The Underground Workforce: Immigrants

 

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

A little over a month ago, I traveled to Queens to go pick up my 10th wedding anniversary cake from a family friend. To give you some context, I live in Long Island, NY (the forgotten borough, unless you talk The Hamptons) so anytime I want food or goods related to my West-Indian culture (and this cake was a West-Indian cake) I go to Queens or Brooklyn usually. Since I am approximately an hour and 15 minutes from Queens I try to maximize my trips by ensuring I get all the West-Indian goodies I want before returning home. This day, I did just that and went to my favorite Singh’s Roti Shop in Ozone Park to get my roti, doubles, pholourie and the like. The line in Singh’s on a Saturday is usually long but is made more pleasant by the people watching, aromatic scents and beautiful Soca and Calypso music playing while you wait.

I found something more at Singh’s this day and it involved a woman standing behind me on line.  I remember turning and smiling at her and she asked me: “If the line here is always this long?” I replied: “Yes, always!” She then went on to ask me if I was a Trinidadian and I said: “Yes, with a mix of Guyanese too”. She proceeded to tell me that she was so hungry as she has been working as a live-in aide to an elderly woman in Upstate New York and the family does not so much as grant her but 15 minutes to go and procure food for herself.

She went on to share with me the deplorable way in which the family treated her patient. She also shared that she told them she had some affairs to take care of so she got two days off. She took two trains and a bus by memory to get to Singh’s as it was the only place she remembered having food that would nourish her and make her feel a little like she was back in Trinidad.

I asked her why she stays if she doesn’t like the way she is being treated? She mentioned that she was working to put her kids through school. On the brighter side, she was going on an interview for a new patient the next day with a family she felt more aligned with. I told her I would pray for her that her interview went well.

I was then called up to place my order, so I said a quick goodbye. As I waited for them to package my order, I watched her with sadness thinking she was carrying the weight of her space in the world on her shoulders (and it showed). She reminded me of any number of my aunts. As I paid for my food, I went over to her and told her she is a strong woman and I wished her well with a parting hug.

As much as our encounter uplifted me –it also made me angry that she was being used and abused for cheap labor by an American family because they can and more importantly, because her labor and toil are convenient for their lifestyles.

In a time where the discussion of undocumented immigrants is so contentious, it is unfathomable to me that we have such hypocrisy at play where this issue is concerned. Essentially, our position is we don’t want you illegal and undocumented people here; except for in instances where you present a cheaper option that makes our lives simpler. I wonder if it has ever occurred to the lower half of the economic scale that their prized 1% white male and women counterparts are to blame for the undocumented numbers in the U.S.? I am here to shed some light.

Your prized 1 percenters are the ones who actively seek out women like this woman I spoke with to be wet nurses, doulas, companions and live-in nannies at a much lower margin than what any U.S.-based nanny would charge. I know because some of my own family members have had flights, housing, cell phones, wages and expenses paid for them to come here from abroad and do this work.

To further back what I already know to be true, I dug up some statistics from Pew Research Center. Here are some things you should know about undocumented immigrants and their impact on our workforce:

  • In 2015, there were 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. This number has been mostly unchanged given estimates made for 2009 – 2016 since there was a smaller sample size and a large margin of error in the numbers. According to this same study, unauthorized immigrants peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million a whopping 4% of the U.S. population. So much for undocumented immigrants taking over the U.S. and all of the “good” jobs.
  • Surprise…surprise! Mexicans are not among the majority of undocumented immigrants. Statistics from the same Pew Research Center study, suggest that from 2009 – 2016, the bulk of undocumented immigrants are coming from Asia and Central America countries outside of Mexico. I guess an Asian influx isn’t a problem, but let us also not forget their particular knowledge, skills, and abilities also facilitate our culture of convenience.
  • The U.S. Civilian Workforce includes 8 million undocumented immigrants accounting for 5% of those who were either working, unemployed or looking for work. How can undocumented immigrants be so unwanted and at the same time so assimilated into our workforce? More convenience and hypocrisy.

