Manuel Rafael Gallegos Lerma

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Manuel Rafael Gallegos Lerma was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. He learned English as a high school exchange student in Germany. Lerma is currently working on a PhD in Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the Associate Director of the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The interview begins with a brief discussion on Lerma's personal background and how he met his future wife while studying in Germany. Lerma mostly talks about his research interests and the work he does with the Human Rights Center.



Elise Stephenson: This is Elise Stephenson and today I am interviewing Rafael Gallegos.
It is March 29, 2011. How are you Rafael?
Rafael Gallegos: I'm good Elise.
ES: First off, tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?
RG: Well, I am originally from Mexico. Chihuahua, to be more specific. I was born about
4 hours south of El Paso, a long time ago. My parents are both elementary school teachers and I
have three more siblings. I am the oldest of all. Anything else?
ES: Is your family in Mexico or are they here in the states?
RG: Yea, my parents are in Mexico. Only one sibling is here in North Carolina with me.
Everyone else is in Mexico. Basically when I first came to NC, I came here with my spouse. And
then we were here by ourselves for quite some time and eventually my sister joined us several
years after that. But everyone else is back home.
ES: And how did you make it here to NC? What was that process?
RG: Wow, that's a long story. When I was finished high school in Mexico, I was able to
attend a Department of Defense school, which is basically the type of education that the
dependents of military personal get. So I had relatives in the military who were able to get some
sort of exchange program. So I went to Germany for several years where I learned to speak
English and got an American high school degree which would allow me to continue going to
school in the US.
ES: That's fantastic.
RG: So then after graduating from high school in Germany, I stayed there for severalwell,
I stayed there for a year and then went to junior college in New Mexico. It is a military
institute in Roswell. Then I got an associate's degree there and went back to Germany to do some
more work to continue going to school. And then after maybe another year, a year and a half, my
spouse was, well who would later be my spouse, got a full scholarship to NC State. That was
what brought us to NC. And now in NC we both attended NC State and got our BAs there. And
then she stayed there to get a masters and I was accepted here in UNC for the PhD program in
ES: And your spouse is from the United States, or...
RG: She is a US citizen and a German citizen. So she is born in Germany, so under
German law she qualifies to be a German citizen and American law she qualifies to be a US
citizen. So she has dual citizenship as far as I know.
ES: And did you receive US citizenship through marriage?
RG: Well, I haven't applied for citizenship. I just have residency.
ES: You have residency because of that. And what did you study in school? In Germany,
and then later here at NC State and UNC?
RG: In Germany, high school was just a normal curriculum. And then at New Mexico, it
was an associate's in liberal arts. And then we went back to Germany and did a couple of
semesters on the University of Maryland's campus over there. I was trying to get a masters degree
in business management. But before I was able to complete the program I had to come to North
Carolina, so therefore when I came to North Carolina the credits didn't transfer and so I had to
restart. And then I ended up doing a double major in Sociology and Latin American literature. So
it changed dramatically.
ES: And that was at State (NC State University) that you did that. And then you said you
went to UNC?
RG: And then I applied to UNC and I am currently doing a PhD in Sociology.
ES: And what are you studying for your PhD?
RG: You mean research-wise?
ES: What research are you doing in sociology? What particular part of sociology?
RG: My research areas are immigration. I do labor markets. I like education and I do
community work with Dr. Blau, so we do a little Human Rights. And that's what I do, but my
thesis that I submitted for the masters was a study, a qualitative study of day laborers in Carrboro.
And there I was trying to understand the social norms that emerge among day laborers. And I was
sort of challenging the idea that this place is a mostly competitive environment. Most of these
places are said to be competitive by nature because there are no regulation. But you know, after
several years of observation there is much more context than that. So then I tried to research some
social norms that have emerged from cooperation, solidarity, sense of community. I'm sort of
making an argument that even in this place where you would not expect to have a, per say,
collegial environment, it does exist for human reasons. And so that is basically what I try to
postulate in the thesis.
ES: And was this more participatory, observational-participatory research?
