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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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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5 Thoughts You've Probably Had About The Government Shutdown If You, Like Cardi B, Are Paying Attention

I'm not sure if Trump thinks he's playing a real-life game of "The Sims," but I can assure you that a wall will not keep out those that are truly determined to get in.

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2019 — what a time to be alive, am I right? Normally I would use that phrase sarcastically, but each day I am more and more confused, transfixed, and curious (with just a dash of anticipation) about our current state as a society and the direction we're going. Even though most of the time the world seems like sh*t, you've got to admit that out of all the times in history, the current one we're in has a lot of cool perks. I mean, 70 years ago, who would've guessed that there'd be computers and a world wide web filled with endless information and apps that allow 125 million people to see cute pictures of Kim Kardashian's baby. And compared to life in the 1600s, an airplane seems just as extraordinary as the second coming of Jesus.

We're making a lot of wonderful and exciting progress, like our advancements in medicine, but for some reason, we've hit an impasse in terms of social improvement. Not even three years ago would I have guessed that the U.S. would elect an unqualified, most likely racist, reality TV star as president, but alas, here we are, which brings me to his latest antics.

The government shutdown.

Despite how bleak the future seems, a little part of me is just a tad grateful that I'm alive to see this all go down. Like everyone else, however, I've had quite a few thoughts about it all over the past few weeks...

1. So we're screwed, right?

We briefly had a government shutdown in 2013, but for some reason, I have absolutely no recollection of it (my 14-year-old self was probably too preoccupied with who was posted on my high school's Instagram "thot page." Spoiler alert: I was), so this is like my first experience dealing with one. There have been more than a dozen in U.S. history, but the current shutdown is the longest out of the list. My first thought when hearing about the news was "what the hell does THIS mean?" I immediately jumped to the conclusion that we were in a total state of anarchy, but of course, that isn't even partially true. According to The Balance, a government shutdown is "when non-essential discretionary federal programs close." The shutdown doesn't affect state social services, like the Department of Public Safety, and thankfully for us broke college students, funding for financial aid was approved last September, meaning there's no current effect on student financial aid programs.

However, federal services and agencies like the IRS (don't get too excited... you still have to pay taxes), Department of Labor, Department of Housing and Urban Development, National Institute of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration are completely shut down while the budget process is in limbo. With no current end in sight, this is bound to get very bad, very soon.

Already, hundreds of thousands of government employees have been sent home without pay and will continue to not be paid as long as the shutdown is in effect. People living in low-income housing may be evicted as HUD freezes funds for programs. Without funding, all of these services very well may close. Not only that, but the shut down is costing us money: approximately $1.2 billion every week. I wouldn't normally be worried, but Trump is the exact type of immature and petty to where he'll keep this going until he gets his way (or he's impeached, whichever comes first). His attitude firmly suggests that he's not backing down, and if services do close, there will be terrible effects on affected departments and citizen well-being.

Should we just drink the kool-aid now?

2. All of this over... a wall?

Out of all of the things that a president could request funding for, the one we currently have wants $5 billion for a damn steel wall? I'm not sure if he thinks he's playing a real-life game of The Sims, but I can assure you that real humans are much more crafty than we give each other credit for and that a wall will not keep out those that are truly determined to get in. Trump has said that the wall is the "only solution for a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border," yet common sense and many politicians/organizations can tell you that that's complete and utter bullsh*t. Not only that, but Trump's whole presidency has revolved around quelling illegal immigration, but no one has stopped to ask why he's only focusing on the border.

How would a wall decrease the number of people who overstay their visas? How would it decrease the number of illegal immigrants who aren't even crossing the border?!

While I am not well-versed in how much of a threat illegal immigration presents to the U.S. people and government, I still am convinced that there are way more important issues that the president should be concerned with. F*** global warming and renewable energy, let's build a wall, right?!?

Trump's obsession with his wall is a pathetic attempt to flex his self-professed prowess and a way to appease his hate-filled fanatics who only voted for him because he promised he could get it done.

What happened to Mexico paying for it? Oh right, that was just more bullsh*t.

3. People actually donated to this sh*t?

I just... People's stupidity and callousness never cease to amaze me. Before GoFundMe rightfully shut this fundraiser down, over 345,000 people actually donated $20 million dollars for a (wait for it) steel wall. Why is this the thing that people feel their money is worthy of being spent on? Imagine if we all banded together to raise $20 million dollars to help end homelessness or food insecurity. Or better yet, pay the federal employees who are getting screwed over by this whole ordeal.

4. How do Trump supporters feel about all of this?

I know that die-hard fans can take a lot of sh"t from their idols, but I think that after a while it's only natural for them to get fed up. Out of the 62 million people who voted for Trump, there's probably a good portion of them who are significantly affected by the shutdown. The ones who are government employees are feeling the brunt of it now, but if this continues on for months or even years like Trump is threatening, then we're all going to feel it and I can't think of any good excuses that someone could come up with in order to justify such a foolish and reckless decision made by the president. To a federally-employed Trump supporter, I can't imagine how it feels to go 26 days without a paycheck because the president you voted for is desperately trying to propose funding for a wall that you want to be built. It's got to be a catch-22, but hell, I feel like almost all Trump supporters are delusional anyway, so they're probably thinking they're undergoing some grand act of martyrdom.

5. Even Cardi B is worried... Now you know we're screwed.

Cardi B took to Instagram recently to post a video of her addressing her worries about the government shutdown. While not eloquently put, the rap princess is really only just voicing the thoughts and opinions of a lot of us out here. If Cardi B is taking the time out of her day to stop popping off at her haters and fantasizing about Offset's peen, then you know that this issue is a pretty big deal. The self-proclaimed gang member and boss bit** has admitted that she's scared. I think that warrants us to all be.

Well, there you have it, folks. Five of my most pressing thoughts about the government shutdown. As it continues, I'm sure they'll be thousands more that pop into all of our heads. But hey, let's look on the bright side -- we've made history; now's the only time we can say the government has been shut down all year.

Hopefully, we won't be able to say it for much longer.

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