• 55°

Hard working immigrants in front of me

My life has allowed me to work and fish and hunt in most all of the regions of our beautiful state. Admittedly, I don’t have much experience with anyplace north of I-64, but I don’t feel that is a notch against me; once I got within 60 miles or so from Cincinnati, the culture began to smell of the buckeye.

Having a bunch of different jobs in a number of different Kentucky localities, at first glance, may seem suspicious; but I was 30 when I finally settled into an actual professional job. It was not as if I was a wandering loser, walking around smoking pot and begging for potted meat. I was a full-time college and graduate student for 12 years. That degree of poverty mandates that you learn some extra skills if you desire to live with any frills. If a graduate student wants to drink beer or eat good food or drive a decent vehicle, they better learn some other skills (unless they have helpful wealthy parents). No graduate students are paid enough money to live a life that most Americans would find, good.

Once when I was part of a roofing crew, in Owensboro (I was an assistant professor at the time; but I had three kids and a child support payment), our crew showed up to a job at 8 a.m. The crew, five of us, was on time, but by the time we had our ladders set, our tools and behinds on the roof, we realized that something similar was going on at the house right-next to the house we were sitting on.

The shingles and tar-paper and most of the plywood had already been removed from the neighboring home. A different crew had started the neighbor-house-job much earlier than our crew; they had started at sunrise; but no workers could be seen.

My crew began to engage in the unpleasant work of removing shingles and old tar-paper and within about 10 minutes two trucks rolled up to the neighbor-house; seven men burst out. The men were of obvious South American descent. From my perch on top of the neighboring house, I watched as one of the men snatched a black garbage bag from the cab of the truck while the other six men walked immediately toward the bag. The entire crew threw their coffee cups and McDonalds’ breakfast refuge into the bag. As if rehearsed, each man sprang from the garbage bag and started collecting and loading the tools and ladders and tar-paper and shingles. No words seem to be spoken.

At 1 p.m. that afternoon, the crew working the neighbor-house was packing up their tools and ladders. They had completed the roof. Their roof was identical to our roof (as houses often are in suburbia); but they had finished; new plywood, new gutters; an entirely new roof and not a speck of refuge, not a nail or chunk of old shingle was left behind.

Our crew, me included, had ever seen such a spectacle of perfection, precision and efficiency. Those men moved around that roof like bees on a hive. They operated just as a superb football or basketball team or even a ballet group; they were a single unit and it was very impressive.

At 4 p.m., my crew had managed to replace the necessary wood and put the roof “in the dry,” but it was too dang hot to continue. We had the tar-paper down; but we would need another four to five hours to nail the shingles; that was for the next morning.

I got home from that roofing-job around 5 p.m.. I showered and after forcing my wife to take a bath (clearly that is a joke) she and I traveled toward my favorite Mexican restaurant. All I wanted was a good spicy meal and a cold beer. However, the parking lot of my normal Mexican haunt was packed; and I could not wait in line (I hate to wait for a seat at a restaurant). So, we drove to the next Mexican restaurant on the Owensboro strip; one we had never tried.

My wife and I were greeted at the door of the restaurant by a Latina man, the host, in a full white chef’s coat and bright white britches. He was sharp and professional; but I noticed that he looked at me with a strange suspicion. Additionally, I experienced a degree of recognition. It was odd; compelling yet odd. I had no friends of South American descent 25 years ago; but this man and I both realized this moment of recognition. It was undeniable.

The gentleman sat us at a table and disappeared into the kitchen at the back of the restaurant. Then, before I could explain my odd state of confusion to my wife, seven men came bursting out from the kitchen of the restaurant. They were all in clean white uniforms. They were all sporting large genuine smiles and two of them carried large mugs of cold frosty beer, just for me.

My confusion lifted and sudden joy and surprise filled my heart. These seven men, from the kitchen, were the same seven men that had stripped and re-roofed a home less than five hours before. These were the men that made me and my crew look so pathetic; so sorry; so slow. Yet, here they were offering me free beer; because as the host said to me, “you see, we are the same.”

I believe that a man’s life is right in front of him; and I’d say if everyone within our communities knew nothing of the cable news drama and fear-mongering; relied only on their own personal interactions with the South Americans we meet here at home, none of us would have a problem with immigration.

My experience with people from other cultures has never been anything but positive; and I’ve seen how the South American immigrants within our state and region live. They are professional and hard-working and family-oriented and kind.

While it may sound quite ignorant, but in my experience, I’d rather spend time around the South American immigrants I’ve met than most of the buckeyes I know.

May we all be fair and kind to the strangers among us. I’m fairly certain Jesus said we should.