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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I'm A Christian And I Have A Tattoo

Stop judging me for it.
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Like most people, I turned 18 years old during the course of my senior year of high school.

I'll never forget the months prior to my birthday, though, because I spent hours making a decision that would be with me forever, the decision of where I would go to get my first tattoo and where that tattoo would go, and of course I spent a lot of time deciding on the font, the colors, and all of the other aspects of the tattoo I wanted.

Throughout this time, two things stood firm 1) the fact that I was going to get a tattoo, and 2) the six letter name that it would consist of.

Now, three years later, I'm 21 years old and I still get the occasional dirty look at church on Sunday or in line at Walmart, and more often than not this look is accompanied by the following words: “Why would you do that to your body when God says not to?"

A few weeks ago at a new church, a woman came up to me and said, “How can you consider yourself a Christian when you have that blasphemous thing on your foot?", I simply smiled at her and said: “God bless you, have a good week." I let it roll off of my back, I've spent the past three years letting it “roll off of my back"… but I think it's time that I speak up.

When I was 8 years old, I lost my sister.

She passed away, after suffering from Childhood Cancer for a great deal of my childhood. Growing up, she had always been my best friend, and going through life after she passed was hard because I felt like even though I knew she was with me, I didn't have something to visually tribute to her – a way to memorialize her.

I, being a Christian and believing in Heaven, wanted to show my sister who was looking down on me that even though she was gone – she could still walk with me every day. I wanted it for me, for her. I wanted to have that connection, for her to always be a part of who I am on the outside – just as much as she is a part of who I am on the inside.

After getting my tattoo, I faced a lot of negativity. I would have Leviticus 19:28 thrown in my face more times than I cared to mention. I would be frowned on by various friends, and even some family. I was told a few times that markings on my body would send me to hell – that was my personal favorite.

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:28

The more I heard these things, the more I wanted to scream. I didn't though. I didn't let the harsh things said about me and my choice change the love I have for the Lord, for my sister, or for the new precious memento on my left foot. I began to study my Bible more, and when I came to the verse that had been thrown in my face many times before – I came to a realization.

Reading the verses surrounding verse 28, I realized that God was speaking to the covenant people of Israel. He was warning them to stay away from the religious ways of the people surrounding them. Verse 28 wasn't directed to what we, in today's society, see as tattoos – it was meant in the context of the cultic practice of marking one's self in the realm of cultic worship.

26 "You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying. 27 You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. 28 'You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. 29 'Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness. 30 'You shall keep My sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD. 31 'Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God."
Leviticus 19:26–31

The more I have studied my Bible over the past few years, the more I pity those who rely on one verse in the Old Testament to judge and degrade those, like myself, who made the decision to get a tattoo for whatever reason they may have for doing so.

This is because, you see, in the New Testament it is said that believers are not bound by the laws of the Old Testament – if we were, there would be no shellfish or pork on the menus of various Christian homes. While some see tattoos as a modification of God's creation, it could also be argued that pierced ears, haircuts, braces, or even fixing a cleft lip are no different.

24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."
Galatians 3:24-25

In Galatians, we read that the Old Testament law was created to lead people to Jesus. However, we know that Jesus has come and died on the cross for our sins. He has saved us, therefore we are no longer held to this law in order to have a relationship with the Lord. Our relationship with Him comes from believing that Jesus came to Earth to die on a cross for our sins, and repenting of our sins – accepting Jesus as our Savior.

I am a Christian, I have a relationship with the Lord that is stronger than it has ever been, and - I HAVE A TATTOO.

I have a beautiful memento on my left foot that reminds me that my sister walks with me through every day of my life. She walked with me down the red carpet at my senior prom, she walked with me across the stage the day I graduated from high school, and she continues to be with me throughout every important moment of my life.

My tattoo is beautiful. My tattoo reminds me that I am never alone. My tattoo is perfect.

Stop judging me for it.

Cover Image Credit: Courtney Johnson

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What The Trump-Kim Summit Means For The World

Are we headed towards world peace or World War III?

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On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in Singapore for a historic summit. North Korea agreed to destroy a nuclear engine testing site and eventually denuclearize completely, although it did not commit to anything specific. On the other hand, the US agreed to remove its military presence in the South and quit playing the "war games" that have angered the North for so many years. But how will the outcome of this summit affect our world as we know it?

