No Man in Everyman’s Land
Though I don’t have a mailbox, my zip code is 11937. I live in one of the wealthiest parts of the country and have been in some of the most beautiful homes in the world. I have even been inside the bedrooms of celebrities who I see in magazines at the Maidstone Market. Though I work among the Rich and Famous, I usually go unnoticed.
I’d like to ‘remain anonymous’ as you say, but if you need to give me a name, you may call me José. Or Pedro. Or any name you believe is fitting for an illegal immigrant boy from Mexico. Like many of you, I have worked very hard to get here and work even harder to stay.
My brother and I are painters – not like the artists who sell their work in those galleries in the Village for a lot of money – but artists nonetheless. Our work is very good; we are patient, careful, and quiet. My brother, who paints the walls, works in colors of sand, sky, and sunsets. Because I paint only the woodwork and trim, I use mainly shades of white. He is the landscape artist and I make the clouds, or the fog, or the foam that edges the waves I see from shore.
I understand why I am invisible to most people. I walk along the wooded side of the road in the dark early mornings or late evenings coming and going from work. I usually face the wall or the floor when I am in your home, as is the nature of my job. Most often, I am on my hands and knees with my nose very close to the brush so as to be as neat and precise as possible. You are often out, away from your home when I am there and when you are present, it is as though I am not.
If you do notice me, you will not hear me. My work is quiet and so am I. But I hear you: fighting, laughing, talking about others – and sometimes talking about me. I do not need to know English to understand criticism, judgment, or pity. But if my work is slower than you would like, it is because I am so careful. And if I seem uneducated, I have learned some of Life’s most important lessons outside of a classroom. And if I seem worthy of pity, then I must be concealing my pride, strength, and honor, which to me are priceless gifts.
There are a few of you who acknowledge me when I am in your home, and the respect you show me is quietly returned in twofold. Some offer me water or give me a ‘thumbs up’ as a gesture of “nice work’’. This is good for me to see and more important for my boss to know. I enjoy working and am grateful for the chance to earn money, have food, and live a better life than I had before.
My brother and I hear that there are people like us trying come to America to make a better life but instead are sent back from this country made by and for immigrants like us. I used to hear that America is a place where everyone is from somewhere else – if not them, then their family ancestors.
I once saw a brochure left behind a couch when working in someone’s home; it was from a Statue of Liberty tour and I read (on the Spanish side of the paper) that she stands there “with silent lips” to welcome the tired, the poor, and “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. My brother and I were all of those things before we came to America, so I guess that means we should be welcome here. Maybe her lips should not stay silent any longer because it seems that many people here have forgotten their history and the very reason this country was started.
I also know that there are people born here in this country as well as new immigrants who do not work hard for this freedom and opportunity for a better life. I neither understand nor can explain this, as I am not that way. I contribute my best every day that I work, and I work most days.
Though I ‘wish to remain anonymous’ as I’ve said, I welcome your respect. Perhaps one day as I leave your home, we will look each other in the eyes, even shake hands. You might thank me for my good work and I will thank you for the opportunity to do it.