National Day Without Immigrants
Yesterday was “National Day Without Immigrants.” Yesterday I was in New York City. The first person I met in the day was Rosa making her way down the hallway to clean the rooms, including mine. I greeted her with a “good morning” and engaged in conversation from there. Rosa came across as a gentle woman, in her 50s probably, with a kind smile. In her thickly accented English I discovered that she was from the Dominican Republic and had been in in the United States for 35 years. She lives in New Jersey and so I commented on the arduous length of her daily commute since she works in midtown Manhattan. She nodded her head in agreement, but simply said it is what she must do. As our conversation concluded, she thanked me for taking the time to talk, and said lovingly “God bless you.”
I didn’t catch the name of the next person I saw, but he was equally gracious. I was leaving my luggage to be stored for the day at the bellman’s desk. The bellman is Chinese and, like Rosa, speaks with accented English.
Walking through Central Park on this very cold, brisk day, I saw a man with brown skin, probably from a South Asian country, selling varieties of roasted nuts. There he was bundled up in the blustery, biting wind which no doubt was stinging his face. No customers were at his stand. Neither did I, in the cold, take the time to stop. He seemed not just alone, but lonely.
The next stop was a café near Lincoln Center with a staff – all looking to be age 50+ - from Viet Nam, China, a South American country, a Middle Eastern country. Smiles and small talk abounded. “Do you have hot chocolate?” I asked the gentleman with the Spanish accent: “Absolutely! Just for you!,” he warmly replied.
Back to collect my luggage, another bellman was on duty. He is from Ghana and has been in the United States for 8 years. “Have you ever been to Ghana?,” he inquired. “No, I’ve never been anywhere in Africa,” I replied. “You must go sometime,” he said with his accented English, “it is beautiful. But I love being in the United States.”
At the parking garage, a young man, probably a 20-something, was on duty. “Where are you from?,” I asked. “Ecuador,” he said with a grin. We chatted a bit and then we wished each other a good day. As I got into my car I thought: “if only I had spoken to him in his language – Spanish – rather than in the automatic impulse of my native language – English.
In 6 hours on one day: immigrants from at least 4 continents and from at least 8 countries. Even though it was “National Day Without Immigrants,” they were all working, probably because they felt compelled to do so. I did not ask any of them why they were on the job yesterday. But given the locations of their employment, they might have lost their jobs if they had chosen to take the day off. Or perhaps they could not afford to lose a day’s wages. They were working very hard and serving people like me – primarily white people of certain socio-economic privilege. I actually was amazed all these immigrants were willing to speak with me. I guess I didn’t look like an ICE agent!
Is this just a New York story? Hardly! It is a Cape Cod story as well. Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico, Ecuador, India, Philippines, Nepal, Moldova, Bulgaria, China, Japan, Viet Nam, and more – a veritable united nations whose immigrants service the motels, cafés, restaurants, and hospitals; who wash dishes and clean our houses; who provide summer labor to businesses as J-1 students.
A Nation Without Immigrants? Never! We need more immigrants than ever. These 8 people I met yesterday brought me blessing through the sharing of our common humanity. These 8 people opened the window to God’s beautifully diverse yet painfully unequal world. These 8 people are the ones who make this country great.