Saturday, March 23, 2024

Stories Not Yet Written

 I recently saw The Godfather Part II and one scene that struck me as painfully relevant to today was when the young Vito Corleone was processed through Ellis Island. The episode was meant to show how chaotic and daunting the experience was at the time, but to me it was a model of efficiency and care compared to what I see going on with the migrant crisis.   

If you live in a sanctuary city, as I do in Denver, you no doubt have seen the migrant crisis up close and personal. Over 38 thousand asylum seekers, mostly from Venezuela, have been processed locally. We had a large tent city outside a hotel close to my house; the encampment caught fire and was then dismantled. These immigrants get shuffled around in a bureaucratic shell game. In the daytime, they turn up in supermarket parking lots, either to beg or sell candy/flowers. Many of the young men drift through neighborhoods offering to do yard work, shovel snow, and have claimed street corners for the return of the infamous "squeegee men." As a Latino, more specifically a Chicano, I can empathize since my family came to this country as "illegal aliens." Back then, we were called mojados, which in English translates to wetbacks. And there is another faction of Chicanos whose families were already here for 500 plus years before the US annexed the southwest from Mexico. "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us." While we share with the Venezuelans a common language and Christian faith, a Spanish heritage, and mixed ancestry, our experiences as Latinos in the United States are decidedly different. 

This crisis is demoralizing because the scope of the problem is overwhelming. If helping one stranger is a challenge, then how to help thousands? I give money when I can and engage with the immigrants to learn more about them. Despite their desperate situation, I'm impressed by their determination to get ahead. Somehow they've managed to scrape enough money together to purchase bicycles. One fellow arrived at a squeegee corner in a used Jeep Liberty with temporary tags. At the Safeway service desk, the customer ahead of me was an immigrant wiring $260 to his home in Caracas. 

Many of the Venezuelans came here as a family, so it's not unusual to see them pushing strollers or shepherding one or two children. At the street corners, while mom or dad are trying to collect dollars, their kids while away the hours playing on the concrete. I wonder how these children are internalizing their experience? What opinions are they forming about America, its culture, and this new life? As their generation matures and claims its slice of this country, what will be their unique shared history? What will be their stories?

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