A Little Christmas Magic That Kept Spreading
Our first Mobile Home Park that we bought in September…20 years ago…(it was a rough n’ tumble Park that we totally remodeled…it even had a prostitute and resident heroin and meth drug dealers that we were busy evicting the first couple of months…My husband jokingly referred to it as a “full service” RV Park ), had 50 families living there…mainly people in the timber industry, seniors and folks on disability. 13 of those families were Hispanics …each with 2 parents/2 children and one RV with 4 young men. 52 Hispanics total…the men were all employed by a local large subcontractor that planted trees for the big timber companies and helped clear brush with a local helicopter logging company. It was brutal, back-breaking work…six days a week.
When these folks moved in, they all presented their drivers licenses, Social Security cards (it was illegal for me to even ask for them…but they showed me), and proof of employment. This subcontractor based out of Arcata arranged to pay all 13 families rent on the first of every month.
Everything was rolling along, when on December 22nd, the oldest of the Hispanic girls, Yurali, came up to my office. “Mrs. Sherry”, she said, “What are you cooking? What is that smell? (My RV Park manager was a woman and had just baked a cake). I am so very hungry! Mrs. Sherry, my people are starving!”
“What do you mean your people are starving?” I asked. “Show me”.
So we walked down to the end of the Park where all 13 RV’s were parked in a row. I saw doors open and Yurali called out to them. I saw all these sad faces. With Yurali translating for me the heartbreaking story came out. All 52 of our Hispanic folks were undocumented. They had been laid off by this Arcata company and were too scared to file for unemployment for fear of being deported. I was seething as I examined their pay stubs…all had been working tons of overtime for straight time at $10 per hour and income taxes were withheld on each of their checks.
After I examined each RV and their refrigerators…they had a sum total of two sacks of potatoes, two packages of cheap hot dogs, and a couple of sweet potatoes left. They would not go back to work until January 15th and not get paid again until February 1st.
I marched back up to my little RV Park connex building office and called the Arcata subcontractor (who is now out of business). The owners were vacationing in Hawaii. I soon received a call back from the owners…apparently their secretary conveyed my heated message to them about their employees starving to death. The owners yelled at me…’You will get your rent…just mind your own F***ing business!’
I called my husband. He was working out of town on an industrial construction job. “Just do what you gotta do” he said. “Make me proud!”.
I called my Mom and Dad and they immediately agreed to help. So on December 23rd, my Mom and I went to K Mart and bought each of the Hispanic kids Three Christmas presents, got each family three bags of groceries and a Winco gift certificate. That evening we wrapped the kids Christmas presents.
My sweet Dad said he had a surprise for me. So the next day, December 24th, my Mom and I delivered the Christmas presents, and the groceries to the Hispanic families. My Dad followed us down there wearing a Santa hat and in the back of his red pickup, he had bought a small Christmas tree, and brought decorations and lights for the tree.
The families were expecting us and we were greeted with hugs and tears all around. My Dad set up the tree, decorated it, and we plugged in the lights. One little Hispanic boy, pulled at my coat, “Mrs. Sherry” he said, “Would it be OK if we celebrated baby Jesus’s birthday, today….a day early on the 24th?” “Yes” I nodded holding back from totally sobbing.
My Dad looked at me and I’ll never forget his words: “You know Sherry, these people aren’t that much different from my family. Your Grandparents came here from the Azores with nothing. They were hard working people, too. These Hispanic folks are Catholics and you can see family is everything to them.”
We hired a guy named Santiago to be an advocate for our Hispanic families. Santiago managed to get the documentation for us to come once a week with our truck and landscape trailer and get a load of food for our Hispanic tenants during the month of January. (In exchange our RV Park gave a 10 percent tithe offering to the food bank).
Later that following May, I was able to write a grant for our RV Park which included getting a teacher to teach English as 2nd language classes, so the Hispanic wives could learn enough English to all get jobs. (So they were much better off next winter). Santiago also connected the families to a local attorney to start the long tedious process of applying for citizenship.
These Hispanic tenants were the best tenants we every had and they constantly had our backs in any situation.
We later sold that Park and moved on at the same time my folks were fatally killed in an auto accident just a mile from their Ferndale dairy.
Fast forward 18 years later…two years ago last May…and my husband and I were on our way home from Utah. We stopped in Sparks, Nevada on the way home and were walking around a shopping center there for a quick dinner in their food court.
“Mrs. Sherry! Mrs. Sherry! It’s me Yurali!”
There was the young Hispanic woman from our first RV Park. We hugged and she had a good looking young man with her. “Mrs. Sherry we just got married! My husband is a Marine! I got my papers…I am finally a citizen and I just graduated from college. Can I please use you for a reference?”
“Yes, of course!” I said through tears of joy. We’ve both come full circle!
Merry Christmas to all!