Facing Prejudice (#33)

It all began on a ridiculously average day in the middle of summer.  It was both, hot and dry, two words you can count on in California’s capital.  I was driving in the fast lane as I liken myself to Speed Racer and everyone else as mere impediments especially in 5 o’clock rush hour traffic.  Shaking my fist at all the slow pokes, I headed into the heart of Sacramento’s infrastructure where three different highways merge and bustling downtown’s on and off ramps met.  It was here that I heard a strange snap and instantly, my steadfast Subaru started to lose speed.  Immediately, I knew that it was the timing belt. 

There was no left hand shoulder due to construction so I navigated my car to the right lanes and had hoped to make it to the off ramp.  Cars sought to block me when I snapped on my hazards.  I forced my front end into the traffic because as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t an option.  I made it 5 out of 7 lanes before my car died.

No air conditioner and stressed, sweat poured from everywhere.  I picked up my phone and realized that it too had died.  I had no idea what to do.  I couldn’t exit from my car for I was blocking a lane and cars whizzed by at unsafe speeds.  I couldn’t push my car to the side because I was alone.  No one stopped and if they slowed, it was to flip me off.  I knew that, inevitably, I would be rear ended and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I was scared. 

I simply sat in my car, panic stricken.  I jumped in my seat when I heard a knock on my driver side window.  I didn’t see the man or his white van-like vehicle pull up behind me, but there he was.  In broken English, he offered to push my car with his van.  Tears erupted out of relief and appreciation because after mulling over every option, I had nothing, absolutely nothing.   

He aligned his van with my car and gently pushed my car forward.  I barely felt a bump.  We moved over lane by lane and headed onto the downtown off ramp.  I kept thinking how kind he was.  He had no bumpers like I did and my car was leaving black smudges that he was unaffected by.  We stopped under shaded trees and he asked if I worked or lived nearby, which I nodded.  My apartment complex was 10 blocks away so he got back into his car and resumed pushing me all the way home.

When we made it to the parking lot, he checked my car to make sure there was no damage- as though I had any right to complain after he rescued me.  I tried to give him cash, but he shook his head in embarrassment.  My heart swelled with appreciation and as I thanked him profusely, I vowed that I’d never forget this kindness.  When he drove from my parking lot, I realized that I didn’t know his name so I called my unsung hero, Jose. 

While Jose was pushing my car and damaging his own car, I remember thinking how undeserving I was of his generosity because just the day before, I had been complaining about illegal immigrants.  Granted, I had never considered myself a racist and if anything, I had been an equal opportunist when it came to love, dating an array of colors and religions.  In 1994, I had even been a loud opponent of California’s notorious anti-Latino proposition 187, participating in rallies and demonstrations.  Regardless of my history, Jose’s rescue forced me to face an inconsolable truth; somewhere along the way, I had become prejudice- Ugg, how embarrassing. 

People often think that you need to be a bigot to be prejudice but that is the extreme end when fear turns to hate.  I despised racial slurs, no anger, no disdain.  I did, however, say “they” a lot.  Prejudice, itself, is when you have a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience (Webster’s Dictionary).  By grouping each and every undocumented citizen into a “they,” I am being prejudice because it is not from experience- clearly, because I don’t know each and every illegal citizen, nor is it reasonable because everyone has a story. 

This was when I stopped listening to the media and their skewed reports and had begun to research actual long term figures.  When I applied my critical thinking skills, it was easy to see the slanted statistics.  I couldn't believe that I allowed myself to be duped by 30 second sound bites for so long.  My God, I was a graduate of U.C. Berkeley; reading between the lines was what I did best.

I’ll spare you most of the statistics and political agendas but the reality is that when all is said and done, whatever assistance that is given to undocumented immigrants upon entering the country is reimbursed with expected increases of a hundred fold in 10 years.  For example, in 2010, undocumented immigrants contributed to state and local taxes, collectively, an estimated 10.6 billion dollars and will add a cumulative 1.5 trillion to U.S. GDP over a decade.  I am not here to wax or wane about politics because in the end, I feel politics is a shady business.  At the same time, I want to include the actual fact based data that opened my eyes. 

I am sharing this story because Jose saved me from something far worse than an inevitable car accident.  He saved me from something I had promised myself that I’d never become, prejudiced.  I may have been an unknowing participant, but I was a participant, nonetheless. 

That’s the thing about kindness; it touches a heart in unimagined ways.  Its imprint is far greater than a single individual, for kindness leaves a mark that changes the world. Undocumented citizens are no longer a “they.”  There is a face behind the word and I call him Jose.  He changed my world and I will always be incredibly grateful.  I will never forget, Jose, never!

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions and the roots spring up and make new trees.” –Amelia Earhart