The dirt, shovels, the callused hands and the smiles give them away. Their trucks are filled with tools, and their boots are covered in muck.
Those who do not want immigration reform – who maintain some of these people who came to America without four-star paperwork are criminals – should meet them as they stop for lunch at a taco truck on North Cherry Road near Interstate 77.
Francisco Villa, 24, in America from Mexico since age 6, is a high school graduate and a working man. He saw the coverage of conservatives picketing U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Rock Hill office, claiming that illegal immigrants are a threat and should be thrown out of the country in nets.
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“Everybody has a right to feel how they feel, but these people are ignorant,” Villa said of the protesters. “People come here to work. To take care of families. To raise kids and be Americans. Like me.”
All around at the picnic tables were these Hispanic workers who some despise so much that they want them deported and then a fence as high as the Statue of Liberty built to keep them out.
The same statue that talks about America opening its arms to the tired and huddled masses yearning to be free.
Two white American-born co-workers with these immigrants, Bobby Gossett and Christopher Woods, said the protesters against immigrants have no clue what these immigrants really do.
“These guys are dependable, they work harder than anybody, they never complain and when we start in the morning they still have a smile on their face when people call them names and want to send them away,” said Gossett. “If anybody tried to take these guys away, I’d be mad.”
Gossett said this as two dozen of these workers who frame houses and pour concrete and dig irrigation ditches and cut grass laughed, and ate, and smiled, and talked about what they would do on Thursday. That is Independence Day, July 4, America’s birthday.
“Fireworks!” shouted out one guy.
“Celebrate,” said another guy.
“America!” a bunch called out.
Nearby is an apartment complex on Celanese Road that has a large number of Hispanic immigrants. A landscaper named Amador Rubio, 32, seven years from Mexico, said plainly how much he loves America.
Next to him was a guy named David Herrera, 34, in America almost all his years. They talked of America and opportunity.
Nearby, under a big tree, kids gathered to play. The lady who delivered lunches to the kids, Lasheral Odom, said that, all people are God’s children and America is supposed to treat them all the same.
“But sometimes we in America treat some more equal than others,” Odom said.
A girl named Ana, 10, and her brother, Daniel, 8, played, too. The two said their father was born in Mexico. They were born here. They are Americans.
“I love math!” said Ana. “My father tells me to do great in school.”
Her father was at work, in construction. “My father comes home and he is so tired,” Ana said.
But Thursday, there will be time for rest and fireworks.
“We celebrate the Fourth of July like everybody,” Ana said.
Shuffling down a sidewalk at the apartments walks a little old man. He smiles. He has to wash clothes. In the lavanderia - the laundry.
He speaks a little English, but not much, so maybe he is a recent immigrant.
No. The man came from Honduras to America as a teenager aboard a merchant marine ship and has worked ever since. He has worked so hard his children and grandchildren have all prospered and succeeded, and he even owns a home in Honduras.
“80,” said the man.
He is 80 years old, and that makes at least 60-plus years of cooking and cleaning in hotels. To make $12 an hour, for this man, was to be as rich as Midas and take care of an entire brood in two countries.
“America,” said the man. “Great.”
He plans to spend July 4 celebrating America with his family, with fireworks and food and laughter.
He is asked if he knows about protests about immigrants, which would be a protest against him. He does not understand exactly. He understands, though, that he is being asked if he is Honduran or American.
“Americano,” he said, poking his thumb into his chest. “My country. I love it.”
The man watched the children play. The kids are white and black and Hispanic.
“Guapa,” he said.
The old man’s name is Alejandro Santos Cruz. He shuffled off, after so many years of work in America, in a country that some say he is to be feared. He smiled and said, “Me amigo, Americano.”
This old man who some say is a blight on the country of my birth, the country that is the greatest assemblage of immigrants in the history of the world that celebrates its birthday Thursday, called me his friend.