Spanish-speaking friends...
by Ollie Harris
May 09, 2013 | 963 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A few years ago, an undocumented 17-year-old Mexican boy was falsely accused of a crime and brought to a juvenile detention facility not far from where I live. As you may imagine, he was terrified. All he knew of being locked up was rumors and horror stories of Mexican jails. He spoke no English, nor did he know that our culture strives to treat its prisoners more humanely.

Late that evening, I was changed into my sweats, kicked back and relaxed with a good book. The telephone rang. It was for me. One of the workers at the detention center told me of the situation – that there was a Mexican boy who was extremely stressed and no one there spoke Spanish. Could I come and talk to him?

I was reluctant. After all, I figured, I was finished for the day, and the book was interesting. But, I got dressed and drove to the detention center. They took me to a small room and brought Daniel to me. When Daniel realized that I was only there to talk, his worries and emotions came pouring out in an almost unintelligible torrent. We visited for nearly an hour.

Over the next few weeks, I visited with Daniel several times. He settled down and was not so emotional, nor fearful. One evening he poignantly asked how American mothers feel when their children are in trouble. I told him that American mothers are just like Mexican mothers. When their children are in trouble, they worry, weep and pray.

I didn’t know if Daniel was guilty of the thing with which he had been accused, nor did it matter to me. All I knew was that he was in trouble and that I had a means of helping him to some degree. And, to my surprise, there was something almost biblical about visiting the prisoner. My own understanding was greatly enlarged.

One day, I heard that the charges against Daniel had been dropped and that he had been deported back to Mexico. It was the best outcome as far as I could see. His mother needed to see him and to hold him in her arms, and he needed his mother.

On another occasion, I was working in the yard. I heard ambulances going up and down the highway. I was also listening to my radio. There came a news bulletin of a rollover accident and the injuries and deaths of several undocumented Mexicans.

Again I was reluctant to get involved, but after a few more ambulances and more news commentary, I washed up and went to the clinic. It was a madhouse of triage. I attached myself to a young man on a stretcher. I conversed with him in Spanish. I tried to comfort him. I didn’t know many details of the accident but I was hearing that there were multiple deaths.

I told a nurse that he was complaining of pain in his back. This was alarming, but after careful investigation it turned out that his pain came from the tangle of tumbleweeds mashed into his flesh beneath his clothing.

The nurse began to cut away his clothing with a pair of scissors. She cut through several dollars sewn into his pants. I assured him that his money was safe, that no one in that clinic would steal from him. Later, he was transported to a distant hospital.

One of the most tattered books in my library is Gustavus Meyers’ “History of Bigotry in The United States.” In it I learned that the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony enacted an anti-Quaker law in 1658. The persecution of Quakers was followed by a time when Baptists were proscribed and sometimes beaten. And, of course, the Mormons later provided another target for national bigotry.

I have a great affection for my Spanish-speaking friends. It pains me to see them fearful of bigotry’s ugly face. And, on a broader scale, it saddens me to know that the world is as full as it ever was of ignorance and bigotry.

I fantasize of a perfect world in which there are no borders, where opportunity flows through all the earth, where fear is banished.

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