Monday, October 29, 2012


I don't even really know how to start this one.
I just really want to curl up in my bed and cry. I'm not exaggerating. It was all I could do to hold back the tears on the hour long drive home. But, if they're not crying, why should I?

Let me start at the beginning. I've been learning a lot more lately about the kind of work my refugee friends do once they get to America. It's kind of all the dirty work. Cleaning hotel rooms. Doing laundry. Working in freezing cold meat factories. The kind of work that wears your body down. The kind of work where you stand for 10+ hours for minimum wage. The kind of work that you're doomed to for the rest of your life because you have no opportunity to learn English to create something better for yourself.

So today I was able to see first hand the beginning steps in the process of brand new refugees getting a job. I don't exactly know how I ended up involved in this, one of the ladies I've gotten to know asked if I could go and help her nephew fill out a job application. I agreed, knowing that paperwork is hard to do, and anyone who can speak even a word of Burmese is useful. I arrived this morning at her house to find nine other people, ready to apply for the job. So, we split up into three cars and began the drive to Longmont.

The bread factory is always hiring. I wasn't even sure what they did there, but I knew that a lot of refugees work there, and they seem to always be hiring. I also know that people from Burma are often targeted and harassed by the other employees (mostly other refugees and immigrants from Africa and South America). Knowing this left a bad taste in my mouth, but these people had families to feed, they needed a job as soon as possible.

When we arrived, each person received an application and what followed was five hours of helping each person fill them out. Since the job is guaranteed, the company just needed their information and proof of legal right to work. As I asked each person questions, and filled out their paperwork, my heart grew heavier and heavier.
A single mom, younger than me, never been to school, with a one year old daughter at home. Has lived in America for two months.
A husband and wife, seven children, they've been looking for work for four months.
A single dad.
A middle aged woman with an elementary school education. No husband. Four children.
The list went on and on and I knew that there was so much more to each story than I was hearing. Their villages plundered. Family members killed before their eyes. Fleeing their home country in order to survive. A long stay in a refugee camp. Moved to America. Thrown into a foreign culture. Desperate.

We watched the orientation video together. The monotonous task of putting bread into a cardboard container. Icing a cake. Saran wrapping a box. Putting expiration stickers onto the plastic covers. The video made clear, "These tasks will be done for 10 hours straight." Can you imagine doing the same thing over and over and over for 10 hours? While being ridiculed by your co workers? While knowing that your children are at home alone? Their faces were blank as they stared at the screen. I knew this could not have been the future they dreamed of, but what choice did they have? At least here in America their children had the chance of a future. It was too late for them, but at least they could help their children.

On the drive home, I talked with a man who had come here via Malaysia and Mexico from Burma. He had lived in Florida for 5 years, and just two years ago was able to call his wife and their 6 children to come be with him. They just moved to Denver two months ago, hoping for more job opportunities and lower cost of living.

"Are you happy with this job?" I asked him.
"No." He replied, "But I don't have a choice. I have six children. All I need is a job that is steady, where they won't lay me off after a month."

I dropped them all off where we had started. The nine of them needed to figure out how they would get to work each day. I don't know exactly what they're going to do. They might pool their money and buy a van, or maybe try to convince one of their friends who has a car to drive for them.

I exchanged phone numbers with a lot of them, and told them to call me if they ever need anything. For the couple with six children I volunteered to go to their house a few nights a week to make sure everything is okay and help the kids with their homework. The husband and wife will be working everyday from 4 pm to 2 am. Even though the oldest is 18 years old, she is still in high school, and my heart breaks to think about those kids being home alone every night without their parents.

I wish they could just go Home.

1 comment:

I. Pham said...

What seems stupifyingly monotonous and unbearably dull to you can be a happy kind of work for someone who has already had enough variety, excitement, and new learning to last more than a lifetime. When I did what you did today, they would tell me, "I don't want an interesting job. I don't want to learn something new. I want something easy that I am capable of." Everything else in their lives is a struggle. Getting paid to stand for 10 hours wrapping a box may be a dream come true.
Your "Uncle" Liem came over today to pick up $200 to help pay his rent because, after working at the Vietnamese grocery store for 25 years ($8.10, 35 hours a week, no benefits) he did not have enough in savings to pay for 10 days loss of work due to illness, together with the cost of the medicine and emergency room visit to deal with his infected intestine. His share of the rent is $800 a month, that's for the land under the mobile home he's already paid for. Instead of calling your Dad, he could have taken his car to a loan shark to get the rent money. Then he would be walking to work, if he's well enough, which, frankly, he isn't. Your friends voting for Obama think federally mandated health insurance will improve this picture, that the grocery store will keep him (a 54 year old limited English man who misses work a lot because he's sick) on and that his share of the insurance cost will not cut too much into his paycheck. Your friends voting for Mitt Romney think that the grocery store will increase his wages to the point that he can buy his own health care, if it doesn't have to deal with so much regulation and pay so many taxes. Your friend Jesus thinks that genuine faith will heal his bad stomach, and a community of disciples will encourage him, draw out his gifts, and support him when he is in need. Going to bed to cry doesn't help anything. In community with others, keep doing what you did today. On your days "off."