RG: Yea, well it was almost two, almost two and a half years of what I would say were
formal and informal observations. Informal I mean because it was before I was able to obtain IRB
approval. And formal after I did it, I went ahead and conducted in-depth interviews. In addition to
that I was able to work during several instances with them on several projects. So I was able to
see how they associate in the things that happen among them at the job site. Which would help
me better understand what happens at the corner (see key terms). So I did that as well and I think
it was an interesting study practice for me.
ES: Do you hope to continue with research in that area?
RG: Yes, actually the next step would be to see—As you can imagine the immigrationpeople
emigrating from Mexico are people that are coming from Chiapas and Central America as
opposed to Central Mexico. Guanajuato, ( ) were the main senders. So one of the things that
is happening at the corner is that there is a new group of migrants who are coming which are
mostly from southern Mexico. Because they have different customs and they have different social
networks, there is a possibility of observing, perhaps, how a labor market in itself may change
according to the people that are a part of it. One thing would be for instance to look at the
differences in culture, ethnicity perhaps. And there is also more African-Americans actually
going there to work so you can actually bring the element of race in to see what happens once all
these processes come together.
ES: You used the term corner. Could you clarify that?
RG: Yea this is a group of day laborers. They simply gather on the street on a corner in
Carrboro. And so they stand at the corner every day from six to eleven in the morning. And they
just sit there waiting for someone to pick them up and take them to a job. So they wait outside by
the corner.
ES: From your interviews and observation, is there a serious issue with wage theft among
those workers?
RG: Yea there is. I mean literature has shown that wage theft is huge among day laborers
because there are no regulations, no protection for them. I would say at the corner that there is a
problem, but sometimes it is hard to get at it. Sometimes they won't tell you that this has
happened because it is stigmatizing. So to get at actual ideal or percentage would be quite
difficult. But it does happen often.
ES: Do you find that it's a competitive environment between day laborers or more of a
collaborative "we are in this together"?
RG: Well the labor market itself is competitive. So it would be unreasonable to say that
there is no competition. It is inherently competitive. However, I think it is important to see that
although there is competition, there are other social norms that are going on at the same time that
sort of buffer the negative effects of competition. For instance, you have instances when people
may train other people even though they know that they will be a competitor. The way they see it,
or at least the way that some of them see it, is that if you don't train them than the overall skill set
at the corner is not going to be conducive for people to go there. So while it may not be
appropriate to help others, in a way it is appropriate because you do want to make sure that
everyone who is there can do their job. If they don't, then employers won't go there anymore.
There is a social or community sense in the sense that you have to help one another. Another
thing that happens is that sometimes when some of the workers don't get a job, their assistance is
when friends or relatives or people from the same community might give their jobs to them. So
you know if you think about competition, that certainly creates challenges because under normal
conditions people would not give you a job. They would take it themselves because they all need
them. So some of that happens. Also people owe money to each other. That is quite common. So
that is another instance of cooperation and solidarity. There are some other things that happen
there. For instance, I notice that many of them that come from Central America or southern
Mexico, they are highly religious. So what I notice is sometimes they will assign certain things
that happen at the corner to, let's say, paranormal things such as luck. When you don't get a job,
it's not that you aren't a good enough worker. It's not that you didn't work hard enough to get a
job, but it was that you maybe were not lucky enough. And so in a sense what that does, I think,
is that people don't stigmatize each other. So if I don't get a job it doesn't mean that I'm not a
good worker, it just means that I was not lucky, or that you were luckier than me. So I think in a
sense that helps them stay in check so there's no really bad competition. And maybe then say that
this is a collegial environment if you think about the possibilities of going in the opposite
direction. So I argue that it is much more collegial than other places.
ES: Do you believe that there is much of a community outside of the family unit between
the members of Abbey Court?
RG: Well, that's a good question. I guess it depends on who you are talking about. If you
are talking about someone who has a family here, they might navigate broader networks because
families need to help each other. As opposed to if you come on your own, you might not have
access to someone, you might be more of a loner. But it all depends on where you come from,
how long you've been at the corner or at abbey court. It takes time to develop relationships. It
depends on at what stage of the immigration process you are.
