Luis arrives at the Lowe Street Bridge, or the “Little Nest” as he and his friends refer to it in Spanish, at 6:00am without food or water. At 7:30am a contractor’s truck stops and Luis gets in. He does not know where he will be taken today, but what he does know is that for today, at least, he will have work. Dropped off in your backyard with only lawn equipment, he eagerly goes to work without protective gear, gloves, food or access to a bathroom.
The contractor fails to warn him about the poison ivy that fills your yard, and does not provide him with a pair of gloves before he starts to work. Luis’ face and eyes swell within a few days to the point of closure. The contractor does not direct him to a health center for treatment; in fact, he dissuades Luis from seeking treatment. In addition, Luis does not want to miss work and his inability to speak English and read and complete health forms makes seeking healthcare all the more elusive. He goes untreated. No one has informed him about the Norwalk Community Health Center that serves the uninsured or how the medical system in the United States even works for that matter. And of course, there is the constant fear of being arrested for being “undocumented” as a consequence of seeking healthcare.
Luis lives with several other men in a rooming house in Norwalk. Although the living conditions are cramped and roach infested, it is at least a step up from the nights he spent under the bridge. Even when he is able to buy food, the quality of his diet is poor.
He often thinks about his friend Javier, who, like Luis, came to the United States in order to try to bring his family out of poverty in Ecuador - it was the only way – there were no other choices. At the end of each week, Javier sent more than half his pay back home to his wife and 2 children. Last year, Javier was killed while on a construction site when rubble fell from the wall of a house and partially buried him. The contractor who put him on the fateful job was charged with manslaughter.
Luis will work a 12-hour day today, just like he does six days a week, both in the tortuous cold and in the heat of hell. During the night, he wakes several times due to the fevers and body aches from the Lyme disease he contracted during his first summer in Connecticut. However, his main medical concern is the severe urinary and abdominal pain that he attributes to his treacherous escape out of Ecuador – without food or water - and exacerbated by work without access to a bathroom. Luis also suffers from depression and alcoholism stemming from the loneliness of not having seen his family in 5 years. In fact, life in the United States is much more difficult than he ever could have imagined. However, his culture is one of privacy and pride and seeking help for emotional issues is taboo.
Luis not only struggles with his health issues, but also with the problem of wage abuse. All too often, he does not receive fair wages, nor is he paid on time, nor financially assisted when he receives injuries on a job. A few years ago, he was injured while working on your property, resulting in the need to be hospitalized. With no health insurance nor a contractor able or willing to pay his hospital bill, you were ultimately obligated to cover his medical expenses through your homeowners insurance. Initially, you were stunned because you believed you had no obligation, as Luis was an “illegal alien” and therefore, in your mind, had no rights. You soon learned that basic human rights, whether they are regular bathroom breaks or assistance when injured on your property, are rights of all human beings.
A gentle soul, Luis warns your blond hair, blue-eyed daughter about a salamander he has found under some leaves by making a biting gesture with his hands, as he does not know the words for “be careful” or “it might bite ” in English. At 9, your daughter is still innocent enough not to judge Luis. Instead, she scoops up the Salamander and shows him that it is harmless. They exchange smiles – simple yet profound - one human being to another.
Based on a true stories and the research conducted by members of the Peace Project - Brien McMahon High School Center for Youth Leadership: “Through Their Eyes I see My Family." Health Care Needs of Day Laborers in Norwalk, Connecticut, June 2008.