By Linda Rogers
I needed to go to the grocery store, I had put it off all week and tonight was the night. I went to Whole Foods feeling slightly irritated and moody. I had been at odds with my thoughts about my life all day.
I loaded my cart with a few things and headed to the checkout lanes. They were all empty, the store was quiet this time of night.
My checkers name tag said Karen. She politely asked me how I was doing? My response was okay, how are you this evening? She said I am tired. I work two jobs. I clean houses all day and then come here and work until 10:30. I work seven days a week to provide for my two kids, I’m a single Mom.
I told her I understand, I was a single Mom and had to work very hard and long hours to provide for my family too.
I asked her where are you from? She said south of Tijuana, Mexico. I came here when I was eleven years old. I walked all the way here by myself.
I was astonished. I repeated in disbelief, you walked here when you were eleven years old from Mexico by yourself? She lowered her eyes and said yes.
I asked, do you have family here or did you know anyone here? She said no.
When I got here, I went to the church on the Square and the Nuns took me in. They found a family for me to live with which was very nice. I couldn’t speak any English and so at first it was hard but I have been here for a very long time now. “I am legal” she quickly said, and in two years I will have completed all of my requirements to become a citizen. This will be a great relief. I have my green card for now.
I asked her when she left Mexico if she was afraid traveling alone in the desert? She said yes, I got afraid when I heard the coyotes at night. But I made it! I think because I was so little, I could travel unnoticed. I look back now and wonder how did I do it? I could see she went there far away in her eyes, remembering something from long ago.
She said, I have been very stressed with the news of Our new government and how it plans to treat us. So stressed, I developed Bells Palsy in the right side of my face. She turned her face so that I could see the part of her face that was now paralyzed. “It has been tough. I work hard, I pay taxes, I care for my children without government assistance but my life is uncertain now.”
I looked at this tired woman, her eyes bright, her voice soft, and just knew this was a kind and beautiful Soul. I watched as she packed my grocery bags with care and special attention. I could feel my own heart expanding with compassion as I was taking her story in.
I paid my bill and rolled my cart out into the bright pink sunset in the western New Mexico sky. Speechless and moved by this experience I felt emotional.
Without a doubt, I live a blessed life, one of ease compared to Karen and in this moment something in me awakened to a deep gratitude for the sweetness of this chance meeting. What a gift Karen is to our community.
Karen is a kindred Spirit and by having this brief conversation with this woman and her desire for a better life, her willingness to do whatever it takes to care for her children, and her contribution to this town I found myself touched by how similar we all are.
Santa Fe is a sanctuary city, we have welcomed immigrants and refugees since before the 1800’s. Wagon trains ended up at the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail during the trek west to California during the gold rush. It is culturally diverse with people from all over the world and welcoming. It is what makes us unique and whole. As in the words of our great Mayor, “You are welcome here.” This is our slogan we embrace.
As I drove home, groceries in tow I felt a connection to all people, to Karen and her story, and to all refugees and immigrants fleeing horrible circumstances that we in the comfort of our own lives cannot even imagine or choose not to.
This encounter awakened in me a deeper understanding of those who leave their lives behind for a better dream in America.
Karen’s story continues to haunt me and has helped me realize that we are all immigrants on some level.
I moved to Santa Fe when I retired wanting a better life just like Karen and the thread that connects us is one of which we are all in this together and we are all strangely more alike than not.