ES: What distinguishes those day laborers from the workers that have full-time jobs
employed by UNC, through other means? I know I've worked, through LINC (see key terms),
with several who have very solid jobs. I'm curious about what makes that distinction. Why are
some people so much more successful than others?
RG: It could be connections. For instance, there are some people that—When you come to
the corner and you are new, if you have family than that is going to help you. Because if they
have been here longer they will have access to networks that no one else or very few people may
have. If your brother has been here for five years, your chances of getting a job are much higher
than someone who is here by themselves and doesn't know anyone. I think that at the corner also
has to do, or in general I would say the longer you stay here, the more skills you obtain. So after
you are at the corner for three or four or five years, or any ( ), people learn. So then you are
able to advertise the skills and maybe get a job. To an extent the corner is like a springboard, if
possible, to more permanent employment. Of course, most of the people who are there are
undocumented, which is a big hurdle. But you know that is one of the few places that they can
learn those skills and kind of get out, try to make that jump into the formal economy, or more
permanent employment.
ES: How many of the people that you interviewed, the day laborers, felt that coming to
the US improved their situation economically?
RG: [Chuckle] that's a good question. I guess it all depends on people's goals, I guess, for
instance there are people that have been here for six years and they've worked really hard,
they've saved money, and they currently own one or two houses in Mexico, or land where they
can go back and use it for sustainability, as far as their family. But those who come here and are
younger might sometimes be not as understanding of the importance of learning and not spending
the money on alcohol, or other things, distractions, so it all depends on what your plans are and
how rigid you are about obtaining them. But you have all kinds of people. You have people that
party every day if they have money. You have people that never party and they send money to
relatives in Mexico so they can put it in the bank. They are able to go back and have a better life.
So it all depends, how old are you? If you have family in Mexico, I can imagine that you are
much more attentive to those needs than if you come here by yourself. You have no obligations
so your priorities might be different. It has to do with how old you are, what brought you here,
and how strict you are to staying to your goals. That's what makes a difference. One of the things
that is amazing about all of them is they are very adaptable. They learn a lot of new skills. They
are very bright and they can do some amazing things, and learn quite fast. So I think that allows
them to do better. They adapt very well. I mean many of them at least. They are very adaptable.
Maybe less than ( ).
ES: What motivated you to study day laborers on the corner?
RG: Well, when I first came to UNC to visit the program, to see if this would be a good
fit for me. At the time there were, there are still two researchers who are interested in labor and
immigration. They talked to me about this place that hasn't been studied and the fact that it is
something we don't know much about. And then I began to do, not observations, but I began to
visit to see if it would be something that I would be interested in. And after a couple of weeks I
felt that this would be something that I would be very interested in doing. Although my focus was
different in the beginning, it was not about competition. It was more about the social organization
of the corner, which is a little more difficult because it was broader. But I think mostly was the
possibility of doing that research and the fact that I could work with people who were interested
in doing that kind of work. So that is what brought me to Chapel Hill.
ES: And how did you first get involved with the Human Rights Center?
RG: When I first came to the program, as part of our assistantship—they pay our tuition
and they give us a stipend—we have to TA for faculty. My first assignment was with Dr. Blau. At
the time, I think she had been teaching this course in Human Rights for about a year. She was
working on developing this Human Rights, or this idea of a non-for-profit. I don't know if at the
time she knew exactly what she was going to do, but she had the idea that she wanted to do a nonprofit
that would help people. Through our collaboration and going to TA for her and learning
about the things that she stood for, and the philosophy of Human Rights. I felt that it was
something I could do. You know maybe not so much as my own research, but something that I
could certainly engage in as part of a reciprocity toward the people I was intending to research.
When I do research with them, I get a huge benefit—a PhD, a job perhaps— while they don't get
anything. One of the things that was appealing to me was that if I was to work with her than I was
able to help them and in a way repay the favor that they were going to do for me. So that was the
driving mechanism I guess for also wanting to work with her. If you think about locally, there are
not a lot of organizations that are actively helping Latinos. It's any group, something that is going
to take time, so having someone who is willing to do it right now is something that I couldn't
pass. So I had to do something about it and try to help her to do this vision that she had, and I
think that was very positive. So that is what drove me to work with her.
