My Mother's Experience As An Undocumented Worker

My Mother's Experience As An Undocumented Worker

The Unheard Story of my Mother and the Majority of Undocumented Women
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Many undocumented workers have had to endure degrading and mentally damaging experiences in the workplace and are told to keep quiet about them. We all know these things happen, but we accept them to be a part of society. Some believe undocumented workers do not hold the right to speak against their own job if they are being harassed or abused and immigrants themselves are afraid of being deported.

My mother's experience in the workforce is one of the many unheard stories from immigrant women who find themselves cornered in such situations. These women have dealt with physical, mental and verbal abuse in the workplace.

Every evening I watch my mother drag herself through the doorway. Her exhausted eyes behind ill-fitting glasses, her hair coming out of a tired ponytail, and her feet slowly waiting to give out. Over the past years, I cannot recall a moment in which she was proud to say where she worked at and the salary she was being paid. I hesitate to ask her how her day at work was because I know what comes after.

My mother started off as a clerk for a Cafe-Internet place in Queens. As per my mother's request, I will not name any companies. Her job as a clerk was to send money to foreign countries, rent computers and allow people to make calls privately. Even though she was promised overtime pay, when the time came to receive it, it happened to be missing. Instead, she received pay of less than minimum wage. Nevertheless, she treasured those dollars and was able to support three children by herself. The company refused to have more than two employees at each location so my mother would have to work 14 hours straight without a lunch break on the days her coworker called off. You can imagine what 14 hour work days can do to a relationship between a mother and her children. Worried they would fire her and she would have no other place to go, she remained quiet and endured the underpaid job.

After that, she worked at a chain sandwich shop. The smell of freshly made bread only reminded her of the many hours she was forced to stand without a lunch break for less than minimum wage per hour. The company saw her as a liability therefore, they felt justified when paying her less than what was lawful. She recalls a time when she had the flu and was forced to come to work in just two days or else she would be fired. When one of her children were sick, she would try her best to call each hour to make sure we were okay because there was not enough money for a sitter, and taking time out to go to the doctor would jeopardize her job. She also told me of the many times she was scolded by her bosses and customers for speaking in Spanish with her coworkers. I cannot reiterate how many times this has occurred to my mom and how insulted she has felt. She felt as though she was forced to work with no voice. Ashamed to speak to customers in her accent, my mother would say the least she possibly could. Since she was incapable of paying a babysitter for my brothers and me, we often had to sit in the restaurant and nap until she got off work.

My mother tells me she was afraid that working at low paying jobs would set a bad example for her children and it always felt as if she had to compromise. Either she had to deal with physically arduous labor or with below minimum wage positions, or both. She was stuck in the midst of poor jobs and discriminatory attitudes. My mom wanted to believe that it would all be worth it in the end, but it seemed like an endless cycle of abuse, fear or worse, deportation. The only hope she seemed to have was manifested in the lives of her children.

Although she was reluctant to go back to a Cafe-Internet place, it was the only job that accepted her lack of documentation and allowed her to stay seated. She says the events that occurred here are ones she does not like to remember. My mother only has bitter memories of this abusive workplace and was very cautious when retelling the events to me. For starters, the majority of the women employed were undocumented. Their hours were changed weekly, regardless of their availability and child care responsibilities even though the managers were women themselves and very aware of their maternal duties. Throughout the holidays, my mom and the others had to work the same schedule and sometimes overtime (unpaid). This position was a bit different than her previous clerk position. For example, she and a coworker had to stay in a very compact room behind a bulletproof glass with the door locked at all times and had to eat while they took customers.The air conditioning was only outside of their office, where the customers stood.

One day, one of the girls fainted inside the office and hours later, the cleaning lady had to climb through the roof to get inside and rescue her. One would think this served as a wake-up call for the company, but they only threatened the girl to stay quiet about it. There was absolutely no ventilation inside the room and barely any space to walk around. There was even an office in which there was no bathroom. They told my mom that if she needed to relieve herself, she had to walk through a huge hole in the wall and go inside of a bag. I don't think I need to explain how unbelievably traumatizing this situation was. Additionally, as it was at her other jobs, my mother was not paid for overtime hours and always had money taken from her check.

Every day, the women would count their registers and separate by hand, certain amounts of money that had to be sent to other companies. After checking each and every bill, the managers would take the money to the banks. Magically, each week there would be over $100.00 missing from single registers. After threatening to deport the women for "stealing," they would subtract the amount from their weekly salary. Mothers needing to support their children with a below average salary now had to take home less money. As if all this were not bad enough, after a while working there, my mother explained to her bosses that she needed to have weight loss surgery as she was on the verge of becoming diabetic. However, they refused to give her job back once she recovered even though they said they would. Similarly, they gradually terminated another woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was as if these companies specifically choose undocumented women with motherly responsibilities to do as they want with them. Any threat that was made by the workers would be retorted with “where would you go?”

