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Me, The Alien

A Norteamericano's take on being illegal


Hey Americanos: I was an illegal alien.

I worked without papers, never paid taxes, avoided cops and lived below the system. I ate Big Macs and drank Coke. I took language courses, observed the local holidays, attended an Easter service and even went to a wrestling match.

Did I mention I was born in Caldwell?

That's right. I was an illegal alien in Mexico. There are three reasons I came back.

1. Health: Stomach problems started up my last month of teaching and continued to plague me until the end of my first semester at Albertson College of Idaho here in Idaho. No, not the runs, actual stomach pains. If it had been serious and I had stayed, I may have been forced to use the emergency rooms. Emergency room bills are part of the reason so many Americans want illegals shipped, but I'll tell you from firsthand experience, a guy will cough blood before he risks deportation, so check-ups and other low-cost preventative measures that create paper trails are out of the question for our invisible labor class.

2. Wealth: My first and only employer was a German who promised to help his teachers get their work visas while they worked. Our illegal status was used against us as a silent bargaining chip as contractual obligations were broken and nothing was said. I had to force a confrontation just to stop my checks from coming short. If you think that we Americans are doing illegal aliens a favor by paying their pregnancy bills, consider the sub-poverty wages that they often scrimp and save to send back home to Mexico. Amnesty isn't perfect, but allowing the current system of sweatshop abuse to continue is a crime against humanity.

3. Goals: That annoying guy vacuuming the office while you work late, yeah, you know the guy who doesn't look you in the eye? When he was a niño, he didn't say, "When I grow up I want to vacuum offices in a foreign country, but not during working hours, because that would hurt office productivity."

My friend Yigael Medina, who lived next to me in my apartment in Mexico, had come to Guadalajara from Culiacan (a town to the north) to look for work. He had a university degree in business management, yet after two months of job searching, he was unable to find one that paid half of what I was making. I was 20 years old, with no degree and no real experience. I made a decent Mexican wage, about as much as your average McDonald's worker in the United States.

"America is a last resort; it's something you only do after you have tried everything," Yigael told me. Some here in America seem to think that "wetbacks" brave heat, starvation and run-ins with the five-oh just because of the Hollywood glam, SUVs and Big Macs. Fellow citizens, please avoid the ever—simple and suspicious superlative statement, "We're better."

Manu Chao, a European singer popular in Mexico, sings a song called El Viento that goes something like this:

El hambre viene

(The hunger comes)

El hombre se va

(The man goes)

Sin mas razon

(No other reason)

El hambre viene

(The hunger comes)

El hombre se va

(The man goes)

Ruta Babilón

(Off toward Babylon)

America isn't Babylon, but these lyrics help show that the connotations of wealth and power do not always mean paradise to most Mexicans. If you need any more proof of the Mexican perspective, consider this quote from former President Vincente Fox: "We want to salute these heroes, who leave their families with tears in their eyes in search for a job."

They put their lives, their goals, on hold to help their families. For some of us who may be unfamiliar with the term, this is called sacrifice. The dilemma is this: Some illegal aliens would like to stay. I would love to say, let them, but for now, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 seems like the most realistic plan. David Brooks wrote in The New York Times:

"This bill would encourage them to think in the long term. To stay, they would have to embark on a long, 13-year process. They'd have to obey the law, learn English and save money (to pay the stiff fines). Suddenly, these people would be lifted from an underclass environment—semi-separate from mainstream society—and shifted into a middle-class environment, enmeshed within the normal rules and laws that the rest of us live by."

This means that immigrants, without fear of deportation, could make appropriate, productive choices in regards to health care, taxes and upward mobility.

Whether you support amnesty or immediate deportation, next time you see an "illegal alien," wish them luck, because they eat the same McDonald's we do and drink the same Coke*. While my parents provided the financial security to allow me to moonlight as a maestro in Guadalajara, migrant workers here in Idaho are often sent by their parents in order to send back money just so they put food on the table or pay hospital bills. Chances are you'll never be an illegal alien, but wrestle with yourself and try to come to a new perspective. Let your guard down. Today's immigrants are tomorrow's citizens. Give them the opportunity to be model citizens.

(*Actually, their Coke uses sugar cane sweetener, allowing for a clearer, brighter taste, whereas our Coke uses high fructose corn syrup. Not only does Mexico drink more than twice as much Coke as we do, the sweetener difference has created a black market here in the United States for Hecho en Mexico Coca-Cola.)

Brad Baughman is a student at Albertson College of Idaho.


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