Salinas’ Most Shameful Day: February 21, 2017

The term “Sanctuary City” is used to describe any city in the United States which intends, within the legal realm, to shelter and protect its illegal immigrants. Sanctuary Cities also do not allow the use of city money or city resources to help with the enforcement of federal immigration laws. In California, examples of counties that host sanctuary cities include Contra Costa County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and Santa Cruz County, to name only a few. However, not every city within a county is designated as a sanctuary city. In most instances, a vote between city council members must take place.

Well, on Tuesday, February 21, 2017, such a vote took place. The Salinas City Council struck down a motion that would’ve labeled Salinas a “Sanctuary City.”  Seven votes were cast: three were in favor of becoming a sanctuary city. The other four were not. Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter voted against making Salinas a sanctuary city, as did council members Steve McShane, Kimberly Craig, and John “Tony” Villegas.  Again, seven votes decided the fate of thousands of illegal immigrants living in and around Salinas, immigrants responsible for making a select few very, very rich.

Those who voted against the motion cited a threat made by President Trump, warning sanctuary cities that they would lose all federal funding, including funds that help pay for police and firefighter services, court services, school resources, infrastructure repair, and transportation.  Salinas receives approximately 10 million dollars annually from the federal government. Four of seven felt the threat of losing federal funding was too great. So losing the approximate 2.2 billion dollars a year made off the backs of immigrants is a lesser threat? Oh, but there’s more money involved, still! Illegal immigrants contribute nearly 500 million dollars to California’s Social Security fund, a fund that they themselves will never have access to because they are not citizens. But four city council members saw it fit to ignore these numbers.

Now, I’m trying to do my best to mask the disgust I feel towards these four council members who voted against sanctuary city status, who, in essence, voted against protecting the very people, the workforce, responsible for making Salinas one of the richest cities in the world. Who, essentially voted to give ICE a green light in Salinas, to break up families, and to hunt vulnerable, hard-working immigrants, to put Salinas’ workforce into hiding. Who gave them this power? Oh, we did, by not voting, or for voting for the wrong people.

Si Se Puede

Let’s talk money and numbers, because if immigrants are to gain any leverage, it’s going to have be the sort of leverage that hurts local government in the places they will feel it most: their pockets. How the could anyone in their right mind ignore the fact that lettuce alone, in Salinas, brings in an estimated $869, 447,000, or that strawberry crops generate $861,438,000, or that broccoli cashes in $423,006,000, per year? And are you also going to ignore how these crops get to market? And who picks these crops and readies them and packages them for delivery across the U.S.? Immigrants do, and, in many cases, these people are illegal!

According to the National Agriculture Workers’ Survey (NAWS), “Approximately 48% of farmworkers lack work authorization. However, this estimate may be low due to a variety of factors. Some sources estimate that as much as 70% or more of the workforce is undocumented. Using these estimates, roughly 1.2 million to 1.75 million farmworkers are undocumented and roughly 750,000 to 1.3 million farmworkers are United States citizens or lawful immigrants. According to the NAWS, about 33% of farmworkers are United States citizens, 18% are lawful permanent residents and another 1% have other work authorization.” (www.farmworkerjustice.org). These four poorly informed, out of touch council members might as well have lined us all up to slap us in the face because this is exactly what it feels like.

The best thing we can do to get gain the upper-hand is to boycott. It can prove difficult, but it’s a very productive means to an end. Let the crops rot and see what happens. We can grow our own food. In fact, we should be doing this, anyway. Let us not spend money where we don’t have to. Instead, save more. More rainy days are on their way. Finally, vote! Every Latino that has the right to vote must exercise this right! If you do not vote, sit quietly on the sidelines because you’re right to say anything is sealed in your refusal to vote.

I am a teacher, and many of my students are immigrants. Their parents are immigrants, and their grandparents are immigrants. Most of their families work in the agricultural industry, in many capacities. My students, themselves, put in long, summer hours picking raspberries, strawberries, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, and celery. They know the drill. It’s hard work! They deal with heat, cold, rain, sun, snakes, rats, poison. They tolerate this because they need to make a living—the main reason why they’re here in the first place—why they risked their lives. This and to give their kids an education, something which their parents never had a chance at receiving.

Here is my final thought: the Salinas City Council should be ashamed of themselves. I find it hard to believe that these people, if one can call them people, could go home and eat well and sleep well, knowing that they just voted to throw Salinas’ entire immigrant population under the proverbial bus. Where’s the heart when we need it most? Where’s common sense when we need it most? Holden Caufield said it best as he got the hell out of a place he did not want to be: “Sleep tight, ya morons!”

My Immigrant Parents and Their Immigrant Hearts

My mom came to the U.S. with a sixth grade education.  As a teenager, she got a job at a lamp manufacturing company in El Monte. It’s where she met my father. He, too, arrived from Mexico in his teens. They did not speak English.