After a long recovery from surgery, my mother's next job was as a receptionist at a cardiology clinic. Her initial duties included making phone calls, filing and obtaining authorizations from medical insurances. Although she performed all her duties as she was told to do so, the cardiologist did not want her calling the insurance companies after he heard her speak on the phone. He was afraid that her accent would provide a bad image for the company and stunt her work performance. She could not understand how this was a possibility if she was doing everything successfully up until that moment. Throughout her entire time at this job, she often heard comments such as, "are you sure you want to work here? You seem to do a better job at serving food and cleaning up after everyone." If she had trouble understanding a process or the mechanism behind something (as everyone at the job did because they were working with a new system), she was told, "well it isn't our fault you chose to have kids instead of going to school."

I am baffled by the fact that these people had the audacity to demean a woman's choice to have children. It was as if she was only allowed to ask questions and make mistakes if she was legal and had schooling. Every little mistake she made was attributed to the fact that she did not go to college. When she was not being verbally attacked, she would also receive sexual innuendos from her boss but then quickly scolded when she refused. She recalls being told at the end of her long days, that the only reason she had not been fired was because she had a “pretty face.” Again, she felt the pain of having to work without a voice, only a pretty face for everyone to look at. Her voice and accent reminded every one of her foreignness and was seen as a fault in her personality. It made her feel incapable and humiliated to the point where she would cry as soon as she walked through our front door. Nevertheless, she went to work every day knowing she is still helping save lives and making people feel as comfortable as they can be. She has a gift for consolation and security. She never failed to make the patients feel at home before their procedures.

After leaving the horrid cardiology clinic, my mother spent a long time trying to find employment until she was hired by an Ophthalmology office where she works as an ophthalmologist tech. Just to be clear, the majority of the population in the job's location are Latinos. She tells me that about 90% of the patients only speak Spanish and prefer to have a Spanish speaking technician tending to their needs. Therefore, my mother spends the majority of her days speaking in Spanish but translating results into English. However, there have been multiple occasions where she is found speaking in Spanish with another coworker and the head doctor comes over to her and scolds her for not speaking English. The man forbids anyone from communicating in Spanish with my mother and reprimands anyone who is found doing so. I would understand if he saw it as a form to sort of help with her English speaking skills but his attitude was too hostile and disrespectful. It seems as though his main purpose is to make her feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. The main reason they hired my mom was because she was bilingual. Her Spanish skills were much needed in the office however now she is being humiliated for expressing herself in the same language.

My mother, along with the other 4 million undocumented women in the United States are subjects to routine exploitation on a daily basis in their workplaces. Whether it is in an office or a field, they are in constant danger of being verbally, physically, and mentally harassed with no assurance that they can legally defend themselves. Instead, they continue to work even harder to support their families and have a chance at a better life.

Enduring these conditions is completely worth it when she sees us off to school and excelling daily, my mother says.

Cover Image Credit: Miguel Arias

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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Weaponry.

We have a people problem, clearly and those troubled people are utilizing one tool time and time again. Why would we not make it even the slightest bit harder to walk into our schools and mass murder our children?
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Social media is filled with children who just witnessed their classmates and teachers get shot in front of them, parents who just lost their children begging for a change to protect them.

One scroll down.

A photo of a gun lying against a wall “Still waiting for my gun to get up and kill someone”

Yep, that’s America. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of weaponry.

I know, I know guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
Why is it that everyone just recites that without realizing that all we are trying to do is get the people who kill people factor away from the gun factor?

Yes, cars kill people. Yes, heart disease kills people. Yes, drugs kill people. Yes, knives kill people. I have passed a test, have a license, registration and insurance on my car as well as a plate that gives my identity attached to the back of it. Millions of dollars are spent in the health care industry to prevent heart disease and other diseases like it. “Ban forks” A person who eats foods that lead to health problems are doing it to themselves and they cannot go into a school and do it to 17 others, and to be fair half of them probably can’t make a living wage in this country to afford better food to begin with. I cannot go to the store and buy Sudafed without showing my ID and with that I can only buy a limited quantity. I have been turned away from prescribed and necessary medications because of controlled substance laws and the next time that someone kills and injures over 900 people from a hotel bedroom, goes through a nightclub and murders over 50 people or puts our country through this repeated torture time and time again with a knife, I will consider sensible knife control too!

