I don’t remember much about my first shift at the PB&J factory, but I can remember the morning after like it was yesterday. Thinking: What a weird dream. And then… I remember trying to roll over in bed to reach for my alarm clock, and feeling muscles I didn’t know I had. Everything hurt. Welcome to factory work.
I’ve now been at my new job for about a month. It’s gotten a little better, though there are still days I feel like drowning in grape jelly would be preferable to picking up one more PB&J. This happens particularly towards the end of eleven- and twelve-hour shifts. I’ve experienced a new level of exhaustion that I never thought possible… and kept working. Those first few days passed in a blur of monotony and dull pain.
After the first week, it got a little easier. And more interesting. Once I started trying to speak to my coworkers (most of them only speak Spanish), I found out what unique stories they have – they’re immigrants from Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Cuba, and Mexico. While I practiced listening to and conversing in Spanish, they told me about their countries, their families, and their plans for the future.
I’ve overheard some interesting conversations between my Spanish-speaking coworkers, as well… conversations that, if I interpreted them correctly, led me to believe that many of my new friends aren’t completely legal. Seeing the faces and hearing the stories behind the immigration debate doesn’t change my opinion. I believe, like most conservatives, that immigration laws should be enforced and that people in the country illegally should be treated like illegals. They do not have the same rights as United States citizens, and they need to go home and do the correct paperwork before coming back.
I grew up near the border in West Texas, so illegal immigration is nothing new to me. I’ve been to Mexico multiple times, I’ve spoken to the border patrol agents, and I’ve seen the struggle firsthand… right down to being asked my citizenship when getting off a Greyhound bus. My hometown has a large majority of Spanish-speaking people, and I’ve spent time with them through various volunteer projects and outreach ministries. I thought I knew the face of immigration, but I didn’t understand half of it. It doesn’t just have a face – it has a personality.
I’ve spoken to Jorge, Raul, Yolanda, Juan, Pedro, Sandra, and others for hours on end as I worked next to them on the production line. The thing is… I like them. They’re kind and sincere. The guys are chivalrous on a level that’s unmatched even at BJU, the women are friendly and compassionate, and they’re all optimistic and willing to help. When I feel like a zombie with an attitude problem, they’re smiling. When my fingers fail me and I can’t seem to work fast enough, they cover for me on the assembly line. The old men call me princesa (princess) and the old women call me mija (my daughter).
This is the face – and personality – of the immigration debate. Many of these parents, grandparents, sons and daughters are criminals in a country that’s not their own.
Like I said, my opinion on illegal immigrants hasn’t changed. But… at 2am, when my hands are bleeding, my eyelids feel sandpaper-lined, a smile feels more like a grimace than anything else, and the world starts looking like an impressionist painting, there’s no one I’d rather be working next to on the line. Qué va.