The Stain of Inequity

by Jesus Francisco Sierra

You get to your new country and when you arrive at your new city, you feel like you’re in a movie, one that’s been running in your head as far back as you can remember. You’re awed by the hills and the bay and the tall bridges and the sounds and the movement, and even the fog, which is never still, coming and going all the time. You think that this is where you’ve always wanted to be. You hope to one day become a citizen of this new land, so that you can help everyone left behind, maybe bring them to see this wonderful place someday.

You set out to get a job because the opportunities are everywhere. It’s what you’ve always been told and what you’ve come to believe. So, you set out to look for work and you stop by places to ask but your English is not so good, and you wear the best you got but somehow people make you feel as though it’s not good enough. You smile a lot but few smile back. Finally, you walk into a small bar in a neighborhood where there are some people that speak your language. Your job is to help the bartender and you’re told that you’ll get paid by the hour and that you’ll get part of the tip. The work is hard, wiping down the bar, restocking the shelves with new bottles, washing the glasses and cups. You take on all the overtime that you can. When you break a few glasses, you get mean looks and are called names that you don’t understand but you can tell. You go home that night, to the room you’re sharing with four other guys, and you talk about home, and you talk about your dreams. You sleep on the floor. It feels comfortable because it’s better than where you were, where you felt fear everyday and the sounds you heard there were gunshots in the middle of the night. It’s why you left, those sounds. And what they meant.

The first day that you’re supposed to be paid they hand you some cash and tell you to count it. When you count it, you realize it’s much less than what you were told. They tell you it’s because they took out the money to pay for the glasses you broke. But you wonder just how many glasses you broke because they took out a lot. You ask about the tip share, and they tell you it’s in there already. But you don’t believe it because you’d seen the jar and it had a lot of money in it every day. You were sure you’d get a lot more. When you call them out on it, they tell you that’s all they got, and that if you don’t like it, that you should call the cops. They know you can’t do that. You’re beginning to sense the beauty of the city is sometimes stained by its inhabitants. You have little choice. You just must get another job on top of that one to make it and live out your dream.

And you find another job at another place, a restaurant this time, doing pretty much the same thing in the kitchen, washing dishes and glasses but this time you do it slower to make sure not to break anything. When payday comes you tell them that they’re not paying you the amount they promised. But they tell you that you’re slower than they expected so they had to adjust the amount. You argue that no one has complained about your work and that you don’t like being cheated like that. They tell you to call the cops if you don’t like it. They know you can’t do that. The stain of inequity seems to be permanent in this city and you wonder if it’s like that everywhere. You wonder if beauty in this new city, in this new country, is only skin deep. And when you think that in your head you wonder about skin. It’s like the clothes you wear; it defines you, especially in this place.

Now sitting here in this holding pen, which is really a prison, you, and hundreds of others, sit on the cold concrete floor, crowded against each other. The space between you is fraught with fear because they’re sending you back home, all because they said the taillight in the car you were driving was broken. You look out through the chain link fence, the border patrol guards stalking you from the other side. You wonder if they get a bonus for each one of you they send back or if they get less if one of you breaks down and dies. Still you sit and wait, and you recall the beauty of where you came from, the violence notwithstanding. Then again, this other place is violent too and you wonder which is worse, violence in plain sight or that other type of violence that lies under the surface, under the mask of hope, under the skin of a different color.