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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8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.
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Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.


7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

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Why The Idea Of 'No Politics At The Dinner Table' Takes Place And Why We Should Avoid It

When did having a dialogue become so rare?

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views

Why has the art of civilized debate and conversation become unheard of in daily life? Why is it considered impolite to talk politics with coworkers and friends? Expressing ideas and discussing different opinions should not be looked down upon.

I have a few ideas as to why this is our current societal norm.

1. Politics is personal.

Your politics can reveal a lot about who you are. Expressing these (sometimes controversial) opinions may put you in a vulnerable position. It is possible for people to draw unfair conclusions from one viewpoint you hold. This fosters a fear of judgment when it comes to our political beliefs.

Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of political belief, there is a world of assumption that goes along with any opinion. People have a growing concern that others won't hear them out based on one belief.

As if a single opinion could tell you all that you should know about someone. Do your political opinions reflect who you are as a person? Does it reflect your hobbies? Your past?

The question becomes "are your politics indicative enough of who you are as a person to warrant a complete judgment?"

Personally, I do not think you would even scratch the surface of who I am just from knowing my political identification.

2. People are impolite.

The politics themselves are not impolite. But many people who wield passionate, political opinion act impolite and rude when it comes to those who disagree.

The avoidance of this topic among friends, family, acquaintances and just in general, is out of a desire to 'keep the peace'. Many people have friends who disagree with them and even family who disagree with them. We justify our silence out of a desire to avoid unpleasant situations.

I will offer this: It might even be better to argue with the ones you love and care about, because they already know who you are aside from your politics, and they love you unconditionally (or at least I would hope).

We should be having these unpleasant conversations. And you know what? They don't even need to be unpleasant! Shouldn't we be capable of debating in a civilized manner? Can't we find common ground?

I attribute the loss of political conversation in daily life to these factors. 'Keeping the peace' isn't an excuse. We should be discussing our opinions constantly and we should be discussing them with those who think differently.

Instead of discouraging political conversation, we should be encouraging kindness and understanding. That's how we will avoid the unpleasantness that these conversations sometimes bring.

By avoiding them altogether, we are doing our youth a disservice because they are not being exposed to government, law, and politics, and they are not learning to deal with people and ideas that they don't agree with.

Next Thanksgiving, talk politics at the table.

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