SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2008        Personal Memory Ethnographies


Land of the Free?

     Every summer when I was in high school I worked at Water World Safari, a small-scale water park in Phoenix.  I worked as a supervisor in the Foods Department for five seasons, so it is safe to say that I knew very well virtually everyone who worked at the park.  The park employees I remember the most were the cook staff in the café, in particular, Erika, Fernando, Ernesto, Maria, Marta, Eduardo and Monica.  Over the course of the seasons I worked at Water World, I got to know these individuals even though I did not supervise them.  All of them were born in Mexico and moved to the United States several years earlier.  They were some of the nicest people I met.  They were always in high spirits, conscientious about their jobs and truly enjoyed working; some of them had been at the park for almost ten years.  Most of them had children while living here and also had a second job during and after the summer season.

    My last season at Water World was the summer of 2006.  Since then, I’ve stopped by periodically to say “hi” to people I worked with.  In June 2008, I went to see Reggie, a manager at the park.  Reggie informed me that the entire cook staff had been arrested by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of being in the United States illegally.  I subsequently learned why these individuals were suddenly targeted by the Sheriff’s Office.  Apparently, a non-illegal immigrant employee who was fired for stealing food from the park, decided to get even with the park by calling the Sheriff’s Office and claiming Water World knowingly hired illegal immigrants.

    It was a shock for me to learn that these people I knew had been living in the United States illegally.  The Sheriff’s Office stated that its action was part of an illegal immigrant crime sweep.  I never really thought much of the illegal immigrant crime sweeps, as I thought the primary purpose of such sweeps was to target those individuals with current or past criminal records.  Now I understand that the Sheriff’s Office is attempting to apprehend all illegal immigrants whether they are law abiding or not.

This entire incident changed my view about crime sweeps.  In this particular case, we have hardworking, law abiding people trying to make a living and raising their families, doing nothing wrong, but because some disgruntled former employee wanted revenge, the lives they made in the United States were destroyed.  A few months later I read in the newspaper that all of the illegal immigrants mentioned above had been deported back to Mexico.

From this event I learned that many immigrants must worry about being persecuted because of their illegal status.  Also, I realized that there is a strong sense of inequality for immigrants as demonstrated by the former employee contacting the Sheriff’s Office.  Had these individuals not been illegal immigrants, I seriously doubt the former employee would have notified the authorities.  This entire event has changed some of my views and beliefs regarding illegal immigrants and I believe I am more knowledgeable because of it.

A Different Perspective from Erika

    This view is from Erika’s (the head cook and a participant) point of view regarding the events that transpired at Waterworld Safari on June 10, 2008.

    I remember going to work in the early morning hours of June 10th with my day starting as it typically did with me cleaning several areas of the park and preparing the café for opening.  After completing all café opening preparations and with only thirty minutes until the park officially opened, I remember seeing several deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office enter the café with my manager.  They approached me and other co-workers and told us that we were under arrest for being in the United States illegally.  My co-workers and I were placed under arrest in handcuffs and we were escorted to a Sheriff’s Office police van in view of numerous park patrons and other co-workers.  Needless to say, it was a humiliating experience.
We were brought to county jail where we were questioned about our resident status in the United States.  After the questioning was completed, we were taken to a jail cell to await further instructions and processing.  While in jail, I could not understand how after more than ten years of living illegally in the United States, I had been caught.  More importantly, I thought of my husband and son and how this experience would affect them.  I feared that my husband would be arrested too because he was also in the United States illegally.

Within approximately two months, my co-workers and I had to appear in court.  Some of us faced different charges, but all of us were in the United States illegally and we were subsequently found guilty and sentenced to deportation.  I was disappointed to learn that Waterworld Safari had provided information about my immigration status to law enforcement authorities in order to prevent paying fines and dealing with related legal issues.

So after ten years of loyal and dedicated service to my employer I was repaid by being deported from the United States, a country I had grown to love.  However, what hurts me the most is that one of my younger co-workers, who worked in another area of the park and was a United States citizen, was the person who had informed the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office about our illegal resident status.  This co-worker had been recently fired by the park and supposedly told Sheriff’s Department about our illegal status in order to get even with the park for being fired.
Despite the fact that I have always worked hard and have been a loyal employee, my future is uncertain.  Some of us are trying to negotiate a plea deal so we can stay in the United States, but as of now I do not know what is going to happen to me, my family or my former co-workers.

The Sensory Surrounding the Incident

    Panic, fear, apprehension, anger, smell of food, sight of law enforcement, crying, uncertainty, police communicating in Spanish, the smell of freshly cut grass, overcast skies, embarrassment, desire to get away, moisture in the air, sound of waves from the pool, voices.  These are what one would have experienced witnessing the arrest of good hard working people.

    From the list above the three most significant items are: the sight of the police, fear of those involved, and panic of those affected.  The sight of the officers who were involved in the arrest of my former friends/coworkers is important me because seeing them taking away my friends showed me how serious this incident was.  Seeing the officers meant to me that the cooks were in serious trouble and odds were they will be arrested.  For the cooks, I imagine that when they saw the officers coming towards them they knew it was all over for them and they are going to be deported. 

    The fear aspect is important because I could see the terror and fear in the eyes of the cooks as they were placed into restraints and led towards the police cars.  As they were being escorted to the awaiting patrol cars some of them shouted to friends and family members, another tried to run away because he feared being beaten by officers or being deported.  Some of the female cooks were crying and questioning what about their children.  From what I could tell they were generally scared of the uncertainty that lay ahead.

    After the cooks were arrested and taken away it was a time of panic for the park.  Many of the managers were scratching their heads, sweating and distraught over the events that had just taken place.  They were panicking about possible repercussions that may go against them in addition to wondering how they were going to run the park with key employees missing.  What I remember most was the stale smell in the air and the negative feelings everyone was holding in.  
Stuck with the Memories

    The incident involving my friends of many years at Water World has stuck with me because of how unfairly they were treated.  Most of the cooks had worked and lived in Arizona for more than ten years when no-one seemed to care that they were illegal immigrants.  They worked hard for what most would considered meager wage and little to no benefits.  Through this incident I got to see how times and attitudes have changed against immigration. 

    During the time of the cooks arrest many things were happening with the law and people’s attitudes about immigration.  During this time the sheriff’s department was conducting its controversial immigration crime sweeps.  During the sweeps the sheriff’s department is known to perform “raids” on areas and locations known to have high concentrations of illegal immigrants.  They arrested those who had outstanding warrants, criminal records and those who could not prove their legal/citizenship status.  This alone made many immigrants afraid that they would one day be arrested. 

    In addition, the employer sanctions law  was in full effect, which made it harder for businesses to hire immigrants.  This made many immigrants fear that their jobs were in jeopardy and some were even fired because employers did not want to risk losing their business license or paying the heavy fines that will be imposed for hiring illegal immigrants. 

    Most importantly during this time, the mood of Americans in terms of immigrants was changing.  Americans feared that illegal immigrants were taking too many jobs away from legal citizens, hence the hiring sanctions law.  Additionally, many Americans believed that illegal immigrants were responsible for a lot of the crimes committed in the United States and as a result many officials have started illegal immigrant crack downs and crime sweeps to appease the public.  I believe the reason that this event has stayed with me is because I believed in many of these anti-illegal immigration measures because I never thought that they would affect anyone I know.  However, after seeing how it destroyed the lives of good, hard working people it changed my opinions about the immigration issues.

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