The immigrant next door: between the 2019 Primaries and the immigrant myth
Have you ever been in a room where everyone is talking about you, without realizing you are there?
I walked into one of the polls in the 7th district of Philadelphia, and found five people seated, waiting for voters to come in. I introduced myself as a reporter and could see the distrust on their faces—unsure of my intentions.
“Honey, you don’t want to hear our opinions, they are pretty unpopular,” said a blond, brown-eyed lady. Everyone else agreed. “It’s okay, everyone deserves to be listened to,” I replied.
On this year’s primary ballot, a question asked whether or not Philadelphia should have a full-time Immigration Office. I asked for their thoughts.
Living in a diverse city means constantly rubbing shoulders with people of different backgrounds and opinions. Where somehow everyone feels like their opinions don’t matter. Even though 74% of Philadelphia voted to have a full-time Immigration Office, there’s still 26% of voters not so happy about it.
“Immigrants bring measles. They don’t believe in shots. Look at all the diseases we have right now...Nah Nah we have too many”, said an elderly lady, with a silver head that showed her age.
I nodded my head as a way to say I was listening.
A middle-aged couple entered to vote. He was a tall, buff-looking guy, with salt and pepper hair. She was a slim, blond, blue-eyed, charismatic lady —that happened to share my grandmother’s name. Intrigued by our conversation, they joined in.
When I asked about the immigration office, she said:
“I gotta be honest, didn’t even read that. They always ask for money, so just vote no to everything.” With a warm smile, she touched my shoulder and apologized for not wanting Philly to be a sanctuary city.
“It’s putting a burden on the taxpayers, because (...) they do not have jobs so somebody has to support them (...) You don’t know who is coming in,” she said while assuring me how much she loved her “wonderful Puerto Rican neighbors.”
The lady works at a library and told me that ever since Philadelphia became a sanctuary city, immigrants come in and the first thing they do is apply for welfare or Social Security benefits.
Everyone in the room was fired up and began to discuss more. They all felt that it was unfair to them. I assured them immigrants weren’t able to get those benefits.
The room went completely silent for what felt like forever, but it was only two seconds.
“No, they get their ways out,” said one of the women. The lady with silver hair told us a story about how her immigrant neighbors go around to different states collecting Social Security checks because they each have different last names.
The whole time they were really nice and open. As I walked away, the blue-eyed lady called my name and waved goodbye.
“Bye, Michelle, it was really nice meeting you!”
None of them seem to have realized that all that time, they had been speaking to an immigrant.