Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

veinticinco

Walter B. Jackson


I love immigrants because they are brave…They do this so their children will have a greater chance at happiness. I love immigrants because they invest in the future with the biggest thing they can invest with: their lives.—from "At the Immigration Rally: Having an open heart doesn’t mean supporting open borders” -Peggy Noonan

The day started out so nicely. I was finishing an article by my favorite writer/columnist, Peggy Noonan, describing how she would like to go out and kiss the hands of immigrants struggling to become legal citizens of the United States. My students were reading William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily. A cool front had come through the night before, and the students were subdued and on task.

Then something strange started happening. An office aide came to get one of my students. I was told that he was leaving for the day. A few minutes later another student was signed out, and another, and another, and another. It suddenly dawned on me that all of the kids leaving were Hispanic. I knew these students were not citizens. What's going on?

I received an email from my wife that students were checking out of her school, too, and the authorities were outside the high school waiting for Hispanic students. Then word came that some businesses in town had been shut down by the federales.

The rumor that immigration officials were here and pursuing all undocumented Hispanics spread throughout the area like wildfire. Could it be true? Were the authorities coming after women and children—in my America?

By noon almost all of our Hispanic students had gone home or into hiding. My God, I thought. What is happening? I began empathizing with those scared children and their families. I could only imagine how worried and fearful they were about being deported.

Mothers that could not speak English had hurriedly come to get their kids. Elementary students were in tears and had such fearful looks on their faces. High school students—that had started kindergarten in our school district—had panic in their eyes.

I reflected back on my early experiences with illegal farm workers. In the 1960’s a few hardworking Mexican men found their way to my hometown. They were hard workers, working for low wages. But they were frugal, and most of the money they earned was being sent to their families in San Luis Potosi or Guanajuato. The workers living in our barn mostly came from the interior of Mexico. I helped them mail money orders and letters to their families back home. Had I done wrong?

In the early 1970’s a beautiful family from El Salvador found their way to my dad’s farm. I remember, as clearly as yesterday, watching the mother balance a bucket on her head as she toted water from the stock tank to the small shack behind the barn. Her husband worked long hours, six days a week. He built fence, grubbed mesquites, and did other manual labor chores. The toddling little girl would stay close to her mother and baby brother. They were a happy family. They were here to start a new life. Their dream was to give their children a better life than the one they left behind in Central America.

Inez, the mother, soon began helping my mother in the house. She would bring the two small children, Myrna and Oshmen, with her while she cleaned and helped in the kitchen. Inez and my mother became the best of friends. Inez, a quick study, soon learned to cook just like Mama. I swear, I could not tell which one of them had done the chicken 'n dumplings, turnip greens, cornbread, or enchiladas.

Myrna started elementary school and soon zoomed to the top of her class. She was a sharp young lady and rarely could be seen without a book in her hand. Then, Oshmen began school and quickly became bilingual.

Big Oshmen, the father, found a better job. Within just a short time, they were able to afford a small house in town and move closer to his work. Mama was lost without Inez at the farm. But they managed to stay close friends and visited regularly. They shared recipes and family stories. Inez would make special tamales for our family. Mama would cook them pork roast, ribs, and chicken fried steak.

The Flores family grew over the years with the addition of Francisco and Christina. They became faithful members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Their lives revolved around their family, their friends, and their church.

When my dad became terminally ill, Inez was there. Although she had two small children, she wasn’t about to stay home when she knew Mama needed help. She would come out to the farm and help any way she could.

Later, when Mama was sick in the hospital, it was Inez again to the rescue. She came every day to bathe and visit her. She asked for permission to pin a crucifix on her hospital bed. She prayed and comforted Mama. She took care of her every need—she innately knew exactly what my mother would have wanted and she did it.

When my mother-in-law was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, Inez was there, again. My wife taught school and needed someone to care for her mother. So Inez would drive out to our house five days a week. She and my mother-in-law became special friends. Inez was a guardian angel sent to us in our times of need. She cared for this sick lady as if she was her own mother. Inez was compassionate and always optimistic.

Inez’s special touch with my family during their time of need was probably predicated on the fact she never got to personally say “good-bye” to her own mother. She was unable to go back to El Salvador and care for her mom or attend her funeral. I believe she expressed her love for her own mother by caring for her adopted American family.

The Flores family has come a long way from those days of carrying buckets of water on their head and trying to make a living on the hot Texas prairie. Today, they are proud American citizens. Their story is one of hard times, struggles, and accomplishments. They never gave up. The oldest three children are now college graduates. Christina will soon graduate from high school.

Inez continues to be active in her church and care for her grandchildren. The sun shines brightly on the beautiful flowers in her garden. Love fills her home. Her broken English has become more fluent, and she keeps her arms reaching outwardly trying to lend a helping hand to anyone in need.

On that dark day, veinticinco de abril (25th of April), my heart ached for all those families that had to experience such a horrible nightmare. Fortunately, the vicious rumors were squelched within a few days. Unfortunately, the scars remain and will do so for a long time to come. No one in America, whether a citizen or not, should have to live in fear of being persecuted because they seek a better way life. America is better than that.

I agree with Peggy Noonan. Having an open heart doesn’t mean supporting open borders. My prayer is that these hard-working, family-oriented people, working in an orderly legal manner, get the opportunity to become full-fledged American citizens and enjoy those inalienable rights Thomas Jefferson wrote about in the Preamble to the Constitution—the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. They, like the Flores family, should be welcomed to our teeming shores.

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Walter B. Jackson holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Houston. He spent most of his professional life as a Chamber of Commerce executive in the Gulf Coast Region of Texas. Walter served as president of the Humble, Conroe, and Galveston Chambers of Commerce, and later as Director of International and Domestic Business for the Greater Houston Partnership.

© Walter B. Jackson

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012