What does this mean for China?

China has geopolitical, economic and security interests in the Korean peninsula. Xi's government has repeatedly shown its support for a denuclearized Korea, but the thing it fears most is a collapse of the North Korean regime, which would send millions of migrants into China.

One positive thing about the peace deal for the Chinese is that the US alliance with South Korea could be weakened in the coming years, as the US agreed to end its military presence in the South to allow Kim to denuclearize.

However, there are two other things China has to keep in mind. First is the prospect of a reunified Korea under a South Korean or Western-backed government. This would diminish China's influence in the area, especially considering many influential countries in the area, like Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia, are democratic. Second, China needs to keep its border with North Korea secure. President Trump has emphasized this in the past, and this would keep unwanted migrants from passing through to China. To keep the North Korean regime from collapsing, along with the border, economic sanctions on Kim's regime may need to be relaxed a little.

What does this mean for South Korea?

Many South Koreans remained optimistic about the summit, since approval for Trump and Kim is at an all-time high, but some are wary of Kim's intentions. Will he actually go through with denuclearization? Since the US is ending its military presence in the South, South Koreans may feel less secure, especially if they don't know if Kim will keep his promises. It only makes sense that after decades of being at war with their neighbors, South Koreans are extra cautious. In addition, both the South Korean government and US forces in the region were surprised by Trump's intention to demilitarize.

What about the United States?

While the plan is to denuclearize North Korea once the US pulls out of the Korean peninsula, things could change dramatically, considering that Trump has made plenty of inflammatory remarks towards Kim and his regime in the past, such as calling him "Little Rocket Man" and claiming he has a bigger nuclear button. We've seen how North Korea reacts to criticism (remember The Interview back in 2014?), and we know Trump has trouble controlling himself on Twitter. Without military presence in the South, the US could be in big trouble. If we wanted to keep a strong force in the region, we would really have to depend on Japan for military cooperation, but Japanese approval of the President has dropped in recent years. In 2017, 24 percent of those surveyed had confidence in the US President, down sharply from 78% in 2016 and 85% in 2009.

What about North Korea?

This could go either way for Kim's regime. It appears that the North is trying to aim for international cooperation after a unified Korean team competed at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Kim's meeting with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, and the summit with Trump. However, they could just be trying to make their international image look nicer while they continue to resist democracy and commit hundreds of human rights violations every day that nobody can see. We can't hold North Korea accountable for denuclearization, either; accountability is nearly impossible in a totalitarian communist dictatorship that brainwashes its people out of sheer fear and closes them off from the rest of the world. How will we know if Kim ditches the nukes? Our only way of knowing is through North Korean state media, and we can't verify their claims for ourselves. Anything said by the North's government should be taken with a grain (or a whole pinch) of salt. But maybe Kim is different from his father and grandfather. Maybe he'll try and change things for the better.

My takeaway (this is MY opinion, skip past if you don't want to hear it):

The intention of this summit is clearly positive, but how do we know if North Korea is going to denuclearize? It was great that the leaders of the two countries actually met and shook hands instead of directing threats and insults at each other through Twitter (Trump) and state television (Kim).

That doesn't mean Trump isn't a complete idiot, though. He was praising the genius, leadership and talent of Kim. "He's got a very good personality, he's funny, and he's very, very smart," Trump said in an interview Tuesday night after the summit.

Sure, Kim can crack a good joke and is a smart guy, but did our President forget that this is the same man that had some of his family members assassinated. His human rights record is astonishingly horrible. His government throws thousands of people in labor camps (some because their family members committed the crime), encourages state-sponsored rape and torture, allows their people to starve to death, and doesn't allow citizens to leave the country, have a dissenting opinion, or have any contact with the rest of the world. Nice guy, right? Forget his denial of basic human rights to his people and personality cult.

All in all, the summit was a positive step towards change and cooperation, which is much better than the two leaders with large egos throwing insults and threats of nuclear war at each other. Now the one thing we need to worry about: can we trust North Korea and hold them accountable for ending their nuclear proliferation?

Cover Image Credit:

instagram.com/realdonaldtrump

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