Teenagers tackle the immigration issue

by Brian Clarey

It’s May Day, and I’ve got the twins in the car.

They’re my nieces, daughters of my wife’s twin sister, which makes them biological improbabilities, but in pretty much every other way they’re your run-of-the-mill teenagers on the cusp of their 16th birthdays, one fashionably blond and the other with streaks of black in her wardrobe and hair.

It’s May Day, as I’ve said, but the big demonstration downtown is still hours away, and we’re cruising the four corners of Greensboro looking for a Mexican restaurant.

I’ve heard the Mexico chain is closed today in support of the boycott ‘— no work, school or shopping for Hispanic immigrants and those who sympathize with their cause. A quick drive-by to the outpost on Battleground confirms the rumor, just a single car in the scarred and pitted parking lot and a hand-lettered sign on the door: ‘“’”We will be closed May 1 06 thank you.’”

If the guys who run Mexico aren’t showing up for work, you know it’s serious.

In fact, I’m thinking, the storied Hispanic immigrant work ethic just may be the fatal flaw of the boycott. In my experience it takes some fancy talking to convince a Mexican to skip work without at least sending one of his cousins to fill in for him.

The grind and chug of lawnmowers and power tools are conspicuously absent as we make our way up Battleground, the afternoon sun dulling the edge of the morning’s chill. The air is fresh and clean, pregnant with possibility.

The sisters are taking the day off of school, though not due to any particular political leaning. They’re both enjoying a brief stay of enforced absence courtesy of the management; they’re my temporary charges and I’m going to see to it that they learn something. A Mexican restaurant seems as apt a classroom as any on this day, supposing we can find one that’s open. And also the girls are picky about what they eat.

A ways up Battleground we hit Monterrey Mexican Restaurant and though the windows look dim the place is indeed open. The guy who seats us in the smoking section communicates to me that they plan to close the restaurant this afternoon before the rally. Then perhaps thinking he’s said too much he summons the manager, a suspicious man with clipped hair and mustache who says to me: ‘“No comment. No comment at all.’”

‘“I don’t blame him,’” I tell my nieces. ‘“He’s got a lot on the line. He’s Mexican so he’s got a stake in this issue. Maybe he worked hard for US citizenship and he resents those who sneak across the border. Maybe he has some illegals working here in the restaurant and he doesn’t want any trouble. Maybe he doesn’t want to alienate all the white people,’” I gesture to the non-smoking area behind a windowed wall where the gringos dip their chips, ‘“who’ve been coming here for years. Maybe he just wishes the whole thing would go away.’”

I manage to pique their interest.

‘“I think we should make them all legal,’” says the younger one. ‘“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. They’re just people.’”

‘“God,’” says the older one, who has a full 13-minute advantage in life experience, ‘“that was my answer. Shut up’….’”

‘“What if,’” says the younger one, riffling through the basket of chips, ‘“they were about to graduate and start their dream job? Would they have to, like, stop and go back to Mexico and then start over again? What about kids in hospitals who are sick? Does that just stop?’”

It doesn’t sound fair to her.

Some would argue, I say, that those sick children in the hospitals were never entitled to that health care in the first place. She gives me the kind of look only a teenager can muster, one meant to convey with a sharp glance the impression that I am among the dullest and most insignificant people on the planet.

The older one favors amnesty as well.

‘“It’s not hurting anybody.’”

Some think immigration is hurting people, I venture, which triggers a whispered communiqué between the sisters.

‘“Yes,’“ I hear one say. ‘“Leo and Christian and Jesus and Jose’….’”

‘“It does affect me,’” says the older one. ‘“It’s like depressing’… like, I don’t like the idea of trying to get rid of them.’”

I raise the suggestion of a temporary worker program, whereby immigrants can come to our country on a limited and heavily documented basis strictly for work, though they won’t enjoy many of the other perks of citizenship.

‘“That’s really stupid,’” she says. ‘“If they live here they should get to vote. And who are they gonna find to replace these people? Like the construction workers and stuff?’”

I don’t know.

But to the teenage girls at my table ‘— girls who live in a world where all adults are incurable idiots and we’d all be better off if everyone over 30 just shuffled off and died, already ‘— it all seems pretty cut and dried.

‘“So they all get sent back and they just, like, live in the streets?’” the younger one says. ‘“I don’t think so.’”

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