Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson

OK, so I’m 21 years old and I’m driving this flatbed dooley along the horseshoe canal and two guys come running toward me frantically waving their arms, and because I know these young men, I stop the vehicle. Good opening sentence, huh? Let me flesh it out with backstory before getting to a final point.

In the first years of 1970, the rolling acres of land west of the Salinas River running to Jolon Road and from Oasis Road stretching south to San Lucas Road was undergoing vineyard development by Southdown Construction and Western Irrigation, a couple of San Joachin Valley companies, which brought much material and equipment and some personnel; the large number of workers needed for the project were local hires. I was one. I was on the Roustabout Crew, which was responsible for road and canal maintenance and pouring cement slabs for propane fuel tank or pumping engine support; we worked in trenches with cement pipelines that brought the water up from the river to the canals, which ultimately irrigated the vines.

One of the vehicles in our motor pool of equipment was the flatbed dooley, which is a pickup with a bed that has no side walls or tailgate, that is where the flat comes in. The rear axle has two tires per side, dual tires is where dooley comes in. On this day in the summer of ’73, I was alone in the pickup when the two workers came up to both sides of the vehicle yelling in Spanish “Sin papeles, sin papeles” and “La Migra aqui” over and over, and because I had a working man’s knowledge of Spanish, I got it the first time, so I stopped and the three of us quickly violated a federal law. I don’t know that for a fact, but pretty sure it had to be unlawful on some level. What we did was utilize a tool box that reached from side to side across the flat bed and was about two feet wide and 18 inches deep; we emptied out the few tools inside and the guys got in and I closed the lid.

That both these fellows, whose names I have long forgotten but remember their faces as they were often part of our crew on many projects, and because we had two regular workers who were bilingual (J. Jesus Tena and Lorenzo Gonzalez; them I remember well) communication was easy and we got a lot of work done. Now these two illegal aliens wanted to remain where they had lived and worked for a couple years and I had no problem with that, I liked them. Along with who knows how many workers who saw the familiar green color of the federal immigration airplane buzzing over the Valley, these two were looking for a place to hide. They were not in the tool box for but a few minutes when one of the same green-colored pickups came racing down the road, pulled up next to my window and asked if I had seen any workers running toward the river: I had not. He headed toward the northern part of the vineyard and when out of sight the three of us in the cab went south, and in a few minutes a tractor driver told us La Migra was gone.

The reason for this little reminisce is just to accentuate the idea that myself and many others have worked with and personally known many people who came to America without proper entrance; they were in the country illegally. But we did not fear them because they found work and places to live and, in many cases, found love and started families and fit right into the cultural fabric. I doubt any of us here in the Valley can look at any person not known to us and evaluate their citizenship status, or lack of. Today the border between the United States and Mexico is a disaster, a situation viewed by most as a humanitarian crisis, and is one of the foremost issues in this election year. But who are these people now gathered at America’s doorstep wanting to become new residents?

A look at history throughout the world informs that autocratic governments and nationalistic movements always seek to rid their countries of those who pose the greatest threat at any attempts to curtail, restrict or eliminate personal freedoms. Professors, doctors, clergy, scientists, politicians, business leaders, law enforcement leaders, lawyers and judges, anyone with higher education, are targets of totalitarian movements as they represent the greatest opposition. The historical record of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and other repressive governments all include the imprisonment and in many cases the murder of such people.

When these actions alert the populace that life under such rule is not worth living, then mechanics, police officers, restauranteurs, seamstresses, doctors, truck drivers and others across the social spectrum seek life in better realms. And the country with the greatest record of immigration success, the country of a hundred languages and scores of religions from all over the globe, is where thousands of people flock seeking asylum. When America is cited as a great Light on a Hill, it is because of our rich heritage of welcoming immigrants from all over the world and we welcomed them because we did not fear them.

Now the rhetoric coming from a failed ex-president is that we must fear these freedom-seeking people. Mr. Trump trumpets his false narrative that America is being overrun by drug cartels, gangsters, sexual predators and terrorists; fear mongering at its worse. And many fall victim to his words; but only the ignorant. Only those who turn a blind eye to the greatness achieved by diversity and want America to be lily white fall victim to his lies. Fear is Mr. Trump’s trump card and he plays it well. But I don’t buy into it; my experiences teach me otherwise.

Take care. Peace.

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King City and Greenfield columnist Steve Wilson may be reached at [email protected].


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