Every year, Richard Erlanger, the owner of the retail shop Saga at 81 Washington St. in South Norwalk, celebrates Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), one of Mexico's most important holidays. This is a time that the country honors its loved ones who have died.
Every year, Erlanger encourages Norwalk's Mexican residents to participate in the event at his shop, which focuses on selling "The Arts of the Americas." And every year, it is a hard sell.
Erlanger believes the reason is that many of these Mexicans do not want to draw attention to themselves because they are illegal immigrants. One wonders how many of this country's more than 12 million illegal immigrants are living in the shadows of this city.
Norwalk is in the heart of Fairfield County, one of the most affluent communities in the country. Here, there is a strong demand for the services that newly arrived immigrants provide: housekeeping, child care, restaurant work, landscaping and construction.
I have visited Mexico six times, and my personal observation is that Mexicans carry shovels the way our Fairfield County commuters carry their laptops and attaché cases. Mexican men are among the strongest people I have seen, and I am always in awe of their physical prowess in building roads, one large stone at a time. They are indeed master craftsmen when it comes to working with their hands. This has become a dying art in this country.
If there were to be a random survey of the legal status of restaurant workers in South Norwalk, I wonder what the results would be.
The existence of illegals in this country continues to affect our health care systems, tax base and educational institutions and strains local budgets.
Finally, the illegal immigration crisis in this country has bounced Iraq to second slot on our nation's newspapers. I agree with one vocal woman on the news who in the past 10 years has counted 9,000 illegal immigrants on her property crossing the U.S. border from Mexico. She said she was glad to see our National Guard finally protecting our own border.
Illegal immigration is a complex issue. It involves national security, cost of living, quality of life, humanitarianism, and our nation's future. For those living here in Norwalk, the concern is the future of this city as well.
In a recent news report in this newspaper, the Rev. Oscar Sandoval of the El Camino United Methodist Church said he is concerned about the immigration proposals and the prospect that any proposals may criminalize people who provide "medical or spiritual assistance" to undocumented workers.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays. R-4, also is concerned about the effects of making the hiring of an illegal worker a felony and believes that such action would undermine our society and lead to churches harboring illegal immigrants.
Many believe that a multi-pronged approach is needed to address illegal immigration. However, the consensus seems to be that the United States must control its border with Mexico and stem the flow of illegals; the issue is not only human trafficking, but drug trafficking.
Illegal immigrants must not be given amnesty. Others will only be encouraged to come if they know their illegal entry will be rewarded with citizenship.
Putting illegal immigrants on a track for citizenship but at the back of the line is not a bad idea. That means learning English, paying taxes, paying fines for being here illegally, having a clean record, and working a job. Then, they go to the back of the line to apply for citizenship. As Shays has noted, this country does not want its own Spanish-speaking "Quebec."
A guest migrant worker situation can work. This means that workers are here on a temporary basis. Their home is in Mexico, and that is where the rest of the family lives. During their stay, they can live in temporary housing as many migrant workers now do in areas of the South.
In the long run, the resolution really lies with Mexico to stop its people from coming to this country. It is time for Mexico to stop its own corruption and to build its roads and its economy for its own people.
During my visits to Mexico, I've often wondered why people would want to leave the country. The people are really very sweet and gentle. Life is very simple for many of the villagers, whose main concerns are family and caring for their animals. The pace is slower in Mexico. They take time for family. They take time for their children. You usually see multigenerational families together in their parks and in their churches. They do not warehouse the elderly in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.
When you visit Mexico, you see the simplicity of life in many of the mountain towns, where the landscape is absolutely exquisite and many of the villagers work with their hands to provide the beautiful arts and crafts that sell in upscale retail shops in this country. Meanwhile, in the more urban areas the young Mexicans are influenced by the images of American culture on their television sets and on billboards.
We, Americans, visit Mexico to taste a little of the cream of their culture. We eat their food, buy their handcrafts and apparel, and visit their extraordinary museums and churches. Then, we come home and hop into our gas-guzzling cars and build bigger and bigger houses with bigger and bigger kitchens and large institutional stainless steel refrigerators and stoves only to order Mexican takeout.