Who could have predicted the spectacular racist comment by Donald Trump about Mexico sending criminals and rapist to America would result in enthusiastic cheers from right-wing supporters while much of the country gasped in horror?
Even more astonishing Fox New blatantly validated his remark by trumpeting the murder of Kate Steinle’s in San Francisco by serial felon and illegal alien Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez. Fanning the flames, litigator Heather Hansen wrote on Fox News “Looking for justice? Move to Mexico. When it comes to looking to the U.S. courts for protection, you may have a better chance if you’re from south of the border.”
There’s no denying Lopez-Sanchez shouldn’t have been released from custody. However, any repeat miscreant – whether white, black, brown, legal, illegal, male, female, young or old – will likely commit another crime once released.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68% of the 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison. Over three-quarters had been arrested within five years. Prisoners who had previously committed violent, property or drug crimes were more likely than other released inmates to be imprisoned again for similar crimes.
The tragedy of Steinle’s death isn’t minimized by applying the actions of one man to millions of undocumented workers, labeling them as lowlifes, and rallying for their deportation. The hypocrisy of Trump’s hullabaloo is he most likely depends on illegal immigrants to tend his golf courses, build his Taj Mahals, and clean his opulent penthouse and luxury properties. The Trump Tower escalator, he famously descended the day he announced his candidacy, was probably buffed by an illegal alien an hour before.
Perceptions from Early Age
I’ve tried to soothe my ire over the ignorance and intolerance I heard coming from the maw beneath Trump’s comb-over, but it won’t be soothed. My opinion about Hispanics and illegal aliens was formed when I was young, before I became conscious of the differences between people.
My father had a factory on Santee Street in the heart of the Los Angles garment district. He was a subcontractor for the clothing manufacturer, Fred Rothchild of California. He produced high-end dresses and pantsuits. Polyester was the rage at the time, and I recall racks of lime green, powder blue, and pink (along with lots of black, brown, and off-white) dresses being wheeled out of his fourth-floor factory, loaded onto a freight elevator, and pushed through the streets to a wholesaler.
The building his factory occupied is now upscale condos. When I was a child, it was a dusty with lint from the garment factories that occupied nearly every floor. In the winter, it was cold. And in the summer, it was sweltering. There was the constant sound of sewing machines, whoosh of giant pressers (irons), and clicking from machines used to sew-on buttons or vacuum off loose threads. Mixed in with the industrial noises was conversations between women from Latin America, Czechoslovakia, Asia, and the United States.
I remember where they came from because they brought my family gifts, many of which I still have. A fabric doll, embroidered table cloth and napkins from Guatemala. Silver bracelet from Mexico. Cut-crystal ashtray from Czechoslovakia (originally given to my parents). From their kitchens and ethnic stores, they brought tamales, Chicklets, candies wrapped in rice paper, and pastries with sweet mung beans inside. They also sewed me a couple of outfits, including the dress to the right, worn when I was around 20 months old.
Within weeks of my birth, I was brought to my father’s factory. A rag bin became my crib. When I got older, I swung from metal clothing racks, tried on the employees’ work smocks (even though I was told to stay out of the dressing room), wandered among the sewing machines, helped my father sort and bundle dress pieces that had been cut out, but not yet sewn, and delighted in the racks of threads, boxes of buttons, and piles of multi-colored threads and lint that accumulated.
As I learned to talk, my vocabulary included interfacing, double-sticky Pellon, lining, bias tape, dart, gusset, piping, pleat, selvage, overlock, and hem.
Most of my father workers stayed with him for years because he was known for paying a fair wage (including overtime), and being a strict, but reasonable boss. Being mechanically inclined, he repaired the machines that broke and ensured they were always in good working order. He wasn’t opposed to ripping the seams of a garment that had been sewn incorrectly, and then stitching it back together.
I’m sure when my father secured a new line of dresses (after bidding against other subcontractors), he sewed the first dress, which his seamstresses used as reference for sewing others.
Nearly every Saturday, we spent at least part of the day at my father’s factory. My mother helped with sorting, did the bookkeeping and payroll. My brother was paid a quarter to sweep. I was responsible for cleaning the lunchroom, wiping down the tables, and putting the condiments in the center. To this day, I can vividly recall the vinegary smell of the pickled jalapeno peppers and vegetables, some of the Hispanic women used to eat with lunch.
Growing up in this diverse environment, I learned to be accepting and interested in other cultures. It never occurred to me that I should feel differently about a person who came from generations of Americans versus someone who crossed the border a year before.
I’m sure some of my father’s employees were undocumented worker. Whenever he heard immigration inspectors were in the building, he’d notify his employees. Some would quietly leave and return the next day.
Today, hiring illegal immigrants is frowned upon. But being a first generation American, whose parents came from Hungary before World War II, my father wasn’t one to say “My family got in. Now you get out.” He was sympathetic to the burning desire to harness the American Dream. Like his father — who came to America with barely more than the clothes on his back, and also started a garment factory in Los Angeles — he recognized a good-paying job enables a person to provide for themselves and their family, and also give-back to society.
Turning the Tables
While my father’s immediate family was able to relocate to America, others fled to Mexico and Argentina. I was told the ones in Argentina had visited when I was a baby, carrying expensive jewelry, which they could pawn should the economy collapse or they needed to “buy” their way to another country.
I remember the two people who visited from Mexico, Desiderio (David) and his son Esteban (Steve) Kovesy. They brought my brother and me sombreros along with Mexican clothing, a black suit with piping for my brother, and a red, embroidered dress for me.
They owned a silver and jewelry store in Mexico City. Below is a picture of Desiderio Kovesy and possibly his wife or daughter Rosa Kovesy de Erdely.
After my father died when I was nine, my mother didn’t retain ties with the part of my father’s family in Argentina and Mexico. All I have are a few photos, and a business card with Desiderio’s address. I wish I knew more about them, and how they’re related to my father.
Until effluence of hate spew from Donald Trump, I hadn’t given much thought to my “connections” to Latin America. I’m proud my father and grandfather opened businesses*, which hired people based on their skills, and paid decent wages so they could support themselves and their families. And I’m grateful that my father’s relatives found safe haven following World War II. They too found opportunities in their new countries, opening businesses, paying taxes, and providing employments for others.
*According to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, in the United States, “immigrants make up 28 percent of Main Street business owners, a level well beyond their share of the labor force or overall business ownership, which stand at 16 and 18 percent, respectively.”