Secret keeps man on margins of the economy

Jose Arreola Jan 23, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: We’ve been airing a commentary series the past month or so. It’s called My Life Is True — from people living on the edges of the economy.

Today, Jose Arreola and a secret he’s decided not to keep.

Jose Arreola: We had to decide whether we were going north or south to get into California. My friend decided it would be best to go south to avoid the big snow storm up north. But south would take us through Arizona. I really really didn’t want to go through Arizona. I got more and more nervous. I felt paralyzed. My friend kept asking me what my problem was. Finally I told him: I’m undocumented.

I came to the United States when I was three with my family. And Arizona had just passed a law that gave police officers the authority to check people’s immigration status. If we got stopped in Arizona, I could be detained and deported.

My friend is white. He comes from a really privileged, upper-class background. He attended a private high school, the Santa Clara University with me — I went on scholarship. Politically he sees things a little differently than I do. We’ve had our disagreements.

He was quiet for a while. Then he barraged me with questions; I answered the best I could. Silence again. Then he told me about his grandfather. How he hadn’t been able to find work in Ireland, so he decided to hop on a fishing boat and get off in New York. He worked as a janitor without citizenship. Now his son, my friend’s father, is a high-ranking bank executive.

The whole time through Arizona my friend drove like 50 miles an hour. He didn’t even want to change lanes. He told me he wasn’t going to lose his best friend. He wasn’t going to let that happen.

The immigration debate became real to my friend in the car that day. We had a very different conversation than the one politicians are having right now. The minute actual undocumented immigrants are included, the conversation always changes.

Now I’m completely open about my status. I’m still afraid. Conversations don’t always go well. And it’s always a risk. But as long I remain in the shadows, I will never really get to know you, and you’ll never really know me.

Ryssdal: Jose’s story comes to us from My Life Is True, a project of the New America Foundation. Let us know what you think — write to us.

This commentary first aired on KQED in San Francisco.

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