Two immigrants

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(HOST)Commentator Gloria Gonza lez is a relative newcomer to the Green Mountains, and she has become friends with another recent arrival – she’ll call her “Martina”. They have a lot in common, but there’s one big difference, and it’s central to the current debate about immigration.

(GONZALEZ) This is a tale of two immigrants.

It is easy to remember how long I’ve lived in Middlebury because my son was born just four weeks before we moved here – ten years ago this June.

Now that I have two kids who love to climb mountains and splash in rivers, wonderful friends, good colleagues, and tenure at an excellent academic institution, I can say that Vermont has become my home. And a year ago I became an United States citizen. Established? You bet!

What I didn’t have until recently were friends from my native Mexico, people with whom I could joke without having to explain my sense of humor, or use street slang from Guadalajara, my hometown.

Well, I finally got that. Like many Vermonters, I was recently surprised to hear that many Mexican nationals live and work on Vermont farms. Curious, I set out to meet them.

One of them is “Martina”. She and I have a lot in common. We both came from our native Mexico to find a job, to start a new life, to provide a better education for our children. We have joked and gossiped, and talked a lot about our aspirations. And we’re both fairly satisfied with our lives here in Vermont.

But there is one big difference between Martina and me. Martina arrived in the US illegally while I arrived here with a student visa. Do I feel morally superior to her? Not in the least. Getting a visa for me was no big deal – a one hour stop at the consulate. I came from a middle-class family, I had a university degree, and I had been accepted into a graduate program in New York. Here’s your visa, no questions asked.

But my experience has nothing to do with the sixty percent of Mexicans who are poor: it is virtually impossible for them to enter the US legally. And many of those take enormous risks and endure hardships and sacrifices that we Americans can hardly imagine. Take Martina, for example. She has a four year old son. Pablo had to stay behind with grandma in Mexico. It was too risky to bring him across the border. “If I could see Pablo every now and then,” Martina told me. “If I could see him, even just once a month for one minute it would not be so bad.” But although Martina misses her son desperately, she also knows that she cannot earn enough back in Mexico to feed him well or to offer him the chance to go to school past the elementary level.

So here is Martina – and many others, and they feel welcome by Vermonters, most of whom thank them for helping to save small family farms. Except for those who want to send them back home because they are “illegals”.

I ask any parent listening if they would behave differently under the same circumstances. If your child did not have clean drinking water, was malnourished, had little hope of going to high school – much less college – what would you do?

Gloria Estela Gonzalez teaches at Middlebury College.

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