Both my parents quickly realized the importance of education as it pertained to success in America. My mother enrolled in adult school and learned English. We made fun of her accent, but she took it all in stride and never stopped learning. She took various exams and earned the licenses necessary to work as a secretary. She began her first real American job with the Los Angeles Unified School District Office on Soto St, near El Sereno, and as soon as she could, she helped her three younger siblings get jobs with the same district. Two of her brothers still drive buses for the LAUHSD.

My mom worked in the district’s Transportation Department, in charge of making sure the school bus schedules were properly coordinated and executed. She was excellent at her job, and after thirty-plus years, she retired. She owns a beautiful house and a nice car. She has some money put away, but more importantly, she is incredibly healthy and vibrant. She always has been one of my most important role models.

My father enrolled in high school, graduated, then joined the U.S. Army and fought in the Vietnam and Korean Wars. He learned to cuss and smoke weed in the Army, but he also learned how to be warrior. Upon his return, he earned an A.A. Degree from East L.A. City College, and much later, after retirement, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Cal State University San Marcos. For over thirty-years, he worked as a machinist for Chevron and later as a plant operator for Southern California Edison. He was a true blue-collar man, but he was also a Renaissance man. He taught me to fish, hunt, fix cars, and to persevere.


After nearly twenty-years of marriage, my parents divorced. I was eighteen. My brother was fifteen, and my sister was twelve. Nevertheless, throughout their lives, my parents provided for us,but it was not easy. I remember my mom paying for our groceries with Food Stamps. I remember finding packets of tortillas in a trash can and bringing them home to have with our dinner. We got a lot of hand-me-downs from cousins and friends. There was no room for pride then.

But yes, my parents provided. These two lovely, caring, old-school immigrants, complete with their Mexican values and Mexican souls provided my sister with a private school education and a Bachelor’s Degree. Like my mother, Erica purchased a beautiful home on her own. She bought herself a nice car, and now, along with her magnificent husband, are raising my beautiful niece Sigrid.


My brother, also with the help of our parents, graduated from Cal State University Monterey Bay. He is a teacher and athletic director at a local high school. He is a successful coach, and he is active in the goings on of his school and community.


As for me, my parents helped get me through school, too. In fact, everything I have in life comes from my immigrant parents. My life could be much different had they not had the opportunity to prove their worth to this county, to contribute immensely to the fabric of this county, all while adopting American values, American norms, and the American way of life.

This country is currently home to millions of immigrants, all eager to prove their worth and to contribute greatly to the continued greatness of this country. All they know is work and perseverance. All they need is a chance. A chance to put their kids through school. A chance to earn college degrees. A chance to coach and change the lives of youth in their communities. A chance to provide leadership and to show the world that they are invaluable to America and everything she stands for. A chance to find peace and happiness in difficult times.

Green cards provided some mobility, but it was their gaining American citizenship that truly made them feel a part of America–American!

America is an immigrant nation. Do not allow anyone tell you different. The very paper containing the words that govern this country comes from immigrant labor. In fact, it would be impossible to drive one mile without pointing at something that was not created by immigrant hands. Long live the Immigrant! Arriba La Raza! Arriba los Estados Unidos, amigos!

Pops: A Life of Love and Perseverance

The following is a piece I read in tribute to my beloved cousin Pablo Cisneros. He passed away one-year ago, today. I miss him something awful, but I carry him in my heart.

 

Good morning, everyone. My name is Mark Cisneros, and I’m Pablo’s cousin on the Cisneros side of his family. I want to begin by first giving a big “Thank you” to everyone who has come together to celebrate Pablo’s life and for making this time of mourning as easy as possible for his wife Adriana and Pablo’s two girls, Briana and Alyssa.

I have to say that I was blown away by the outpouring of love and respect I saw at last night’s viewing. It was beautiful to personally see Pablo’s massive group of friends pay their final respects and to hear many of them share memories and experiences they had with Pablo. What the Kamayatsu and Cisneros family has seen over the course of the last few weeks has done a great deal to lift the collective spirits of both families, as we have witnessed firsthand what Pablo and Whoski’s Barber Shop means to his friends and to South El Monte. We are hopeful that Whoski’s Shop will continue to represent South El Monte as a place where locals and those beyond can get a fresh cut, a laugh, and, as Jamie said, even a beer. Your support is proof that Pablo did not pass in vain. Again, on behalf of Pablo’s family, thank you.

