Making Census

For the duration of my life, I have known about the presence of the KKK.  Are all white people supremacists?  Absolutely not.  But it is real – and it continues in pockets to this day. 

Are all Irishmen drunks?  Absolutely not.  Are some?  Sure.

Are all Italians in the mob?  Absolutely not.  Are some? 

Do you see a pattern here?

All Democrats, despite party affiliation, are not name-calling, finger pointing, hate mongers.  They merely voted for the Democrat candidate in the election.  Likewise, despite party affiliation, Republicans are not all supremacists, name calling, violence instigating people who will do absolutely anything to keep their candidate in charge. 

Think of a pendulum swinging.  The pendulum has weight and as it swings it builds momentum pushing it further and further towards the extreme.  Is that where the pendulum sits?  No.  Nor is it where it belongs.  But the momentum pushes it there and it will take swinging from one extreme to the other repeatedly before it will find middle ground. 

Have the American people turned themselves into the proverbial pendulum?

I have never once (in my lifetime) been violent.  I have never been involved in a riot.  Never participated in looting.  And despite differences do not wish those with opposing viewpoints banished from my sphere.  I try as I can to see the other side, the alternate point of view.

Why am I seeing and hearing so much about the removal of those with opposing viewpoints?  How did the pendulum swing so hard and so fast from ‘We must open our country to any/every person from another land with no check points because they are refugees” to “Trumpsters need to shut up and go away?”

Let me see if I understand this:  You do not know me at all.  I want to come to America.  I might have papers, I might not.  But upon arrival you want to welcome me with open arms, not verify my identity, where I am from and perhaps get a basic history (much on the same level we do with each other when extending credit), none of that – just let me in and give me a stipend, a place to live, an EBT card, medical care AND let me vote in the elections….but if I am born and raised here I must vote as you vote, think as you think and agree with everything you say or I will be called a sheep, a moron, or worse?

Let me share this with you.  Every word of this is true.

I worked as a census taker this fall.  It was eye opening to say the least.  In my own community (which is not anywhere as large as the major cities in the US) I encountered family after family after family who were here and spoke NO English.  NONE.  Ok…We managed to communicate.  I will not use names (preserving their identity – and you will see the absurdity of this statement later) …. I went to the scheduled address and found a man sitting on his front porch.  I showed him my ID badge and spoke to him, “I’m with the census bureau.  Would you have a few minutes to help me complete your census information?”  The man looked at me = smiled and said, “Uno momento.”  Despite my having taken French in high school and not much of it at that – I understood.  He pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to dial someone.  He spoke to them in Spanish.  He then handed the phone to me motioning that I should speak to them.

I identified myself to the person on the phone.  They spoke very understandable English.  “He doesn’t live there.  He is visiting us.  Can you wait a few minutes?  We will come back.”  “Sure – I’ll wait.”  To me, it made more sense to stay and wait than to make repeated trip after trip to try to catch them at home.  I had done this long enough to know that is what would happen.  I would be sent back again and again. 

Within minutes a car pulled into the driveway.  Out of the car stepped a young (compared to me) man, young woman, and a child about 4-5.  Again, in very understandable English, he greeted me and identified himself as the resident of the home.  I proceeded to begin the interview.  First question is the name of everyone who lives in the home.  He gave me his name, then his wife’s name – then his child’s.  Ok…. next question; date of birth?  He looked at me with a very deer in the headlights look and instantly reverted to Spanish.  We had spoken for nearly five minutes between the phone and the arrival but NOW he cannot speak English anymore?  He then pulls out his phone.  He calls a friend.  He speaks to them in Spanish.  I then get handed that phone.  The man at the other end this time asks me to clarify why I am asking these questions.  I explain it to him.  “It’s a headcount – the information is used to determine representation for the state in Washington, for funding from the government to the state for hospitals, roads, etc.  He tells me he understands.  He asked that I return the phone to the resident.  They speak in Spanish again.  The call ends.  The man very apologetically looks at me and says, “Ok.  I am very sorry.  I GAVE YOU THE WRONG NAME?”  “For you, your wife and child?  You gave me the wrong names?”  I reassure him.  “I’m not with immigration.  I’m not ICE.”  I then erase the prior information and start over.  My goal was extremely specific; get a head count, identify those associated with that head count and move on.  I completed my mission.

