My neighbor Juan calls me Kathy. “Hi Kathy,” he says when he comes out to water his rose bushes. “Hey Juan,” I say, ignoring the fact that my name is not Kathy. People have been calling me Kathy for years, and in this particular case, I think it’s karmic payback for the first two years I lived next to Juan and called him Jose.
With the immigration situation all over the news, people from Minnesota and England and “the Iraq” want to know what it’s really like to live in Arizona these days. The truth is, even people who live in Arizona want to know that. Our local newspaper, The Arizona Republic, has been running question and answer pieces for local residents who are wondering what to do if they get caught in the company of “an illegal”.
A recent question went something like, “If I get pulled over by the police for speeding while driving a company truck and I have my co-worker with me who I know is illegal, will I go to jail?” Or, “If I drive five miles an hour by a group of dark-skinned men standing by the side of the road and two just happen to climb into the back of my truck and work construction for me all day, and they’re illegal but I have no knowledge of that and pay them under the table with untraceable bills, will I go to jail?”
There’s the indignant: “What am I supposed to do, drive by a playground and pick up a sixth grader to work in my yard all day? C’mon! That’s what an illegal is for!”
And this: “If we are not legal citizens but get robbed and my husband is beaten, can we get deported if we call the police or go to the hospital? Our kids are legal.”
Frantic, paranoid and angry questions from people who see a way of life coming to an end fill the newspaper and radio waves: If we stand too close to an illegal, will that make us illegal too? Can we get illegal on us? Will it wash out? Will I go to jail for that?
This country invited Mexicans to cross the border to work jobs that nobody else wanted, the hard labor jobs and the ones picking fruit, factory jobs too. Some of these people—-when they were free, free at last—-started flipping burgers at McDonald’s or cleaning bathrooms in office buildings. Others started their own businesses, landscaping and painting and masonry, making something out of desert nothing. Illegal was everywhere and a fact of life; illegal defined the nannies and housekeepers who raised our children and made our meals. While they were at it, they taught our children to speak a second language.
So if you’re wondering what it’s like to live in Arizona, outside of the blasting heat and the moist monsoons that are about to turn this region into the devil’s birth canal…to Minnesota and England and the Iraq, and everywhere like such as, I say this: it’s shameful. I hope everybody calls me Kathy from now on so I can lend my real identity to somebody who deserves it.