Semi-Anonymous State

Today at work, I sat down with a young Mexican couple who'd brought their 5-year-old son with them; they were looking to open a checking account. The couple spoke no English, and we sat for some time going over the I.D. requirements for opening an account. When we'd figured out what acceptable forms the husband had on his person, I asked if it would be a joint account. The wife said she had one I.D. but was unable to produce any of the secondary I.D.s required.

It was an impasse. It would be a sole owner account.

I was struck by this predicament. I looked at this woman, this Mother. For that brief moment I wondered who she was and how she got here and who she'd been back in Mexico, before circumstances beckoned her here. I looked at her and I wanted to tell her: I see you. I know you're somebody, even if you can't prove it in ways that are acceptable for the purposes at hand.

Jesus Christ, it's amazing to me the things I can sometimes take for granted: the illusion of legitimacy that having a checking account in your name can lend.

I wondered what it was like, to live in a perpetual state of semi-anonymity.


I've never tried to live in a country other than my own. I've never had cause to produce hard-to-come-by paperwork or the need to take drastic measures to live somewhere else, legally. I can't claim to know what that feels like.

But I've known enough people in this scenario that I can see the diminished quality of life that can result. I had an undocumented friend who asked me many questions about the likelihood of INS presence on the Amtrak before crossing the state border to visit a friend in Arizona. What to me was an easy excursion was, for my friend, a giant gamble--a nerve-wracking journey. I taught an adult ESL student who was unable to travel home to Mexico during his time here and who was about to see his parents for the first time in nearly twenty years. I know people who go out of their way to avoid seeing their parents; for this student of mine, it was a dream coming true.

The fallout need not be so dramatic: imagine the inconvenience of being unable to open a simple checking account. Imagine how that would impact your daily life...how many seemingly minor, everyday things would remain just out of reach.

A number of months ago, I helped a man who was depositing money into somebody else's account. When I asked for the customer's last name--the customer whose account he was depositing into--the man stared blankly at me. He hadn't a clue. I asked if he knew the customer. He said the customer was an employee at his restaurant. An employee, but a person virtually unknown to him.

I was reminded of dozens of men and women I'd worked with in restaurants over the years (the majority of the Spanish I speak was learned in conversation during downtime in a kitchen somewhere, me rolling silverware while a co-worker washed dishes or chopped cilantro, swept the tile floor or stuffed rellenos or samosas or butchered up some goat meat, teaching me Spanish by telling me about his or her life--the REAL life s/he left behind for the work life they found here. Many of them, if here long enough, eventually found a livable version of life here as well). I wonder how many of their employers knew their last names, hell their first names.

I know this is a very controversial issue. There are many, many people in this country who do not believe undocumented immigrants have any place in this country and would prefer they be made to leave, be prevented from coming in the first place. In some cases, I can sympathize with their reasoning and mindset, given their respective life experiences and cultural values.

But here is what is not lost on me: I did not earn the right to live in this country. I do believe this is a special place with special opportunities. But I am not special. I am not chosen. I just happened to be born on this side of an imaginary line the runs, imaginarily, across a piece of land. And this happenstance has made my life a whole lot easier than it might have been if I'd been born elsewhere. 'm not saying people born in this country automatically have lives that are easy to live. But I'm saying basic things like food and employment are much more accessible here than in some other places.

Most people don't risk their lives to get OUT of this country, in order to provide for themselves and their families.

And if I'd been born in Mexico, for example--if any of those people who want to crack down on illegal immigration had been born in Mexico, I think it highly likely we would consider heading north. We'd have heard the success stories. We'd know a few people who'd taken that leap and were now able to send money home. Our undocumented, illegal status in another country would feel like less of a crime than an obstacle, the end goal being a more comfortable life, a better education for our children, the right to WORK.

I can't possibly judge that.

Kevin's Sketch

Ernst Haeckel. I just finished reading The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought, a book which details the life of this amazing 19th century biologist and artist.  Ernst was the first to coin terms like ‘ecology’ and ‘phylogeny’ and in any discussion of art and science, his name invariably comes up, as he was one of the first to approach nature from both lines of inquiry.


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