By O. Ricardo Pimentel
My mother was an unaccompanied minor.
She came to this country at 14, from a small village in Zacatecas, Mexico, without documents — and without parents.
As the story about Central American children coming here has unfolded — complete with the usual histrionics about them “corrupting our way of life” — I’ve thought of my parents, both of whom passed away a while ago.
Separately, my father also came as a young man without documents, though missing that age cutoff so he could also be called a minor. He came from Guanajuato.
Responses to the columns I’ve written on these unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have revealed a wellspring of compassion and understanding, as if these folks knew my parents.
But among the responses have also been some predictable threads.
Here are a couple, paraphrased.
You want gangbangers? Put them in your neighborhood.
OK, Pimentel, how many of these “illegals” are you going to take into your home?
As to the first, the gangster smear has been leveled at Mexicans for a while. It’s bogus but particularly so for Central American children fleeing dangerous gangs in their own countries. They won’t be joining gangs here.
As for the second, “illegals” took me in. They were my parents. They took pretty good care of me and two brothers.
This concept of fleeing violence shouldn’t be a foreign concept in Texas. Many a Texan is here today because an ancestor was fleeing the Mexican Revolution or social upheaval in Mexico before that. Heck, this fleeing persecution, violence and hunger thing has been a storied mainstay of U.S. immigration.
My parents weren’t fleeing violence but were intimately familiar with poverty. My mother’s father, once a migrant worker here, was a small farmer in Zacatecas. My father was fatherless at an early age.
The U.S. solution to the Central American influx seems to be, “Let’s treat them like Mexicans.” Which is another way of saying, as Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., noted on the floor of the U.S. House recently: “Deport, deport, deport.”
Instead, how about we treat these immigrants as if they’re Irish or Germans.
Go to ushistory.org and you’ll come across this passage: “In the middle half of the nineteenth century, more than one-half of the population of Ireland emigrated to the United States. So did an equal number of Germans. Most of them came because of civil unrest, severe unemployment or almost inconceivable hardships at home.”
This is history, as are the aspersions cast against the Irish and Germans by the descendants of the immigrants who came before them. You know, sort of like those being hurled at people like my parents throughout their lives and these Central American children now.
Right, this isn’t the 19th century. It’s just that I didn’t know empathy was ever out of fashion.
So, how about we treat these Central American children as we did Cuban children — and their parents — in the 1960s.
There was The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 that expedited legal residency for and resettled these immigrants because they were pretty much viewed as political refugees.
After Fidel Castro emptied out his prisons and sent the inmates here, we decided to get tougher. Our version of tough? Get here and you’re in.
Are we brutal or what?
My mother, the unaccompanied minor who immediately went to work in hot laundries, went on, with her husband, a tailor, to get legal residency. And if she or my father were ever gangbangers, they hid it very well. Not a tat between them.
Treat immigrants as if they were Mexican, German, Irish or Cuban?
How about we just treat them like people, according to their circumstances and our capacity to feel.
— San Antonio Express-News