On Undocumented Workers & Growing up in Texas

At the time of writing, I am currently back in Houston at my parents’ house. 

Growing up in Houston with a very large Hispanic population, I’m sure I went to a Mexican restaurant with my childhood friends before I ever went to an Asian restaurant with them. The Mexican presence is large and bold and in a way, shaped who I am today and how I view their culture (which has merged with mine). To me, when I think of the Hispanic population in Texas, the first words that come to mind are: faithful, hardworking, sacrificial, and full of community. I see a lot of similarities between them and the Asian culture because for both, a child’s well being comes first. If a mother or father can sacrifice or work harder today for their child to be better off tomorrow, they’d happily and willingly do so because there is no choice.

Starting from the time I moved back to Houston from Shanghai, I had seen lots of undocumented workers who worked tirelessly at the jobs that most Americans wouldn’t dare to do. One of those jobs is cutting grass in the 100+ degree Fahrenheit Houston heat which scorches our lawns year-round. In the blistering sun, these workers use extremely loud and heavy equipment to make around $20-$50 per lawn (depending on size). The average is probably around $20 for both the front and back yard. This is a job that you couldn’t even get teenagers to do because it is quite extreme, harsh, and difficult. Teens would rather work at a froyo shop with A.C. where they can check their phone during the off periods and still get paid for being there. 

One of the things that severely irks me when people say that undocumented immigrants are “stealing our jobs” or “taking jobs from the citizens” is that they are working jobs that no one would want to do, even if you paid them twice to do it. I’m sure if we offered someone $50 or $75 to mow the lawns in the summer heat, they’d end up in the hospital because they haven’t been conditioned to work in such extremes. I have heard of multiple stories where the fathers of the family (who are often doing the work that requires labor) get caught by the police for being undocumented, get sent back to Mexico, and make it back to the US to be with their family again. I can’t imagine the fear, pain, and worry that these families must have to know that 1) they can’t communicate with their family members who get deported and 2) they don’t know if they will ever see them again because the journey back can be quite dangerous. 

Undocumented workers aren’t taking our corporate jobs or jobs that there is high competition for. They’re taking the jobs that America needs but doesn’t have supply for. I view their existence to be extremely important to our ecosystem and society. They also mostly keep to themselves to not capture attention which might deport them.

When I was in high school, one person especially stuck out to me. His nickname, when translated into Spanish, means “champion” and he is definitely worthy of that nickname. He told me he worked so hard tirelessly every day with only one day off a month so that he could save up to send his daughter to community college. His daughter was my age and had gone through so many experiences that I couldn’t imagine going through. I remember my mom gifting him a really large Minnie Mouse plush toy when she was young and he was so grateful. These things that most people take for granted can mean a lot to people who just want stability and something promising for their families. At the root of who they are, they are similar to you and I. As I have aged throughout these years, I’ve seen him age as well and he has become a presence that has immersed into our families. I want all of his hard work to be for something and for his children to have a better future. 

To be an undocumented worker is a huge risk in many ways. You don’t get any benefits; you have no protection; you can’t call the police for help if anyone troubles you. You’re on your own in this world and the fact is that they left behind their home countries because this state of existence is better than what they had before. They were willing to take that tradeoff. The idea of leaving your home country is not an easy one. To move to another country where you don’t know the language, you have no protection from the government or law enforcement and you have to work hard, laborious jobs is not a decision that is easily made overnight. If America is the land of opportunity and we were all once immigrants at some point in time, can’t we empathize and cut them some slack? There are bigger fish to fry and better places we can invest our resources in than in capturing undocumented families and ripping their families apart and destroying an ecosystem that was working just fine before.

Having grown up and seen the amount of sun damage that occurred to some of the workers that have lived in Houston over the last twenty years, it pains me because that could have been anyone. We don’t choose the conditions under which we are born into and it could have very easily been any one of us in their shoes.

I see people saying they want to “send them back” but then go into Mexican restaurants where their food that they love so much is cooked by the very hands of those they want to send back. Who will make that food when everyone disappears?