Monday, April 26, 2010

Hugo Alfredo: The Invisible Immigrant Who Gave

Let me begin my stating my understanding of who is an immigrant. In recent years, this term has become code, in the dominant discourse, for referring to people of color who have come to the U.S. Belgians, Scots or Swedes are not envisioned. However, in actuality, Native Americans are the only people in this country who are not immigrants, and perhaps, they too migrated here from somewhere else long ago.

But today I woke up to the beautiful and tragic story of Hugo Alfredo, an immigrant from Guatemala. I do not know how long he has been in this country or had been homeless. What I know, from watching ABC this a.m. is that he attempted to help a woman who either was or seemed to be in danger from a man pursuing her. She apparently got away from her pursuer, who then turned his rage on Hugo, stabbing him several times, before taking off. A video camera records Hugo giving chase but only for a few feet, when he collapses on the sidewalk, face down. Individuals pass by him, with no movement towards him. Finally, one guy actually stops and rolls him over, seeing his wounds. It's not clear who called the police, but for one hour Hugo lay on the sidewalk dying. He is going back to Guatemala to his family in a box.

When Ju-Ju reported this story on Good Morning America, she ended with a line and flip delivery that led me to turn off the TV: "A Good Samaritan Who Needed a Good Samaritan." Clever line but no feeling evident in it.

I'd like to think that if I had passed this man on the street that I would have done something. I'd like to believe that about myself, especially if he's face down. I don't think I would have gone over and touched him, out of fear (of germs, of his reaction, of what I'd find). I have certainly approached strangers, adults and children, who seem highly distressed, to see if they need help. But there is this veil, sometimes opaque and other times sheer, that hangs between homeless people and most of us with homes to go to (even if in foreclosure). When the homeless are sprawled on the ground and if we look at their faces, we assume sleep or passed out. But face down on the sidewalk, I believe I could not have done nothing. I believe I would have called the police to report a man face down, perhaps in medical distress. That's all I can do, believe. I wasn't there and so I do not know what I would do. The man who extended himself to at least turn Hugo over may in fact have been the one who called the police.

Hugo, a Central American immigrant, did not have a home, but he had a generous spirit, a humanity of grace. To those who want to scapegoat and traumatize immigrants of color, we can ask, where is your humanity? Does Hugo's humanity reach yours? To those of us who believe we would have done something, we can ask ourselves, how can we lift that veil a little higher?

I hope we get to hear from the woman to whom he made his offering. But even if we don't, Hugo's sacrifice stands as a reflection to us all.

Photo courtesy of AP, F. Franklin

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