This Is My Song

Whenever Freddi spoke of his ranch in Quelitán, Mexico, his face lit up and his aura brightened. The ranch had horses he loved to ride, the skies were golden after the rain, and life was beautiful.

Freddi believed in angels and taught me about Quelitán’s Catholic church and its rich holiday rituals and traditions. But what he was most passionate about was the vast and open family ranch he farmed as a boy up through adulthood until he migrated to the US.

As a knowledgeable gardener, he taught me how to care for my plants and trees, and warned me of conditions that could make them vulnerable to disease or infestation. But whenever we spoke, he made no secret of wanting to return to his ranch—if god was willing.

Freddi was full of surprises. Once, he sent a Mariachi band to my home on my birthday just to sing Las Mañanitas at my doorstep; and often, if he saw a nice plant to add to my garden, he would gift it as a sign of gratitude for the work I gave him.

On one special occasion, I was his guest of honor at his cousin’s home in the west side of Long Beach where many Mexican immigrants live. There, his brother-in-law, a newly ordained priest, was going to do a special blessing for the ranch they had all left behind.

When I arrived, I was treated like royalty. I was introduced as “Doña Elisa,” and the large community of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, children and grandchildren seemed happy to greet me. Straight out of a bygone era, the men tipped their vaquero hats to me and looked even sharper in their pressed cowboy shirts and spiffed-up alligator boots. The women overflowed with generosity, offering large plates of homemade food, eager for me to indulge in everything they had prepared.

After the meal, the young priest stood and offered his bold vision of a community center he planned to build on the now idle, old family ranch. By raising money, his dream would manifest through the grace of God—if god was willing. Once donations were collected, he pulled us into a wide prayer circle and raised his hands to God, asking that the families gathered could return to the ranch one day, thrive, and give their youngest children the lifestyle they had all once enjoyed. At the end of the prayer, he initiated a chant where everyone joined in: “Quelitán! Quelitán! Quelitán!

When I asked Freddi why he left his home in Mexico, his eyes teared up. He explained that up until 1980, Mexican families earned a decent living growing and selling crops, mainly corn, on their parcels of land. But when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect, the sales dried up quickly as highly subsidized corn from the US flooded the market at a bargain price.

At the same time, other small businesses such as groceries stores and hardware stores throughout Mexico shuttered as Walmarts and Home Depots arrived and took over, uprooting small business owners. In Mexico, there is no minimum wage law—a gift to the new American corporations now dominating Mexico’s job market. This economic shift made it impossible for people to feed their families. The outcome was an explosion of crime and the erosion of a safe and sustainable life. This was the beginning of a steady migration north.

And this is what I think about when I see news of endless migrants coming to our border today.

They aren’t coming to pan for gold. They aren’t coming to exploit our health care system. They aren’t coming to take jobs away from us. On the contrary, they are facing an existential crisis in their homeland and being forced out. America benefits from this crisis.

Being they are a boon for cheap labor, American businesses here at home eagerly await them, guaranteeing them one of the hardest and most dangerous jobs in the country. The pig farm, the dairy farm, the chicken farm, like the Statue of Liberty, welcome Mexico’s tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breath free, the wretched refuse of Mexico’s teeming shore, homeless, tempest-tossed: We put you out of business, but now we have a job for you that no one else is willing to do. Bienvenido amigo!

When they arrive they won’t be treated as kindly as I was at Freddi’s family event. No, they will be booed by the community at large, forced into horrid working conditions, and given inadequate shelter in garages or overcrowded one-room apartments infested with mice, cockroaches, mold, and lead paint peeling off cracked walls.

Over the years, Freddi has done well for himself as a gardener, his children have grown up, but he still longs to return to his homeland to reclaim the beautiful life he lost. I think about him whenever I see parents clinging to their children crossing the Rio Grande. They will not feel at home here. No migrant who must leave their homeland due to economic misfortune or war ever does. But it’s happening all over the world.

For them, I dedicate “This Is My Song” by Jean Sibelius with lyrics by Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness. I hope 2024 brings you and migrants around the world an abundance of peace, goodness, and safe landings wherever life leads. May God will it so.

This post concludes my pledge series “Listening for Peace.”

Faithville

Can you submit this article for publication in a daily newspaper? It not only educates the reader, but if greater importance touches one’s heart and can expand one’s perspective.

Evangel

Very thoughtful suggestion... I'll look into it. Did you have a local paper in mind? Also, feel free to share it on Facebook or any other social media you like by clicking the share icon beneath the post and selecting where you'd like to post it. Thanks for your comment!

Faithville

I was able to share it!

Evangel

Thank you!! I appreciated that!

Faithville

I was thinking the LA Times and OC Register

Evangel

Thanks for those suggestions. I'll check it out!

Well Street

This article both warms and wrenches the heart.

I can vaguely recall when NAFTA was passed and hearing political talking heads debate the pros and cons and who were the winners and losers in the deal.

I remember my grandmother having a part in her car replaced more than once, and the mechanic said that with NAFTA, the parts now come from Mexico and are of lesser quality. That's a small price compared to the one that's been paid by Mexican citizens.
I was ignorant of the impacts NAFTA had on Mexican farmers and business owners and how it has fueled the decades-long migration crisis.

Thank you for the articles and songs you've posted during this holiday season. They've touched and educated me and helped me have a deeper appreciation for the blessings in life.

Evangel

Americans were not informed about the perils of NAFTA: massive job losses, closed factories, produce sprayed with chemicals long banned in the U.S. They kept a lid on it, save Dr. Helen Caldicott warning us all. Certainly no one imagined the displacement of people in other countries, but everyone's 401K grew in the process if you want to look on the brighter side. There are always trade offs.

All that aside, thanks for you generous comment about the series. I enjoyed fulfilling the pledge and posting every Sunday, and it's been fun to reveal bits and pieces of my life in the process. I'm glad you found value in it.

Present Valley

Ohhhhh a very touching finish to the Listening for Pledge music series. Once again teary eyes and a sad heart reading the story from an up close and personal perspective...and the song that accompanied it...so moving.

I agree with Faithville...can you publish the article?

Thank you for the time, energy and heart you dedicated each week of this season bringing to the Youtropolis community this wealth of information as well as introducing us to these inspiring pieces of music.

Evangel

Your comment warms my heart and reminds me that the work I do has purpose. Throughout this series beginning back in late October, I received more comments of appreciation than I could have imagined. Thank you for being on top of it, reading each post, and sharing your truth.

Slipstream

There's a term, "Walk a mile in my shoes." Well, walk a mile in their shoes — most of those who come from south of the border are looking to feed their family and put a roof over their heads.

If something happened in the U.S. comparable to what the U.S. has done to Mexico and Central America, we would be heading to Canada expecting open arms and friendly faces. How would we feel if instead, we faced razor wire, family separations, and buses heading for parts unknown?

We don't know what it feels like, and I pray we never will.

Thank you for bringing the truth into the light with this article. May each of us be more understanding, kind, and openhearted this coming year.

Thanks also for the song; a beautiful prayer for all people of all lands who love their country just as much as we love ours.

Evangel

You speak the truth and I agree 100%. A financial expert recently said the market bubble will burst sometime in 2024. He said the American economy will fail and may never recover, but Australia would get through the crash nicely being that they're closer with the Pacific Rim. I hope this does not happen, and like you, I pray we never find ourselves in our own existential crisis where we are forced into migrating north.

Thanks for saying it like it is.