Different day – different scenario.

While canvassing an apartment complex, I came upon a man with a child.  I say man; could have been 18-22 years of age if I had to guess.  The man had on jean shorts and nothing else.  Baby in his arms wearing only a diaper.  It was blistering hot out.  They sat in the shade to the side of the apartment door.  I asked, “Do you live here?”  I identified myself as a Census worker and told him the reason for my visit.  He looked at me and said (in English) “I ain’t legal.”  I tried to assure him that his legal status was not my question – rather I just needed to account for every person residing at that address.  With that the apartment door opened.  Another man (approximately the same age) emerged and with a deadly stare told me, “You’re done here.”  I tilted my head, looked him straight in the eye and said – “No.  I am not.  I’m with the census bureau, etc.”  He pursed his lips and with a look of disgust said, “I don’t think you heard me.”  I told him, “I heard you.  But I have been paid to come and collect this information.  Is this a bad time?  If so, I can give you a code and you can go to your computer later and insert the code and provide your information.  Now, it is one or the other.  Can you do that?  If you can – then I’ll give you the code and then I’ll be done.”  He literally chuckled and with a half-smile said, “Yea, I can do that.”  I wrote out the code and gave it to him and told them both to have a nice day. 

Final story

I approached my assigned address to find a police cruiser in the middle of the street sitting literally on the yellow line in the road.  Not knowing what was going on (and not wanting to get in the middle of whatever was) I stopped my car and approached the police vehicle to ask if what was going on was at this particular address I was assigned to go to.  The officer told me, “I just arrived – let me check and see.”  He radioed to other officers – they responded.  He then told me, “the area is secure you can go in.”  As I walked towards the entrance the police were leaving with two individuals (a couple) in handcuffs.  I’m standing there with my iPhone and question in hand and looked back at the officer as if to say, “Seriously?  Should I interview them before you put them in the car.”  Just feeling like enough was enough, I entered male … approximate age XXX, female … approximate age…  No names given, etc. 

The stories I have not included here were having a family set up a lawn chair and an oscillating fan for me to interview them (all interviews had to be conducted outside the home due to COVID); people repeatedly offering me bottled water; being invited to a woman’s 90th birthday party (which was a HUGE gathering I might add).  I have literally hundreds of tales of the people I met.  One adventure after another than showed me my part of the country.  This is America folks.  A brief snapshot – but America none-the-less. 

Here is what I learned in my months of census work.  Grouping “like” people together only perpetuates that “LIKE”.  I am from NY.  I live in Alabama.  I am white.  I am 63 (sssh) and I am relatively certain I am not who these people interact with daily, nor are they who I interact with.  But interact we did.  I would like to think that despite the length of time only lasting minutes, it changed me – and perhaps it changed them.  Maybe some of those people frightened that I was with immigration would be a bit less frightened.  Maybe those who felt I did not belong realized I am not so different that we cannot speak for a moment without either of us being threatened.  Perhaps those on their way to incarceration will take a step back and realize that even for a brief interview, their day-to-day routine is now suspended because they made a bad choice.  For me, I completed this season of going door-to-door with a sense that people from Guatemala are the nicest people I have encountered and that there were more of them in the area where I live than I could have ever imagined.  But we are all just people.  We each try every day to make our way through this time called life.  Some of us may have it easier than others, but we each get our turn at bad days.  We each get sick.  We each lose people we love. 

We are all just people.  We are all just Americans.  If we are going to welcome others into our country, shouldn’t we first learn how to get along with each other?

And just so you know:  After every single interview I conducted with a non-English speaking person, I closed with, “In case no one has said this to you before: Welcome to America!”

I miss September 12th.  It is the last time I remember everyone being on the same side.


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