A Day Without Immigrants

-Helene Szabados

Thursday, February 16th, Peaceful World Foundation participated in the “Day without Immigrants” by canceling a scheduled breakfast conversation at the Presidio’s Rx Café after we were informed that the Rx Café would be closed. Using this opportunity to shine light on the Presidio’s beloved Rx Café, I sat down with the owner, Rogelio Collindes, and held a short interview on the topic of immigration in the U.S.

Prior to my interview, I found myself struggling with what questions to cultivate about the topic of immigration. I had insecurities about my lack of knowledge on the topic and questioned why I don’t know more about U.S. Foreign Policy. I realized I could use this interview to further my comprehension on the matter.

In addition, I took this opportunity to reflect on my own experience in America. I am a first generation immigrant with dual citizenship. I was born in France from a French father and an American mother. My parents chose to move to the United States in the mid 90’s for better job opportunities and a stronger artistic community. In France, people do not change jobs as easily as in the United States. Waiters, cooks, cleaning staff and other service positions are recognized as careers in Europe. I asked my parents to share their perspectives on our immigration to America.

 

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Helene Szabados in Paris, 1994

 

At first, I was expecting a sad story of adversity and hardship, but to my surprise my father had a different outlook. He described America as the land of opportunity where people take risks and chances to improve their quality of life. He went on to say, although there were people who were unkind to him there were also people who were willing to help him. With a lot of hard work, dedicated hours and help from his new community, my father persevered. He was able to achieve a well-paid, high ranking job in some of the biggest tech companies in America today.

As I prepared myself for the interview, I considered Rogelio Collindres and his place in our community. Rogelio was born and raised in El Salvador and is now the owner of the Rx Café. Located in the heart of the Tides Non-profit sector, Rx Café provides wholesome meals for breakfast and lunch hours. Due to its conveniently central location and variety of organic food selections, many organizations and communities frequent this café.

On Thursday, February 16th, Rogelio and his staff supported the “Day without Immigrants” by shutting the café down for an entire business day. Rogelio’s decision to support his staff reflects his respect for his employees. He chose to sacrifice a profitable day of business to accommodate the voice of his staff in regards to the current immigration political discussion. My interview with Rogelio was insightful and inspiring; shedding a light on topics that are not frequently discussed.

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that, “about half of the hired workers employed in U.S. crop agriculture were unauthorized, with the overwhelming majority of these workers coming from Mexico.”

 

Where did you hear about the “Day without Immigrants” being observed?

  • I heard about it first on social media. Soon after, my employees asked about our participation in the matter. Their eagerness to support the cause is what prompted me to participate.

Was there fear about someone losing his or her job over participating?

  • No, we knew no one would lose their job over it. There were concerns about not being compensated for the day.

Have you been compensated for that day?

  • I processed payroll last week and made sure to document that day as a work day; only time will tell.

What does the participation mean to you?

  • We are all fighting for the same cause. It means I will stand for the cause in unity with my community. Being part of the change and the big picture is what will make a difference in our country’s current political state.

How does foreign policy affect you and your family?

  • My family is very affected by foreign policy. The transition into the 2017 presidency has made it difficult for us to travel. I have family living as residents of Los Angeles, CA and we all take trips to El Salvador yearly. In the past, these were very simple trips with no issues. As of 2017, I currently have family members who are now stuck outside of the U.S. because the airports have taken their names out of the airport systems.

What message do you think you sent out to the immediate community in the Presidio’s Tides non-profit sector?

  • I wanted to create awareness of the role we play in the economy. Our government does a good job at painting a scary, menacing picture of the Latin community but they fail to recognize what we contribute to the American society. I want to spread more knowledge about my culture. We are not criminals, most of us are hardworking human beings trying to support our families living in impoverished countries. What will it take for us to gain respect, not just as a culture but as human beings?  When will my natural rights be acknowledged?

 

Each meal we eat connects us to the struggle of undocumented food workers.

 

The “Day without Immigrants” prompted me to consider my own experience working with immigrants in the service industry. I was raised with a strong work ethic, “don’t say much; just work and be honest and they will love you.” I started working in the service industry at a young age and I have worked alongside immigrants many times. From my experiences, I got to see firsthand what an immigrant work ethic looks like. Immigrants are some of the hardest working people I have ever worked with. They are the men and women that work the 12-16 hour day shifts, executing the most laborious working positions for the least amount of compensation with no complaints. I felt compassion for my fellow co-workers as they worked endlessly with little to no recognition. I would check in with them, asking if they ever get tired. The most common response was, “Of course I am tired, but I do it for my family.”

 

Central Valley, New York Times

Undocumented food workers in Central Valley, California                     

 

These noble hard working men and women often tend to be illegal immigrants. With America’s current political climate, the working opportunities for these illegal immigrants will be terminated. A question that surfaces from this situation is, “Who is going to work these laborious, underpaid positions when illegal immigrants are deported?”

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