The Children are dead already. We are killing them,
That is what America should be saying;
On TV, in the streets, in offices, should be saying,
“We aren’t giving the children a chance to live.”
Mexicans are taking our jobs, they say instead.
What they really say is, let them die,
and the children too.
– Jimmy Santiago Baca, “So Mexicans are Taking Jobs from Americans” (I)
This last stanza really struck me. When I overhear people debating immigration policy in America, it often leads back to that hackneyed statement, “they’re taking our jobs.” Santiago Baca asks, what jobs are they taking, and how are they taking them? This is one source of contention in the immigration reform debate. Many people do not understand the complexity of the issue. Arguments begin to arise that new legislation grants greater rights to illegal immigrants then to its naturalized citizens. What some overlook is that without these rights, these immigrants often have no options.
In Ha Jin’s “Good Fall” (from the book of the same name), we learn of Ganchin, a Chinese monk who after a brief illness lost his job and his visa, both taken by the corrupt master of his monastary. Sick, distraught, and in a state of penury, Ganchin sought aid from his associates. His friend Cindy, a Chinese-American flight attendant, told Ganchin, “You can always change. This is America, where it’s never too late to turn over a new page (II).” While novel, this is completely unrealistic to Ganchin, who knew only the life of a monk. Desperate and without either a work visa or money, he had no options except to hide. In an attempt both to keep him from disgracing China by living on the streets as a pauper as well as to hide his luxurious lifestyle, Ganchin is kidnapped from hiding by his ex-master and brought to the airport to be sent back to China (III).
Ganchin escaped and decided the only course of action was suicide. Despite an attempt to dissuade him by a local restaurant owner, he jumped off a building, but instead of dying, landed on his feet and broke his leg (IV). He is rushed to the hospital, where his story is picked up by the media and politicians. A lawyer took on Ganchin’s case pro-bono to reclaim his lost salary, the salary the master used to fund his luxurious lifestyle. He is told by an aspiring politician, “This is America, a land ruled by law, and nobody is entitle to abuse others with impunity. Rest assured, you’re in good hands (V)”.
Yet is this a land that protects all within its borders? Ganchin is given protection only after his case has been sensationalized. When he had no options, he had nothing; his sickness prevented him from working, yet he could not seek medical attention without his visa or money. To fight for a visa was an expensive endeavor. Ganchin’s friend Fanku, as well as another woman, were both fighting to stay in the country, but could barely afford to continue to do so (VI). Oftentimes these immigrants sent money home to support their families and cannot afford crippling legal bills. These immigrants are left in poverty, struggling to make a life, while others grow wealthy from their work. To return home, they face a life of poverty. America is their only option to better their lives.
“I see this, and I hear only a few people
got all the money in this world, the rest
count their pennies to buy bread and butter (VII)”
Santiago Baca also laments about the inequality of wealth in this country, informing the reader “ But a body costs a nickel, a mind costs a million. And all them minds, what if there weren’t no bodies to work for them (VIII)?” Immigrants make up the workforce that the “great minds” of the country profit from. Despite their great contributions, they are used as political scapegoats, blamed for the plights of society. Living in a cult of poverty and a fear of deportation, they are forced into silence.
This politicization is not new. As Congress considers new immigration reform legislation, how can we change the discourse on immigration reform in America? Does the public find literature like these examples accessible? What medium do you think would bring greater clarity to this discussion?
(I) Jimmy Santiago Baca, “So Mexicans are Taking Jobs from Americans,” from Immigrants in Our Own Land & Selected Early Poems (New Directions Publishing, 1990).
(II) Ho Jin, “ A Good Fall,” from A Good Fall (New York: Pantheon Books),231.
(III) Jin, 233.
(IV) Jin, 238-239.
(V) Jin, 240.
(VI) Jin, 227.
(VII) Santiago Baca, “SO Mexicans are Taking Jobs from Americans.”
(VIII) Jimmy Santiago Baca, “There’s Me,” from Immigrants in Our Own Land & Selected Early Poems (New Directions Publishing, 1990).