Our new neighbor has been working on the house next door since he moved in a few months ago. I'm glad; my former neighbor was like a surrogate mother to me, but it was hard for her to care for her house: the exterior paint was peeling, the landscape was a little overgrown, and parts of the roof needed TLC.
Like many people around here do, my new neighbor hired a day laborer to help him paint. Though I live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, my town has a its share of poor immigrants, and there is always a group of men needing work who congregate at a convenience store down the street. Most of them, according to the Latino cultural organization in the county, are undocumented. I think of them often during the summer, when the temperature is in the 90s and the humidity is about a billion percent. The sun is brutal, and there is very little shade at the convenience store. If they are lucky enough to find employment, they ride bicycles to work, often carrying nothing more than a single water bottle. Some employers are more considerate than others, but no one, of course, offers health insurance.
My daughter and I have been watching this man patiently scrape and paint for days now, making his way around the house and standing precariously on the top rungs of his ladder, and yesterday, I happened to notice his shirt. It was a long sleeved tee advertising a new residence hall that had opened at my former place of employment just a few years ago, a residence hall known for its posh amenities and slightly higher cost for board.
The juxtapositions were hard to ignore. The oppressive heat, and the long sleeved shirt. The classy residence hall name plastered across his back, and the beat-up bicycle with its single water bottle parked in the driveway. I wondered where he'd gotten the shirt, knowing from my few conversations with him that he didn't speak much English, and suspecting that he probably didn't have children he was sending there, either, at least, not children who were living in that hall. The shirt and the job were both cast-offs, things that no one wanted. Things that he was grateful to have.
I thought about how this man was a strange combination of visible and invisible: visible because it's hard to ignore the day laborers at the convenience store, invisible because people see him as just another nameless worker, someone we look past, look through, someone who is reduced to a body part, a "hired hand."
Over the years, I worked with undocumented students at the university level. These students had made it through high school, had been accepted to a moderately competitive college. All of them were smart; some of them were downright brilliant. And having worked so hard to achieve their goals, they were faced with dreams deferred. With taking the cast-offs. They, too, often vanished after graduation, becoming invisible, because that was their only option.
On August 15, eligible undocumented immigrants can apply to receive a 2-year deferral on
deportation and a 2-year work authorization card. In order to be eligible, they must have come to the U.S. before the age of sixteen; have continuously resided here for at least
five years; currently be in school, have graduated, or be honorably discharged; have not been convicted of a significant crime; and not be above the age of thirty. The provision would make it easier for some of my former students to pursue their dreams; I can think of one, for example, who recently reappeared on my Facebook feed, who wanted more than anything to be a teacher, and knew that pursuing her teaching degree was a fruitless effort because of her illegal status: she'd never be able to get a job.
At the same time, this Friday, the State of Arizona is due to respond to the currently blocked provision of a law that requires police to conduct immigration checks on people they stop,
question or arrest whom they suspect are in the country illegally. Making Latinos more visible, on the one hand, susceptible to profiling, and invisible, on the other, erasing people's identities.
I have been thinking about what the way we treat immigrants here, especially the way we treat undocumented immigrants, has in common with the way that women are treated, or the way disabled people are treated, or the way that other marginalized groups are treated in the U.S. On the one hand, they are too visible. Visible when it's convenient, when we need them to work, or when they're complaining too much, or when they're becoming a financial burden; invisible as long as they don't rock the boat, or when they are easier to ignore.
The man painting my neighbor's house is not invisible to me, or to my daughter, who watches him with rapt attention. We brought him some ice today, to let him know that we see him. I hope he understood.
I call these nonchiladas because we generally don't use chiles in sauce; my kids don't like it too spicy. But the cilantro and garlic impart lots of flavor, so we don't miss the spice. Now you see them, now you don't.
1 1/2 lbs. boneless chicken OR 3 c. white beans/cooked rice
1 small onion, halved crosswise
2 garlic cloves
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. loosely packed fresh cilantro
1 1/2 lbs. tomatillos, husked and rinsed
8-10 six-inch corn tortillas 2 oz. queso blanco or Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, thinned with 2 T. water
Place chicken, onion, the garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, 18 to 22 minutes. Reserve 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid; set aside. (If you're using beans or rice, you can cut up half the onion and saute them with the beans/rice; use water later instead of cooking liquid.)
Let chicken cool on a plate. When cool enough to handle, shred. Set aside.
Preheat broiler, with the rack about 6 inches from heat source. Broil tomatillos and chiles on a rimmed baking sheet, rotating them as they blacken, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool. Remove the blackened skins, stems, ribs, and seeds (optional) from chiles. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Coarsely puree tomatillos in a blender with remaining 1/4 t. salt, cilantro, and reserved 3/4 cup cooking liquid (or water). Take 1/4 c. or so of the salsa and toss with chicken/beans/rice. Transfer the remaining salsa to a large bowl.
Using tongs, toast tortillas over an open flame of a gas stove, 5 to 10 seconds per side., or heat them in a skillet over high heat.)
Dip 1 tortilla into salsa to coat lightly. Place 1/3 cup chicken on half of tortilla. Sprinkle 2 T. cheese on top, and roll up. Place it seam side down in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Repeat to make more enchiladas, lining them up snugly in dish. Spoon remaining salsa on top, and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.
Drizzle with yogurt.