After 52 years in the United States, Jose´ Azua is impervious to the insults.
This month when President Trump spoke from the Oval Office to characterize immigrants once again as murderers, drug dealers and rapists, I was so upset by his hate-filled remarks, I had nightmares.
Azua slept peacefully. He’d heard it all before.
It was the same racism he faced when he came to this country from Mexico — legally — with his mother when he was 8 years old. “It’s what I had to struggle with as I grew up,” he said.
Azua’s mother married an American citizen, who adopted her three children when they moved to the U.S. in the 1960s.
Azua lives in Centennial with his wife, Marina, and their children Alejandro and Mia. He recently retired after a long career working mostly with immigrants for U.S. employers.
He worked as an executive for a $300 million-a-year national cleaning company, ran construction crews and always has managed to make a good living.
“I was in a somewhat better position than most people for many years because I was bilingual,” Azua said, “so in the late 1970s and early ’80s when the big migration started, I was able to communicate with both sides.”
Businesses eager to hire the new immigrants needed Azua.
“I heard the things being said and I heard all about what was being done to immigrants. It was not being said or done to me.
“I was a commodity for them,” he said.
An essential commodity.
Forty years ago, “everyone looked the other way” when businesses sought workers from Mexico and created a pipeline for undocumented immigrants coming to the U.S., Azua said.
He was working in the construction industry in those days, and it was frustrating to employers that U.S. workers expected to work eight-hour days. “They’d come to work at 7 and expect to leave at 3,” he said.
“The contractors would say, ‘but I’ve got a project to finish,’ so they’d hire immigrants from Mexico who would work dawn to sunset and into the night. The contractors said the immigrants didn’t care how long they worked, and they only had to pay them half the salary of a U.S. citizen.”
This is why the business community has always loved illegal immigration.
For a short time in the 1980s, when Azua worked in the cleaning industry, the government provided incentives for companies like his to hire U.S. citizens instead of immigrants.
“But the program didn’t last,” he explained. “The quality of the work suffered, and there was not a desire among U.S. citizens to work in our industry.”
So, even financial incentives weren’t enough to change the business model.
At the same time, the whole dynamic of exploitation was not exactly a sweet deal for the immigrants.
“None of the people who came either legally or illegally planned to stay here long-term,” Azua said. “They came here just to work. But they became almost entrapped living here.”
Lured by jobs, many arrived in the U.S. expecting to be able to travel back and forth to their home countries. But they soon found they were unable to leave, and so they found themselves building lives here, creating families who all ended up living in the shadows.
Then, years went by and the concept of “home” no longer meant the same as it once did.
This is the fundamental reason for illegal immigration, said Azua, the guy who provided the essential communications tool for businesses to hire immigrants and for immigrants to find work here for so long.
“I think the most important thing to understand is that as long as there is opportunity in this country and we don’t fix the immigration laws, people are going to find a way to come here — wall or not,” he said.
“As long as employers keep hiring them, the wall won’t make any difference. They will find a way.”
While many Americans and people around the world have been shocked by the white supremacist rhetoric coming from the White House defaming Latinos and others, Azua is not surprised by any of it.
“You know, I have a lot of history being in this country for a very, very long time. This attitude that Trump shows is what I grew up with living in Texas. There are a lot more people like him in this country than many people realize. He’s just exposed them to the world.”
But Azua thinks their power actually is dissipating. Their numbers are small compared to the richly diverse population and culture exploding all around them.
The Trump acolytes are destined to be increasingly irrelevant, which explains their feverish remonstrations against the rising stature of people who are different from them.
“From the beginning, I remember when Trump first was elected I said I believed that this was the final phase, last tribal hurrah for people like him,” Azua said.
We can only hope he’s right.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant. @dccarman
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