Of course, mass shooters don’t become mass shooters without other factors such as a troubled past, bullying, lack of parental guidance, lack of respect, mental illness and a multitude of other things. I am the first person to agree that raising children with respect is a step in the right direction toward creating more a compassionate, empathetic and less hate filled tomorrow. I am also the first person to agree that we need to implement changes to our mental health care system and the social, economic and emotional resources surrounding these troubled individuals, and I truly think these things will lessen the amount of violence our society is enduring. We need accessible and affordable healthcare and lawmakers that support it! However, people are dying right now.

Children are dying right now.

I don’t know about you, but I am not okay with waiting for the next generation of children to somehow be raised in a way to prevent this even if I hope so much that they will. I am not okay with waiting for every troubled person out there who needs help to gain the resources they need when people are dying right now. Getting help for these people is ultimately the solution but clearly there are already people out there who are mentally ill, hate-filled, fallen through the cracks however you want to put it who are going into places and killing our children. Clearly if this is the sole solution we are failing, and I am not okay with waiting for us to succeed. One common denominator that comes after the mental illness, after the troubled past, that is there regardless of the race, is the gun. No, it is not the gun’s fault but if we could stop one person from giving a bad name to responsible gun owners everywhere why wouldn’t we? If a mandatory comprehensive back ground check stopped even one mass shooting isn’t it worth the wait time until you can go to the range? If closing the gun show loop hole stops one of these troubled people with ill intentions from being the person behind that weapon isn’t it worth it? We have a people problem, clearly and those troubled people are utilizing one tool time and time again. Why would we not make it even the slightest bit harder to walk into our schools and mass murder our children?
I am not saying that sensible gun control will stop every one of these tragedies from happening but if we can save as many lives as possible until we fix the people problem why would we not?

I hope that the next time something like this happens there is a “good guy”, someone responsibly armed and skilled enough around to prevent such tragedy and I also believe that responsibly armed person could still be there if sensible gun control were in place but maybe just maybe, they wouldn’t even have cause to draw their weapon. So yes, guns don’t kill people, people kill people and it is the people I want mandatory background checks on, it is the people I want safety courses for, it is the ill-intentioned people using the gun show loophole that I want it closed for and it is the people I want to hold responsible, not the gun. No one that I have seen arguing for gun control wishes to take away a responsible gun owner’s right to defend their family, hunt or shoot for sport we want to keep them from people with much colder intentions, intentions the majority of people, good people don’t even want to imagine possible and if a responsible gun owner is what you are I see no reason to be afraid.

#GunReformNow #PolicyNotPrayer #NotOneMore

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Let's Talk About The N-Word.

If you're still confused on why this is an issue, this should clear things up.
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A few days ago, I watched a white male call a black female the N-word. He not only called her that, but he also used the word as the caption to his Snapchat. This boy, who attends my university, then continued to post the snap and share this moment of pure racism to all of his friends and followers. That’s a problem.

The N-word is not some slang or trendy language that can be tossed in and out of conversations like “bae” or “lit” or “fleek”. This is a word that has been used derogatorily for centuries to oppress and dehumanize people of African-American descent. People like me.

Q: So why do “people like me” use the word if it’s so derogatory and triggering?

A: Great question. It’s because, when we say it (with an -a ending), to each other, the context is completely different. The word is no longer oppressing. When “people like me” say the N-word, we’re reclaiming a title that was created to make us feel as “different” as we looked and using it in a way that connects us. African-Americans and our ancestors have endured years centuries of racism, bigotry, clutched purses, sideways glances, crossed streets, back of the bus, random drug-tests, stereotypes (the list goes on) to say that word. The word has a sense of camaraderie, not hate, when people like me use it.

Q: But can we use it in a song? “N*** in Paris” is a bop, and I swear I don't even really use the word.

A: It totally is a bop, and you can listen to that song as many times as your heart desires. But just don’t sing that part of the song. It’s not as hard as you think. It’s one word out of an entire song. If you think the beat doesn’t “flow as hard” without it then it might be time to find a new song and check yourself.

Q: But when I use it, I swear I’m not using it in a derogative manner. It’s like saying “What’s good, dude?”, it’s friendly.

A: That’s cool, but did you know that there’s are at least 20 other words that can be used to convey the word “friend”? I’ll even link it.

In today's society, tensions are high, not only with people of color, but with those of other ethnicities, religious beliefs, sexuality, gender orientation and so on. There are people who feel that those who are "triggered" by derogatory statements need to get a thicker skin. Words are just words, and words can't hurt you; but they can. Words, like the N-word, have been taken back by those who have used them to oppress others so that people, like the boy from my university, can't use them.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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