There are many moving parts to this discussion. My annoyance with it all is that our economy, businesses, and lives run on immigration. Yet, we dehumanize these people, throw around propaganda about banishing them and still when it suits us we hire them to do the work that no one else is willing to do. As HR professionals, we have to be just as willing to talk about how we improve societal conditions as we are to talk about the latest best practices to improve company culture. We also have to recognize that while our obligations are to the organizations we serve, we are on some level tied back to the overall perverted web of labor that exists here in the U.S.

We must seek the truth. Protect the truth and recognize when our ideals and practices are dissonant. I hope this helps.

To read the full article with statistics from The Pew Research Center study click here.

Heads Down, Mouths Shut: The Distracted Generation

Heads Down, Mouths Shut-The Distracted Generation

To say there is a lot going on in the world right now is probably an understatement. The current events of the moment are so cumbersome and so complex that for many it has become emotionally and physically taxing.

The interesting thing about the emotion piece is that most of us are walking around unable to muster up emotion for anyone or anything that doesn’t directly affect our own lives. That is to say that we would rather lose ourselves in the joy of Beyonce’s pregnancy or the latest You Tube video of someone making a fool of themselves in an effort to ignore and/or not fully participate in the more pressing issues of the moment. As an avid watcher of the hit show: The Walking Dead, I am more and more convinced that our story – like the show will never be about the zombies or the villains who destroyed humanity; but rather the human beings that were so out of touch with reality that they allowed it to happen.

Of course there will be the bunch who say: “I can enjoy pop culture and be just as socially vigilant as the next soldier”. Sure you can. I will not deny you your joy. Lose yourself. However, I will wager you that the people dying in Aleppo have no distractions; nothing to divert their attention from the daily horror of their own lives. The biggest diversion those poor people have is the pain of losing loved ones, the periodic pleas over social media to save them, and the hunger pangs plaguing them for weeks at a time.

Do you think the people of Flint, Michigan have the luxury of caring about pop culture or the latest viral video when they are going on their third year of having lead-ridden water to drink, cook, and bathe with?

What freedom to divert attention do the people of Pinellas County, Florida have as 95% of their students continue to fail reading and writing with a white-run board of education who prides themselves on incarcerating young black children for minor offenses?

Enjoy your diversions, your bubbles, and all of the things that make you comfortable and happy daily. I simply hope that the freedom to enjoy those things is never taken away from you. I hope you never have to become invisible to a whole society of people who value their diversions more than your well-being.

I hope that you never encounter an injustice so horrible that people leave you to cope in deafening silence, because they are afraid to lose what little has been afforded them.

By all means, keep your head down at that job where you can’t seem to make strides, but affords you a regular check. Keep your mouth shut so as to not stir your friends, family and professional network – I’m sure they will all come to your rescue should misfortune befall you.

Personally, I cannot keep my head down. I will not keep quiet. I have watched enough atrocities to know that I am quite fortunate and at any moment it can all be taken away from me. Nothing that is granted is indefinite. I know enough to know that I cannot cure all of society’s ills, but I know that to not step up and lend a hand is a moral sin.

As we all continue to watch many of the constructs of society and government crumble before us, we need to ask ourselves whether we are going to be proactive and do our part; or wait until misfortune hits closer to home to snap out of it and into action.

Please know the goal has always been for each of us to be so wrapped up in self-preservation, survival and distractions that we remain oblivious to all of the underhanded things going on right under our noses.

If you want to know what’s going on you merely have to stop and pay attention to what is going on and the connectivity of each event. Enjoy the glimmers of beauty still present for our enjoyment regularly; but please also recognize that your ability to enjoy those moments is a privilege many do not have.

Ultimately it is your choice to stay abreast or to live in ignorance. Choose wisely.

 

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