitism (dislike of, avoidance of, negative table talk about, hatred of, and extermination of Jews – he wrote this in 1947) was a Passion, not an Opinion. An Opinion is “You can’t trust Jews”, “They didn’t serve France in enough numbers in WW1”, “They are all bankers”, “They don’t like to work”. These can be supported or refuted by research. A Passion is something else. No amount of argument will prevail.

I was a school boy in the 1950’s. I recall during a social studies class discussion on the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act someone was kind enough to tell the class that the reason we restricted immigration from Africa was that “Negroes smell different”. If the
1950’s seem like the Ice Age to you, in 2010 in Alaska I sat in on a small discussion started by rising Tea Party star Joe Miller, then trying to grab the Republican nomination for Senate (he failed). When asked about immigration Miller said, “Well I won’t use cattle cars, but…” and then he proceeded to explain how he would carry out the mass deportation of Mexicans. Cattle Cars? Then an ex teacher who had
recently moved to Alaska from Arizona said that she knew for a fact that the young Mexican children in her class “carried diseases.”

I am the proud employer of an illegal alien. Lets give him a fictitious name, lets call him “Juan”. Juan is in his middle forties, has a wife and six children in Durango, and has been working in the United States for seven years. Juan has a valid drivers license, owns a battered up old Toyota pickup, pays income taxes and social security (he will never receive a penny back of his social security), and is illegal. He does yard work and has many customers. Every Sunday he goes to Mass, every week he speaks to his wife with a phone card. All Juan does is work. Next to his bed is a bible which he reads at night.

Early this morning Juan drove his truck down into my alfalfa field. “I have to return to Mexico,” he said. We speak in Spanish because I like it, though Juan can speak in a halting English, which he says, “I have to learn for my customers.” Then Juan said his mother had died. I hugged him and tried to persuade him to stay, but no, he was going.
“When?” I asked. “Today,” answered Juan. Then he said in Spanish, “Don’t worry, I will be back soon.”

You know how Juan will get back from Mexico to be here
in New Mexico? To return to his truck, his house which he rents, to his customers and to his friends like me? Juan will walk. He will walk from the Frontier, he will walk through the Sonoran desert, one of the most hostile environments for man on the planet, he will walk
past Tucson, and he will continue on to the outskirts of Phoenix (“the most dangerous part”). He will walk for six days and nights. He will have to carry any food he eats (“mostly crackers”), he will have to go from cattle tank to cattle tank to find water, and he will be hunted all the way, by the U.S. Immigration Service, like an animal.

“Via con Dios”, I said. I learned it from the movies. But this is not a movie, and Juan will need the protection of God to make it, which I believe he will. Hundreds of people, men and women do not. Each year they are found dead, in the desert.

Back in the 1950’s as I grew up, not near the border, but in New York City, it was common to portray a Mexican with a large sombrero sitting under a tree, asleep. “Mexicans are lazy”. In fact Mexicans are the hardest workers in this country. When I worked as a journalist inside the Texas prisons the field work gangs were segregated; white, black and Mexican. All the bosses preferred to work with Mexicans “because they worked so hard.”

“Mexicans steal”.”Illegals increase the crime rate.” “Mexicans take jobs from Americans”. Exactly; there is a long line of American citizens waiting to arrive at predawn with a shovel to plug up the gopher holes that are screwing up my alfalfa fields.
Americans don’t even know how to build an adobe house, or plaster it either. Mexicans do.

As Sartre pointed out, these statements are not really Opinions, they are a Passion.

So why do we hate Mexicans? I can think of a lot of reasons. They work harder than we do, for starters. Juan works like a machine; he likes it. He is unstoppable for hours at a time, and he does this with pride. Juan is also religious, something few Americans are any more. He gets the strength to go through the trials of life by believing in God. Juan, and his brothers and sisters who cook, and clean, and build are people we cannot do without. Maybe that is why we hate them. It is not any kind of logic that is driving this attack on Mexicans. Susana Martinez, “the first Hispanic female” governor of New Mexico, does nothing positive for the state of New Mexico, but she incessantly harps on a law no one will pass to take Juan’s drivers license away. Her parents were immigrants. They were probably illegal. There is a name for that. Something Jews know a lot about because it was drummed into them for centuries in the Middle Ages. It’s called self hatred.

The question of immigration is not a legal question. It is a moral and ethical question. “The Law is an Ass” Cicero wrote 2000 years ago.That does not mean that I am an anarchist. It means that the law must take into account mitigating and human factors in every case. Fifty years ago SNCC workers in the civil rights Movement broke the law routinely. The pivotal moment in in our moving forward as a civilization was when Americans began to realize that the civil rights Movement was not a legal issue but a moral one.

Juan went home for his mother’s funeral. Do you know that prisoners, even people doing Life sentences, are routinely let out of prison to go to their mother’s funeral? Then they come back to prison. What is wrong with us? These people are the best among us, and it’s time to get up and say so. Many years ago an older friend, a beatnik and artist, an immigrant from Europe said to me, “If it wasn’t for the blacks, this country would be no fucken’ good.” He was right. That’s just as true of Mexicans. If Juan was not part of my life here in New Mexico, it would be “no fucken’ good.”

3 Responses to “Juan Goes Home”
  1. catcher43rob says:

    May I commend to you, on the occasion of this fine essay, a debate between James Baldwin and William Buckley, which was held at Cambridge (UK), and can be found on U-tube. Baldwin speaks before Buckley. James Baldwin will tell you what you must know about the experience of being an
    Afro-American, a Latino, or an “Asian” in this country. You need not hear Mr. Buckley’s rant.

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  1. […] Read the entire essay on Danny Lyon’s Blog. […]

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