Richard Rodriguez was required reading in my Bilingualism class. He wrote, among other things, a really well written book called Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez
The other day on (of course) NPR I heard this thing that he had written since Congress was discussing cutting of social services to millions of undocumented immigrants.
SAN FRANCISCO–In the noisy argument over what to do with illegal immigrants, the common assumption is that America has done a great deal for them already. The question now is: What more should we give them? Should we give them a green card? Grant them amnesty? Or stop all this generosity and send them packing?
No one speaks of what illegal immigrants have done for us.
It occurs to me I have not heard two relevant words spoken. If you will allow me, I will speak them: “Thank you.”
Thank you for turning on the sprinklers. Thank you for cleaning the swimming pool. And scrambling the eggs and doing the dishes.
Thank you for making the bed. Thank you for getting the children up and ready for school. Thank you for picking them up after school.
Thank you for caring for our dying parents.
Thank you for plucking dead chickens.
Thank you for bending your bodies over our fields.
Thank you for breathing chemicals and absorbing chemicals into your bodies.
Thank you for the lettuce and the spinach and the artichokes and asparagus and the cauliflower, the broccoli, the beans, and the tomatoes and the garlic. Thank you for the apricots and the peaches and the apples and the plums and the melons and the almonds. And the grapes.
Thank you for the willow trees and the roses and the winter lawn.
Thank you for scraping and painting and roofing, and cleaning out the asbestos and the mold.
Thank you for your stoicism and your eager hands.
Thank you for all the young men on rooftops in the sun.
Thank you for your humor and the singing.
Thank you for cleaning the toilets and the showers and the restaurant kitchens and the schools and the office buildings and the airports and the malls.
Thank you for washing the car. Thank you for washing all the cars.
Thank you for your parents, who died young and had nothing to bequeath to their children but the memory of work.
Thank you for giving us your youth.
Thank you for the commemorative altars.
Thank you for the food, the beer, the tragic polka.
This was taken from here.
I mention now that what I liked the most about the book is how intimate language is
for him. How foundational to everything in his life. I do not agree with everything he writes, but I like and appreciate his voice and his point of view. I think he is refreshing because he can say things and be quoted–things that few people can say in the public realm and be acknowledged.
As a language major, the years I studied language as the only thing I did, they feel like almost romantic years now. When a person gets to put that much time toward language study, naturally many subtleties come out, relationships that hang from a delicate thread of understanding exist. I like it when people look at language more closely. I like the music of other languages, that’s why I don’t care that all my Samba, I don’t understand a significant part of it. It’s just part of the music.
Anyway, I think Mr. Rodriguez makes a point that seems incredibly obvious (to me, anyway). I was told my Spanish would open all kinds of doors of opportunity in the work force. When it didn’t, I was told by one woman (whom I would like to clobber with an old smelly sneaker) I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was offered alot of opportunities though, to help translate for dishwashers, custodians, busboys, landscaping workers and teach English to migrants (and receive minimum wage for it, if I was paid at all).
The migrants population by and large takes the jobs that no one else wants. Out of fear often times they do not report abuses. They are at the mercy of the good heart of their employer because they often fear being reported to “La Migra” if they raise their voice in protest.
I too have to take money out of my savings account to make ends meet each month. My taxes, well it does feel unfair in some ways to have to pay for the poverty of another country. But a pregnant woman with a little baby who needs money for milk because neither she nor her baby have enough to eat? Sorry, I won’t be the one to say “No, go back to your country,” or “Sorry, even though I live in one of the richest countries on the planet, I don’t have enough to help you with your baby.”