I met Luz Maria when an overworked caseworker at DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois agency charged with helping children at risk] asked me to help her. She had four kids and one on the way. She spoke only Spanish. She had lost her industrial cleaning job and her boyfriend had left her. The landlord wanted her out. Her kids were bright and beautiful. I immediately liked Luz Maria. She was a very sweet person, a loving mother, very undemanding and very grateful for small things with a self depreciating sense of humor. With my husband’s permission, we took Luz Maria and the kids into our home. We were bracing for some inconveniences of having another family living with us, but we were pleasantly surprised. The children were very well behaved. They were used to looking out for each other and were very protective of their little brother Alex. They all spoke English very well and they were full of questions and enjoyed talking to adults. Luz Maria immediately began cleaning the house and cooking for everyone. When I told her that she didn’t have to do that, she said she needed to give back something in return for the kindness.
I took Luz Maria to the Health Dept. to sign up for a program for pregnant women and new born babies. There, they gave her coupons for milk. She got teary eyed and told me that in Mexico she had to beg for milk when her other kids were babies. Her own family could not help her as they had only enough for their own children. Her children often went hungry. She had had her older kids at home because in Mexico, if you don’t have money, they don’t let you into the hospital.
Luz Maria told me that she had been in the U.S. for five years. She had crossed the boarder near Laredo Texas. She told me that it was a grueling journey crossing the river and walking and running in the desert. They passed a few dead bodies along the way. I asked her why she would risk her life, and the lives of her children. She told me that she was escaping an abusive relationship with her husband. Her father and her brothers saved up the money to pay a “coyote” to get her safely to the U.S. At that time she had a brother who lived in Moline. He has since passed away. Her son Alex was named after his Uncle Alejandro.
Alejandro got her in at a job cleaning a meat processing plant at night. So she would put the kids to bed and go to work cleaning amid hot steamy water and chlorine based chemicals, cleaning the blood and guts and fecal matter off the machinery and slippery floors of the meat processing plant. That’s where she met little Alex’s father. A man she later found out was married. She broke up with him and got another cleaning job at a meat processing plant farther away. That’s where she met Moises.
Moises was a nice, quiet, steady guy, and he said he would take care of her and her children. When Moise’s mother got ill in Mexico, he had to leave Luz Maria, telling her that if he could make it back to her, he would. He paid for a month’s rent and left. Shortly after that is when I met Luz Maria and her children.
After Luz Maria had her baby, Christina, she went back to work and got an apartment. A year later, Moises finally came back. With Moises back with the family Luz Maria no longer needed my assistance and she is now just a friend. Moises heard about a better paying job in Kentucky and the family moved there. When I last talked to them they were doing very well and were saving money in hopes of having their own home and business someday.
Does Luz Maria sound arrogant to you? Economists tell us that illegal immigrants contribute far more to our economy and prosperity then they take in services. They have very little compared to most Americans and yet they feel fortunate for what they have because it is more than they would have back in the country from which they came.
If you get a chance to meet an illegal immigrant and hear their story you should do so. As you listen to them you will start to see this country through their eyes and gain a new appreciation of it.