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When I think about immigration

By Sharon Smith


When I think about immigration, I think about Manuel. I find myself back in college many years ago living in a place where many Latinos cooked our food in the dining commons. Manuel, a big burly guy with a wide smile, was one of those people whom I had gotten to know. We became friends.


When I think about immigration I think about the day the authorities came to round up the undocumented workers. There was a frantic knock on my door. When I opened it, my friend Manuel was standing there. Please, please let me inside, he gestured with his beautiful brown hands. He wasn’t himself. He was wet with sweat and shaking; terrified he would be found out, knowing what it would mean to him and his family.


We were alone in my small apartment. Drapes already closed, I shut the door quietly behind him. We didn’t speak. I gestured to him to follow me into my bedroom farther away from the front window. We sat very still in there. We didn’t talk. I was scared too.


There was a hard knock on the front door. He crossed himself. I said a prayer. We remained still for a very long time until it was safe for him to leave.


When I think about immigration, I think about him and others who have come here to have a better life, support their families because we have made jobs available to them in our fields, restaurants and homes where they might clean, cook and garden.


I see my friend Ernesto who built our stone walls, stone by stone, beautifully placed, fitting them together so they would be strong for us. I see his family at our long table, the day we honored him for all the good work he did for us and watched them pass the youngest member of the family from one lap to another.


When I think of immigration I see our crops being picked, meals made, dishes washed, homes built. I see warmth, a strong work ethic and pride. In the world I want to live in, I want these immigrants to be embraced, respected and filled with our gratitude.


This commentary originally aired in November 2014 as a KQED Public Radio Perspective.

About the writer

Sharon H. Smith is a poet/writer and former book designer and teacher. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and frequent collaborator, architectural photographer David Wakely. She savors the city restaurant scene. She knows we wouldn’t eat as well if there weren’t immigrants to do so much of the work behind the scenes and in California much of the produce on our table is due to the hard working immigrant workers in our field. They are the engine.


She enjoys cooking, gardening, and creating writing retreats and workshops at their weekend home in West Sonoma County. She fills her heart weekly as a volunteer with Food Runners and is a champion of, and volunteer at Creativity Explored. She recently changed her signature quote on her email to the following because it seems the new political environment is devoid of compassion and she wants to do what she can to do what she can and remind others that it is something we all can do to make our world a better place.


“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” – Albert Schweitzer


Her website is


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