ES: And now that you are working with her, what is your role at the Human Rights
RG: I guess my title is associate director of the center. Basically I just try to develop
programs or try to make sure that some of the operations are maintained and that we somehow are
able to continue the program. I think that is something that has been very good for me because I
have learned all kinds of things, dealing with lawyers, dealing with city officials, dealing with
management at Abbey Court. So I think it has been a very enriching experience for me.
ES: What do you find to be the greatest strengths about the program?
RG: The HRC?
ES: The Human Rights Center.
RG: Hm. I think it's its adaptability. We are not as rigid as other non-profits. We depend
on people's work so therefore you have to be able to adapt to what they can provide. And also you
have to adapt to the needs of the people and I think that is something that has been useful because
most of the successful programs are those that started that way. It was a program that worked for
UNC students, that worked for residents, that worked for us, and it just worked. We just
continued the mode, or the model, and I think that is what I would say is a great strength. You
have very dedicated people who are very flexible. Think about UNC students. They go there for a
couple ofhours, and many of them sit on the floor to tutor someone. It's just amazing. Sometimes
they are outside and sometimes it is raining and they have to sit on the stairs. It's just really
amazing what happens there. That's why I think.
ES: Why do you think people are so motivated and willing to give their time?
RG: As far as students go, this is efficient in the sense that they get their service learning.
Although some of them do continue to go after that is over. As far as the adults or the people who
actually run the programs, I think it is just a social commitment to equality. You understand the
injustices that are out there and you try to do something to help out somehow. One of the things
about the HRC is that when something goes right, you can see it. So the rewards are to an extent
immediate. That sort of keeps you driving. That drives you to continue. Say you are doing LINC,
and you notice that the person you are working within two weeks has improved tremendously.
That is a great incentive for you to continue to go. I think that's what drives it, is the fact that you
see very positive signs. We hope that it will mean that a lot of the kids there will do better than
other ones. And just the families in general, not just the kids.
ES: Alternatively, what do you see as weaknesses?
RG: Well, lack of funding. Of course. We are too small. We don't have anyone on
payroll. Certainly all of us work as volunteers, and that limits our possibilities of providing more
services. If we're not open from eight to five then it's really hard for people to get a hold of us,
and to be able to get service from us. That's a huge disadvantage, but we are working towards that
and maybe through having funding we are able to hire someone who is able to stay there and
maybe help us with some of the day to day operations. But I would say funding. And it's hard to
get because we are a rather new organization in town. It is going to take time for someone to see
us as a stable and promising non-profit. In the meantime, it's going to be very hard.
ES: The majority of the volunteers are UNC students. Because UNC students work on
this semester schedule and because, specifically, the student in Judith's class have service learning
contracts that last for one semester, do you feel that there is a lack of continuity because of these
shorter volunteer spans?
RG: I think that many students have raised this point in the past, and some of them think
that it is a problem. I mean you change completely the face of the center from one semester to
another. Especially from the fall to the spring. That is quite amazing. But I think just as everyone
who goes there has learned to adapt, kids do that as well. They understand the process that you
are going to come and help me. We are going to have a nice relationship. I am going to work with
you as much as possible and if you have to go, then maybe someone else will come and help me
too. From what I can see, there is something that has developed and kids, I mean I'm sure they
miss some of them, they get close. But I mean just as they get close with those students, they get
close with the next cohort. And it's just better. Things just function really good. That's always
been a problem, but I don't think that it's as much as you would think
ES: And as you said, many of the students love it and stay on. So in some ways it's just a
way of bringing in more and more and—
RG: And they might not be in the same project—[Interruption: phone rings]—in the same
project, or the same position. They sometimes come back as the representatives of some sorority
or fraternity and they want to do some other type of work. Or they might come back and they
want to do some sort of independent study. So a lot of them recycle, and many of them don't, but
I think we do have enough students that go there that we are able to deal with that.
