Look at the facts, become enlightened | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Look at the facts, become enlightened

by J.C. Lopez

“There’s an invasion of America going on right now!”

I heard these words as I turned on the radio on my way to work the other day.

Up-and-coming radio personality Michael Savage out of the Bay area was blasting away in his syndicated radio show.

“Pull our troops out of the Balkans and put them on our border. Have our military come and round up all illegal immigrants and ship them back to Mexico where they belong!,” he added.

I wasn’t so much indignant by his outlandish comments as I was amused. He might as well have added: “And after that, let’s have our Army reserves pick our crops of fruits and vegetables. And let’s have the National Guard do our dishes in our restaurants.”

Immigration is a touchy issue, don’t get me wrong. But as a phenomenon, it is something that has occurred through the history of mankind. How else do you explain the appearance of cultures like the Incas, Mayas, Aztecs or those of the Native Americans up to and including the ripping off of their land by the colonists from Europe. To declare a state of emergency in trying to remain culturally isolated is not only unrealistic but right down childish and narrow minded.

In doing my assignment for our annual issue, “Routes West II: Tahoe’s 20th Century,” I came upon several truths – and some misconceptions as well – regarding our Latino community. I consider Lake Tahoe as a microcosm of the immigration situation in the country and most of my work involved talking to people who immigrated from south of the border.

Here are some numbers for Mr. Savage. I did not look them up in some government data base. I personally researched and witnessed them and, through my years in the United States of America, I also experienced these situations.

You want to know what is the percentage of Anglos among those working as dishwashers in Lake Tahoe? If you think 10 percent you’re way too high. It is not even one in a hundred. It is more like .05 percent. That’s right. And I’ve been generous on this one. I’ve been to several kitchens in several places in this town and I’ve yet to see a single white person working as a dishwasher. There probably are I’m sure. I just did not see one.

Would you also like to know the percentage of Anglos among people working in the fields? How does .01 percent sound? That’s what I witnessed during almost six years of doing this type of work. I’m not talking about driving machinery, heck, that’s not the issue here. I’m talking about MANUAL labor in the fields. The type that no machine has been invented to do yet and most likely never will. I’m talking about weeding the fields, row for row, and with raw hands picking broccoli, lettuce and flower bulbs. I’m talking about manual labor so physically demanding people age before their years and have to deal with consequences like arthritis, disease from extended exposure to chemicals and/or chronic back pain. I’m talking about minimum wage labor with your back bent for eight, nine or even 10 hours, at the mercy of the weather, inhaling harmful pesticides, with no overtime pay and no medical or retirement benefits. I know this for a fact. I did this type of work for more than five years.

I am not saying that Latinos do not move to bigger and better things as we evolve in this society, but the facts are the facts and we still do all these jobs. We’re not perfect citizens either and just as there were criminals among the original colonists there are lawbreakers among us. But we are not here to milk the government or to be fed. All of us, legal or otherwise, pay taxes. Those with no legal rights who otherwise would be entitled to a tax refund or to social security and unemployment never benefit from that. Keep that in mind next time someone says the illegals come to be supported by taxpayers.

It is a complicated issue, but I wouldn’t dare and try to do without Latinos in this country. Unless you want to pay $5 for a pound of tomatoes or $3 for a head of lettuce. Oh, and maybe, just maybe, you also want to increase your eating out expenses by a good 50 percent because if we’re being fair – and I know Anglos would not dare do the type of work Latinos do in a restaurant for less than $10 an hour – that’s what your expense would really have to be. Talk to a restaurateur and you will be enlightened.

Latinos (or Hispanics, as the media at large prefers to call us) are a hard working brood. And we understand it is not our place to demand more than we deserve. But please understand we are here to work and, more often than I would like it, to do your dirty work. In fact more often than not, we are here to do your dirty, backbreaking, demanding, unfair, unrewarding, monotonous, harmful, dangerous, I-would-not-consider-doing-that-in-my-lifetime, underpaid work and we are gracious enough to feel thankful for the opportunity. Just don’t hate us for it.

J.C. Lopez is the editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s monthly Spanish publication La Voz. He can be reached at lavoz@tahoe.com

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