Do you ever get on a plane silently hoping for a window seat and someone who doesn’t want to talk?
It was a 6 am flight and I just wanted to put on something acoustic and go to sleep, but I had a middle seat and a man next to me who I’m pretty sure was reading my text messages.
“Coffee,” I told the flight attendant. So much for sleeping.
He must have seen that my messages were in Spanish, and before I knew it, he was telling me his overwhelming story.
Twenty-six years ago he trekked to the US, on foot from Honduras because he was only making 5 lempiras [ about 22 cents ] a day working in the fields. He had quit school around age seven because his family couldn’t justify an education when there was no food. His mom always told him that he was special, that he could be someone.
So he decided to leave his home and everything he knew with an empty bag and an empty stomach at 16-years-old.
It took him a year to make it to Texas. Working odd jobs, hitchhiking, and walking.
He started at $3 per hour working for Light Gas and Water. Twenty-six years later he works at the same place, twelve hours a day, six days a week.
And I'm sitting there thinking how often I complain about my 40 hour work week.
I’m thinking about how I travel for fun, in an airplane with a carryon and protein bars and purell.
His eyes get red and puffy when he tells me how thankful he is. He is going home for the first time to see his mom and his siblings. It’s just too overwhelming, so I pull out a book and choose to read about human rights rather than see them in real life.
They hand out our customs forms and he taps me on the shoulder, hands me his passport and pen and asks for help.
God, how is this possible? Even the most uneducated people I know can read.
"I just never really learned," he said pointing at the words.
What would I do if I worked 12 hours a day barely living above the poverty line. An elementary school education isn’t exactly at the top of the priority list.
He tells me about the failing education system in Honduras, the teachers often on strike because the government doesn’t pay them, and the reality that most kids need to work to survive.
They are drug dealers and delinquents, all violent and here to steal— that’s what immigrants are, right? That’s why we need a wall, to keep these scary people out.
Someone please show me the native born American citizens who live in complete poverty, who are illiterate, and desperately thankful for their blue collar 12 hour a week hourly jobs.
They are few and far between.
I sat next to a statistic on a plane that day, but statistics that live and breathe hit you a little harder than numbers in the newspaper or speeches on TV.