ES: I'm still a little bit unclear on what your general responsibilities are at the Human
Rights Center, and on a day-to-day basis, or a week-to-week basis, what it is that you are
personally doing.
RG: The job or the volunteering type of work that I do there, it varies depending on what
we are doing. So if we are distributing computers, then I have to teach people how to put
computers together, or maybe have to go get the residents to pick up computers or spread the
word about the computers. It could also be that—many of the residents of Abbey Court that know
me well, they will call me when they have legal issues, when they have questions about
immigration law that I can maybe transfer to somebody else who is knowledgeable. So to an
extent I work a lot one-on-one and with some groups in Abbey Court in order to develop this
relationship because it's really hard. And you have people that haven't been treated well, so they
don't trust a lot of people. To change that it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of will, and
sometimes we might not have the time because afterschool or we have to do other projects, and
sometimes we might not be able to do something as much as we want to. But generally I try to
work with people that have really serious problems that need to be resolved rather quickly. So
that you probably won't see me preparing a Know Your Rights workshop. I mean I could go there
and provide some of the equipment but I probably won't be calling people and doing that sort of
thing because that's what students may do. And that's something that's more informal. Well it is
informal. But with me it's more like if something is happening and it's a big issue and someone
might get deported or someone's going to go to jail, then they call me and sometimes I try to help
the best way that I can. So that's what has been my work so far, and also trying to develop
relationships with the people at the corner, so that they can come to the center. And right now we
have someone from the corner who is now teaching computer classes there on Saturdays and
some week days. So that was developed through knowing them and asking for assistance and
explaining the importance of being able to help others. If you have a skill, why not share it? Yea,
but it's sad. And that's what I was getting at. Our stricture is much more—it's less rigid than other
places. And I think that to an extent that works for us because if you have certain abilities or you
enjoy certain types of work than we feel that should probably be the best thing you should be
doing. Then you perform better, as opposed to you are assigned to something you may not know
much about and someone else can do better. So we try to talk about that to them and do what we
can. I don't have a rubric, if you will, or a job description. It would be really hard.
ES: How do you balance your dedication to being a student, to being a husband, to being
exactly what you are in Abbey Court?
RG: Sometimes you just have to make concessions. Sometimes I have to get behind on
my work at school. I mean, because when people—especially after doing the project and getting to
know them for quite a while—if they call you for assistance, it is hard not to respond and try to
help because they help you when you ask for their assistance. So sometimes it's more important
for me to have an excellent paper or homework versus trying to help someone who is about to go
to jail for something that might have been prevented. You have to deal with those ethical
concerns, and sometimes you have to make judgment calls. So that's what happens.
ES: What's your opinion on community participation in Abbey Court?
RG: I think that would be great. You know, it's something that we've been trying to do.
Like I said we have the guy who does the computers. We have someone who mainly collects
donations at the farmer's market on Saturdays. We have people that are in charge of the clean-up
on the weekends, once a month. Some people do other things. So we try to involve people as
much as they can. Many of them have families and it's really hard to balance that, because you
know family comes first. You just have to be willing to accept whatever they can do, and
supplement the rest. And I think Abbey Court, being a place that has had problems, sometimes
there is an inflow and outflow of residents, so sometimes it's kind of hard to develop a sense of
community, I think, from people. There is so much fluctuation and fluidity and people may know
that they might not be there for a long time, so therefore they just aren't going to get involved.
How do you attract those people is complicated, so that is something we are still working on.
We're trying to learn.
ES: Do you feel that it is often the same people who are involved?
RG: Yea, you do have the regulars that care, that have their families there. They want
Abbey Court to be a better place. Definitely. And they would disagree with non-married people
or people who are younger about how Abbey Court should be, and that's just something you have
to deal with. So there are people who are involved, and they do as they think, in the right way,
and they are very committed. And we use their help. And sometimes other people who are not as
committed may decide that they want to participate and then participate. So we just try to manage
each situation at a time. It's very hard to foresee, to prepare for something months in advance. It's
just really hard.
