Over the years I’ve recommended the hiring of day laborers, especially for gardeners of a certain age and gender like myself. I’ve hired men from the local immigrant job bank to plant or move trees, to carry the 8 to 10 cubic yards of mulch my hilly garden gets every spring, and even to bust up an ugly concrete walkway to the front door. And all went well. Very little English/Spanish communication was required, though the occasional English-speaking African has been a welcome change and some delightful conversations have ensued.
But then came Adolfo, recommended by a neighbor for whom he’d laid a flagstone path. Fluent in Spanish herself, the neighbor introduced us and explained the tasks to be done. Here they are, with the results, post-Adolpho:
1. For my front yard lawn-to-veggie-garden makeover, Adolpho removed sod, carried it to the compost pile, and spread bags of compost. Fine.
2. Next, a 10-foot ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae fast on its way to becoming gigantic and sadly in the wrong spot needed to be moved. Preferably without being killed in the process. Readers, perhaps you’ve been asked questions by nongardeners that are stunning in their ignorance of how plants grow, the role that insects play in the garden, and other high school basics, and found it kinda amusing? Well believe me, with the victim of that disconnect from all growing things a large and valued tree of mine, I was not amused to discover the huge, perfectly cylindrical hole Adolpho had dug, better suited to the insertion of a large concrete pipe. The scene of me trying to get him to NOT to bury the damn tree a good 2 feet up its trunk might have been laughable if it were someone else’s tree and if I weren’t into near-hysterical "Get this killer away from my garden" mode.
3. Finally moving on to the indestructible world of stone, I needed a 2-foot drystack stone wall removed, 20 feet of French drain (black holeless pipe) laid, and the wall put back. Here the absence of a common language was compounded by what can only be described as machismo, with Adolpho managing to convey to me – repeatedly – that he’d done this kind of work in his country and I should BACK OFF and let him do it without instruction or supervision. A contest of wills followed as I watched him doing everything wrong. What a surprise to discover that by simply understanding the utility of gravity in the drainage equation, I actually knew more about the subject than someone else on earth – that being Adolpho. The project ended with my letting him finish, paying him through a tight-jawed smile, berating myself as I drove him back to the pick-up spot, then redoing the pipe-laying and wall-building.
Isn’t that what the motivational speakers tell us to do, look for cheerful "lessons learned" whenever we screw up? Well, this daughter of a psychologist is on board with that sensible life lesson, so let’s go.
1. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for, if that. And 12 bucks an hour generally does not buy skilled labor.
2. It might be time for me to review my high school Spanish, it being such an easy language and there being so many people in my neighborhood to practice it with.
THE POWER OF PHOTOS
For this story I casually inserted "day laborer" into the Google image search engine and wound up HERE, a portal to a
very angry world, and found the charming photo you’ll see there. I then browsed my way to the California Coalition for Immigration Reform and the Minuteman Project, which totally explain the set design on the Colbert Report (patriotic colors, stars, soaring eagles and more!) Seems they haven’t gotten the word yet about their candidate dropping out – Tancredo, of course. Finally, I found the photo above and other, more positive depictions of Latino immigrants at sites like Monumentfutures.org and Daylaborinfo.org.
These Internet reminders of the controversy – make that xenophobic hysteria – surrounding the very existence of day laborers prompt me to mention one lesson I didn’t learn from my experience with Adolpho – that these men are threatening me and my way of life. And while I won’t be hiring that particular Salvadoran immigrant to haul my mulch this spring, I’m happy to put a little cash in the hands of people who are eager to work hard so they can send half of their earnings home to their very poor families. I know there’s an immigration problem and it’s hugely complex, but can I just say I admire them and leave it at that?