Yesterday a group of DailyKos kossacks sojourned down to meet with some of the most scape-goated, reviled, & hated people in our country. It was a journery I wish every kossack could make at some point. It was a connection I wish every kossack could establish at some time. It represented a meeting of, at least, two different & parallel worlds. We met people who, as MB said yesterday, permanently live entre una piedra y un lugar muy duro (between a rock & a hard place).
We travelled down to Watsonville, California where the population this year is 95% Hispanic. We met undocumented workers & their families. We met people who are both undocumented & homeless. We met children whose brown skin reveals indigenous roots among the Americas, and whose undocumented status condemns to spend a life toiling in the fields of California to produce half the produce of this country. Average life expectancy: 49 years. Sentence: 49 years of hard labor. Crime: surviving.
We were met in Watsonville by Doctor Ana Lopez (who founded the Center for Farmworker Families). She has both studied the immigrant population of the area as well as worked with them to alleviate the conditions under which they toil.
Our experience with the world of the undocumented began that day, most appropriately, at a chain-linked fence. A hole had been cut in it allowing access to the open field that stretched beyond. One-by-one we squeezed through carefully so as to avoid getting caught on any of the clipped links. As I did so, I thought of my son's mother who began her life here in just such a process.
We emerged on the other side in a world where "laws" are haphazardly applied, and where the real threat of violence from authorities and gangs hangs in the air waiting to announce itself. On the way down to the Pajaro river I noticed an ominous, but familiar, marker halfway across the field in the ground. I've seen such markers on occasion in the rainforest of Northern Guatemala, in the mountains of Oaxaca, but mostly alongside highways.
The homeless encampment we entered was, in some ways, reminiscent of those that dotted this land during the Great Depression. Tents were lop-sidely & precariously erected between the slopping riverside & the swampy bottom. Mud had previously been piled up against the tents in an apparent attempt to keep rain water rolling down the hillside from entering. A shopping cart was half-filled with vegetables in various states of spoilage. The ruins of bicycles littered the camp, even as one of the men living there was in the process of re-assembling them for re-sale & personal use. A large collection of bottles earmarked for the far too-distant recycling center impatiently seemed to be waiting transportation. A very friendly camp dog raced back & forth between visitors & residents, unsure of where to turn next for attention. One of the two women in the camp brought out a newly born puppy in the hopes that one of us would adopt it.
The taller of the two women explained that she wasn't a resident of the camp, but only came by to help the others there. The other woman seemed to be the camp leader. Despite her living situation, she was both eloquent & somewhat philosophical about their situation living on the edge. There was plenty of water nearby, but none of it drinkable. She claimed that they carried in all their drinking water...I worried that that intention was not always followed through, especialy on rainy days such as this.
As I listened to her story, and heard it translated into English by both Doctor Lopez & MB, I kept catching sight out of the corner of my eye of the ominous marker now half a field away. "Y eso...que es?" I asked pointing to it. She explained that the marker was placed on the spot where a young man had been murdered by a gang of other young men.
(Photo below from the talented eye of Citisven)
I knew if I left the group to walk the field I would find other such markers strewn about. I didn't leave the group. I didn't want to see more markers. I've seen too many already. I know there will be more. Then there will be even more. Eventually they will fill the field, as they have fields elsewhere in the Americas. They will all the time remain invisible to the rest of the country.
When we traversed the field yet again heading to the chain-link fence that marked the boundary between those who are undocumented & those who are both undocumented & homeless, I felt the eerie sensation of passing over future grave sites.
That was just the beginning of the day.
This is the end of part one. I hope that before I get around to writing the second part other diaries appear on this topic. Whether by MB, Navajo, Citisven, Norm, Glen the Plumber, Remembrance, or BentLIberal, I look forward to the images & words that other perspectives have on the journey. Too often lost in reflections of my own past, there is much of yesterday I fear I missed. For that I am very grateful to my fellow kossacks with whom I was able to make the trip...& without whose organizational skills & commitment it wouldn't have happened.