ES: What have you done to advertise or promote the services and programs at the HRC?
RG: Well in the past we would hand out flyers to the entire community, and we would
hand out flyers to the Latino stores, to other restaurants and so forth. But like I said, people are
distrustful. So unless they don't go and see what happens, unless they don't go an eye-witness
what we do there, it is very skeptical I feel. So that becomes a huge barrier because how can you
convince someone who doesn't even engage with you. So that happens and we just have to keep
working. And we are working on a campaign that it would help us better advertise the center, so
we are beginning to work with Journalism students or students in Mass Media/Communications,
whatever, and they are hopefully going to help us write opinion stories or just stories about what
happens there and maybe people get to know the place better. But besides that we don't have a lot
of funding so it's hard to have an event and you just pay for it. That would be really, really hard.
And Dr. Blau, she does a lot for the center. So I think more of it would be really hard for most
people. Sometimes our reward is very small, so we are limited about the things that we can do. So
then it becomes really hard. That is one of the difficulties.
ES: What other obstacles do you face specifically in working with the Latino
RG: What do you mean by face?
ES: What obstacles are unique to—kind of get in the way of trying to reach out, trying to
increase participation, trying to help undocumented—often undocumented—Latino immigrants?
RG: The biggest thing is documentation. I mean how can you help them find a job when
they don't necessarily qualify for any job? And one of the things that they ask you when you're at
the corner is that they need a job. I don't need your charity. I don't need you to come here and
make me feel better. I just want a job. And so when that's their objective, which is understandable
completely, that makes it harder for us because it isn't something that we can just do. Say yea, get
a job. Go and get a job. It's just difficult. I think that's the biggest obstacle because they say "yea
you try to help us, but you can't get us a job or an interview so why would I bother wasting my
time with you." We know that's some of the attitudes with some of the older people, but with kids
it is a whole different game. Kids you can actually help because they are more malleable and they
are willing to try things. I think that's what we are trying to focus on.
ES: Kids as the future?
RG: Yeah, they can change the family. They can do a lot of different things that adults
are sometimes are really closed to or aren't willing to approach in any way, so I think kids are the
best way to do this.
ES: Do you believe that families are very invested in their children in Abbey Court?
RG: Definitely. Yeah, I think every parent is invested in their kids. You would encounter
people under different conditions, ( ), whatever you look at. People sometimes might not
have the knowledge or resources to help their kids but I don't think any parent would say that or
feel that its not ok to not help their kids or in any way to harm them. I think thats human nature, at
ES: About what percentage of the kids would you say were born here versus are
undocumented and yet only know the United States as their home?
RG: Hm, a lot of kids are in the elementary school. I think Nancy mentioned somethingwell
I shouldn't give her name, but I think the teacher that helps us there mentioned something
about fifty-nine or sixty-nine families that live at Abbey Court from the elementary school. So I
would imagine indeed that many of them are bom in the US. You know high schoolers we do not
know. With high schoolers I would be more hesitant to say that they were bom in the United
States, but it could very well happen because some of the people in Abbey Court have been there
for more than fifteen or sixteen years. So it is possible that some of them were bom in the US. It's
hard to tell. It's something they know very well not to talk about because of the consequences.
ES: That's another obstacle you run into.
RG: Exactly.
ES: Well, you've definitely seemed to conclude that it's tough. The work that you are
doing. But the Center is really young as you said. What change do you hope to see? What are
your goals for the future of the center?
RG: Hopefully find more people who are willing to invest some of their time to help
people. Be able to go beyond Abbey Court and work in Rogers Road, or Estes Park, or Carolina
Apartments. I think there is need everywhere, and if we are able to—the more resources we can
get from people and from the local towns, the more we can provide for people. I think that is the
ultimate goal: to expand beyond Abbey Court and to be able to be more decisive in helping other
people. So yeah, expansion I guess.
ES: What about your personal goals?
