Wednesday, August 15, 2007

immigrant influx: the brown people are taking over!

I spent 6 years of my life managing stores for a retailer that I not-so-affectionately call The Crap. As a result, over the years, I had managed all sorts of different types of people—liars and do-gooders, lazy people and hard workers, shy people and total extroverts. Managing these people was often more challenging than the bitchy customers I encountered on a daily basis (in the larger locations I worked at, the bitchiness was encountered hourly).

As far as employees go, one thing was a constant—my stock teams were always phenomenal. No matter what store I worked in, the stock team (which consisted primarily of Spanish-speaking immigrants) worked the hardest. Members of the stock team would do the hard labor and tasks that regular sales associates would bitch and moan about doing. It was refreshing not to get any back talk from the stock team like I would with the sales team. They almost always showed up on time for their shifts and hardly ever called out. Despite their hard work, their pay was usually less than that of the sales people. The theory was that the sales people were the ones who were actually going out there and making the money, while the stock team worked behind the scenes and were thus not as important.

The stock people were obviously immigrants. Some were from Bolivia. Others were from Columbia. Still others came from El Salvador. They came with families or without. Some of them started families since moving to the U.S. Some of them were the oldest siblings in their families and the primary caretaker of their younger brothers and sisters. Some of them were legal. Others were probably not. Some of them went to school at night. And others had an additional job even though they worked 40 hours a week at The Crap. I once had a stock supervisor that worked 40 hours at The Crap and then worked 40 hours for another retailer as an evening stock supervisor. He sent half of every paycheck to his family back in his native country. I was in awe of him. I couldn’t imagine working 80 hours a week.

I have a lot of respect for immigrants…whether they are here legally or not (I’ve never been afraid to express an unpopular sentiment). I’ve witnessed their hard work and dedication first hand. I’ve listened as they told me their stories of how horrible their lives were back in the native countries—the financial hardship, the political turmoil, the drug cartels that inspired fear. That they would risk so much to come to America and proudly work the jobs that no one else wants is inspiring to me.

So when I read an article like the one I saw in yesterday’s Washington Post, I get really, really pissed. The article, titled “Sterling Park's Identity Crisis,” summarizes the Latino immigrant ‘invasion’ of the planned Loudon County community. In short, Sterling Park had been mostly white until the year 2000, when the Latino population boom began. This boom is not surprising, as Loudon County’s minority population is one of the fastest growing in the U.S. Since 2000, long-time residents claim that as the illegal immigrant population has increased (because all Spanish-speaking people are automatically illegal these days), gang activity has increased, crime has increased, property values have decreased, bilingual signs have been popping up everywhere, homes are overcrowded, home aesthetics are not being kept up, and neighborhoods are no longer safe.

However, the Post presents data that doesn’t support these claims. Apparently crime has been decreasing steadily in Sterling Park since 2000. Only 1 in 20 gang members is illegal. Sure property values may have decreased, but Sterling Park may be one of the remaining affordable communities left in Loudon. Most homes there date back to the 1960s and probably wouldn’t fetch as much money as say a home built in Ashburn in 2004. Also, homes are not necessarily overcrowded, as only a few homes in the last year have actually been cited by Loudon’s residential overcrowding enforcement office, despite having received almost 200 complaints.

So what’s driving these complaints? I think it’s anti-illegal immigrant sentiment driven by racism. I don’t much about Sterling Park (Jesse said it’s not regarded kindly by it’s affluent neighbors), but when the residents are longing for the homogeneity they used to enjoy and shun the hard-working Latinos for being illegals (an assumption fueled by racism), I can’t help but feel that racism has everything to do with this. All white community = euphoria. All white community + influx of dirty, blue collar brown people = dangerous place to live. What the f*ck? What is up with the assumption that all Latino people are here illegally?

The following quote from the article really got my blood boiling. Keep in mind that a 61-year-old Sterling Park resident said it.

"I don't want someone coming to my country and building another dang country inside of it," Wilber said. "It's like if you came home and found someone in your house and you said, 'What are you doing here?' And they said: 'Oh, the door was open; I just came in. By the way, I'm going to change some other things in your home, too.' "

Mr. Wilbur…I hate to break it to ya, but I’m sure Native Americans felt the exact same way some 400 years ago.


recovering overachiever said...

That article enraged me too. The people in Sterling Park are just afraid of change in their neighborhood (aren't cities always evolving?) and are looking to blame people who are just trying to make a living.

jen said...

didn't read the article but i totally agree with you. and i'd add that part of the reason property values are often not as high in more diverse areas is because most white folks (who still make up the majority, and therefore the majority of home buyers) don't want to live near "those people" out of simple xenophobia and racism, period.

i think it's obvious that immigrants add a lot to our communities. yes, even the ones who are here illegally. one thing i never understand is why people insist that people here illegally are draining resources from the town/county/etc. i don't buy that at all. first of all, our economy is built on exploiting undocumented workers. i'm sure the folks in loudon county don't ask for green cards when they throw their towels on the floor of the gym and expect someone else to pick it up, or check social security numbers before exercising their God-given right to come home to a perfect lawn and flower beds in the middle of a heat wave/drought. moreover, there is no evidence that undocumented immigrants use any more resources than any other group in their economic class. not only do they tend to be very hardworking at jobs white folks don't want to do AND tend to be very upstanding citizens, people don't realize that a lot of undocumented workers pay taxes just like the rest of us and should be entitled to partake in the resources that they are helping to pay for. (not to mention, what about just showing a little basic human kindness and sharing our good fortune with our neighbors, however they ended up being our neighbors? but i know THAT's just crazy talk.)

rant over.

sunchaser said...

"the bitchy customers" haha!

"He sent half of every paycheck to his family back in his native country. I was in awe of him. I couldn’t imagine working 80 hours a week." No kidding. I've done it before, but not the "stand on your feet" kind of work like he was probably doing. Or at least, I haven't done that in a long, long time..

"Mr. Wilbur…I hate to break it to ya, but I’m sure Native Americans felt the exact same way some 400 years ago." That's such a great point!

So what do you think of Carlos Mencia? I know he's gotten a lot of flack in the media because his humor is more racially based (I guess similar to Dave Chapelle) but to me, it seems like he's helping raise awareness of how stupid stereotypes are, which can't be a bad thing.

PS - word to the wise: stay away from CraigsList - it seems to never be a happy place!