To many of you, Pablo is known as Whoski, but to me, he is Pops. Pablo was born in 1977. When Pablo was a one-year-old, I started playing little league baseball. It happened that I was put on the Pirates. At the time, in professional baseball, the Pirates were one of the best teams. Their team captain was a guy named Willie Stargell. He was a big guy, and he was always laughing and trying to take the serious edge off the game for his teammates. He was loved by both his teammates and fans, and he was well-known throughout baseball as being a player that fought for the greater good of his team and as a player that never gave up. His teammates called him “Pops,” because he was like a father figure to many on the team. Pablo, even at a young age, reminded me of Willie Stargell, and like Willie Stargell, Pops was left-handed, too. So I started calling him Pops, and then many of his Cisneros cousins did the same, and the name stuck. This is why Pablito will always be Pops to me.

As it turned out, Pops actually grew into these qualities. Like his Aunty Erica said to me last night, Pablo was a “hard luck” kid, and she’s right. Pablo had every excuse to fail and amount to nothing. He missed out on much of the love and attention that a father should bestow on his son. He could’ve gone down some bad roads and gotten into real trouble, but with the love and support of his mother Diane and his step-dad Art and his extended family, Pops did his best to stay on track. It wasn’t easy for him. There were many bumps on the road, but despite all the setbacks he experienced, Pops, in his own way, continued to push ahead. he persevered, and this is a lesson we can all learn from him. His willingness to persevere is a vital part of the legacy he leaves behind for his two girls and for everyone else that thinks that dreams can’t come true. He kept at it and kept at it and did not deviate from his dream. This is something we can respect in any person.

I talked a good deal with Pops. We were always close. I was really proud of him when he decided to get his barber’s license. We would talk while he was attending barber school, and he expressed worry about passing the test. Then he finally did, and he started working as a barber. I made it a point to visit every shop he worked at. Some of the shops were literally boxes cut into a wall with two or three chairs. I remember he worked in one shop where everyone who worked there spoke Spanish, and he didn’t. And he’d make fun of them and say, “All these fucking paisas do all day is watch soccer.” But there he was, trudging along and cutting hair and doing his thing, and I could tell, even as he stood there looking a bit unhappy at his current surroundings, that his dream of owning his own barber shop was never far away.

And then it happened! He called to tell me, and I could tell he was ecstatic. He told me he was still unsure as to what to call it and he was playing around with a few names. “Whoski’s” was one of them. Now that I think back on our conversation that day, I’m pretty sure he was, in Pops’ kind way, asking me if it was ok if he called it Whoski’s, because he knew that I loved him and that he was “Pops” to me. I assured him that he no choice but to call it Whoski’s because it was the name his family called him by and because it was a unique name. I think he was happy to hear me say this.  Later, he called me to talk about the shop’s logo and we bounced ideas off of each other. The next thing he knew, Whoski’s was open for business!

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I knew that when Pops cut my hair that I had to put aside about and hour and a half for him to finish. As I sat in his chair, we always took the time to catch up with each other, to talk about our families and our daughters, to talk about our siblings and parents and Disneyland and the Lakers and anything else we could think of. Sometimes he would spend ten-minutes trying to find a movie or a game on T.V. He would stand there with the remote control in his left-hand and the hair trimmer in the other, just flipping through channels until he found what he wanted.

But Pops loved his job! It involved everything that was dear to his heart: talking smack all day, barbers capping on each other, laughing, eating, watching sports. It was his home away from home. It was his sanctuary. I was happy to see him happy, and this is how I am going to remember him. I’m going to miss him like crazy, and my life won’t be the same without him, but just as he has taught me, I have to keep pushing along. He would want this for all of us.

It would be hard to find a more loving man than Pops. He loved everyone in his family, and despite the distance between us, he never skipped a beat when it came to showing affection and happiness to see his family. He talked a great deal of his daughters. The last time we spoke, he expressed concern about Brian’s education because South El Monte High had gotten in trouble. Her well-being weighed heavily on his mind. Alyssa brought added joy to his life, and she kept him on his toes. She was a daddy’s girls and she was always after him. He was tired a lot, but he always had time for his girls. He did all he could to make their lives as happy as possible.

Even when he talked about his father Pablo, Sr., there was no outward animosity or hard feelings. His father was absent for a lot of his life, but he he loved his father and expressed great interest in traveling to Mexico to see him. I think this particular episode sums up the love that Pops is blessed with. He had every reason to resent his dad, but he didn’t. He looked past all the negative and focused on the positive. This is perhaps the greatest thing I respect about my cousin. He learned how to love and much of it he learned on his own.

I just want to share one more fun fact: It’s no secret that Pops was a huge Lakers’ fan, and as a fan, he’s seen the best and worst of times. Currently, the Lakers are really, really bad, probably the worst in the league, but last night, on the evening  of Pops’ wake, the Lakers beat the Warriors in what is already considered one of the greatest upset in the history of the NBA. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I’m sure Pops was sitting court-side to watch that one.

Again, I want to thank all of you. I feel that I’m close to all of you simply because you know my cousin, and so we are all part of the same circle of friends that center around a loving and caring man. I love you, Pops. Rest in peace, Primo. I will miss you beyond words.