RG: Hm. Interesting. Well, I hope that I finish my PhD in two years and that I can find a
job somewhere. Right now, it is possible perhaps because there is a lot of work being done with
immigration in different fields, whether it is medical immigration, or some other type of
immigration. I mean the research within immigration—I hope that you can find a job, but yeah, be
able to find a job and perhaps someday be able to do something like Dr. Blau because I think it
does great things for a lot of people with minimum resources, it would be interesting to know
how much cost we are enduring for helping each one of those kids. I don't know. I can imagine it
is much less than other places. And so to have something that is sustainable and that is efficient, it
would be something that is part of what we are trying to accomplish.
ES: How has your opinion regarding immigrant labor and immigration rights evolved
through your work at UNC and just since, I guess you said, you were a boy in Mexico?
RG: My understanding of labor in the US?
ES: Your opinion regarding what should be done by governments, why we are in the
situation that we are in. I mean you have done a lot of work with labor which many would argue
is the strongest impetus for migration: labor demand.
RG: I mean you are probably right. The pull factors are huge, especially when you have—
I mean, I don't know about right now, but they have been historically. I think that being able to
provide people with some sort of amnesty or a pathway to legalization of some sort, whether it is
work permit or something. When you grow up in Mexico you really are not exposed to the
hardships of people in the States, and I think to some extent, at least personally, they have
undermined the hardships of people in the US.
ES: Of immigrants in the US?
RG: Yes. You think that when you go to the US you can make more money, it's a better
life, you have better houses, all these cars and that sort of thing. But in reality, they come here
and they are exploited. They are mistreated, widely. They have no rights. At least that's what
people make them believe, when it comes to labor. And so it is—the pervasiveness of that is quite
shocking, and it is something I did not expect.
ES: So you think more change is needed in the United States or in Mexico?
RG: Well, I think it can't be one way. I think it has to be both ways. You have to find
ways—a stimulus for the economy in Mexico. And as you mentioned at the beginning of the
interview, people, if they had a choice they probably wouldn't come. I mean why would you want
to come here to starve or be mistreated as opposed to being with your family? And seeing them
every day, grow. As opposed to being here and see the kids of other people and feel that you are
missing out on so much. When you go back to Mexico it is quite possible that your spouse is no
longer your spouse. They found somebody else. That happens way too often, so the family
separation is huge. I would say that the way Mexican society has developed in certain town, it's
just not normal. There are towns where there are only females. And that is just something that we
need to think about. I think there is just so many issues that come out of the fact that we are not
willing to provide some sort of a program that would help them get a job. At least for awhile. I
mean, many of them just want to get jobs for a couple of months or a year or so, and they have
enough money and they want to go back home. And some of them might want to stay here. That's
something that needs to be talked about. I think one of the problems is that, historically, most of
the immigration reform has been done by politicians that have no idea about immigration. I can
imagine that by looking at the policies—they never ask an immigrant whether those policies that
are implemented are viable. I mean think about the bracero program. How well thought out that
was. I mean how bad thought out that was. We figured out we could take care of short labor
demands, but we didn't think about what would happen with social networks and people being
displaced. That was something that was very poorly constructed, and I guess they figured that
they would just send them home. And I guess there was to an extent an attempt to do that, but just
really bad patching up of the laws. It needs to be thoroughly revised, to be more human I guess.
ES: I guess, as a final question on the note of humanity, what do you think normal
citizens can be doing in their daily lives to help improve the situation for immigrants?
RG: I think education. I think that people should be educated and I think what allows for
these injustices to continue is the fact that we don't know. I mean most people are misguided by
the tax argument, and the taking my jobs argument, and the criminal argument. It's just, there is
so much gray in those allegations. People are not aware, but if you are suffering and someone is
saying that and it works for you, then why not? And I think the lack of education among the
population is what really hurts Latinos, and any immigrant for that matter. Anyone who isn't from
here suffers because of it. So I would say education, and that is something that we hope we can
do through the kids. Maybe that would be a goal for the future.
ES: Well, thank you very much for all of your answers. Is there anything that you would
like to clarify or say before--
RG: I think it was a really good interview.
ES: Great.