Carlos* wants to give his wife, Zahira*, a small gift. As a working poor family he’s scraped up enough money to purchase something that most of us take for granted. A bed.
Yes, this couple in their early 20s are moving into their first home and the only bedding they have is a mattress that lies on the floor. Many of us can remember those days. But can you remember when you purchased your first bed? You probably got in your automobile (or used the internet and credit cards; other luxuries not afforded to Carlos and his cohorts) and selected a brand new bed at a nice bedding store. Not Carlos. He wanted me to take him to a local salvage store that I had mentioned to him in the past as a great place to find such earthly treasures at a low cost. This request was yesterday, the first week of DriveFast.
What should I have done? Told him to wait until after Easter? Called a taxi and pay $10 for the round trip excursion of approximately 5 miles? How would we have gotten the bed back if we found one that suited him? Should we have walked the 5 miles with his 1 year old child in tow? (For those of you in LaGrange, we were heading to Rockville Salvage, located behind Hog Heaven, so this would have required walking on sidewalk-less West Point Road for about a mile with cars traveling in speeds reaching 50 mph and us with a toddler in tow.)
The DriveFast guidelines include the following:
- I will not ask anyone who is unlicensed or whose license has been suspended to drive me anywhere.
- I may ride with other drivers but do not intend for my fast to become a burden on anyone else.
Did I break the guidelines? What we decided was that Carlos would run the risk of being stopped in a police roadblock (a real risk, with over 180 roadblocks in LaGrange in 2008 – an average of one every other day) all to inquire about a simple gift for his wife – a bed. Yes, Carlos, an unlicenseable driver, with current tags and auto insurance, drove us the 5 miles roundtrip. His child was in a carseat. He was following every law he could, but he committed an act of civil disobedience because he wanted a bed that would lift he and Zahira from off the ground at night.
Lift them up. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to lift them up from the humiliation and oppression that follows them every minute of the day when they live in the United States without legal authorization. Sure, they could just “go back to Mexico” (fyi, they’re from Guatemala but that’s the common refrain held by most anti-immigrant folks who never take the time to go beyond the dehumanizing labels)… sure they could go back, but they’d still be knocked to the ground by a grinding poverty that is exacerbated by our inbalanced trade policies.
But one day, this young man, when he was 15 years old, decided to get up from off the floor and assert his right to a life of dignity. And he left his home and homeland for a place that greeted him with the double-edged sword of low-wage employment and loud, unwelcoming enmity. Now all he wanted was to lift himself and Zahira from off the ground once again; and he asked for my assistance.
So did I break the guidelines? I held my ground and did not drive. Technically, I didn’t ask Carlos to drive me somewhere; the trip was for him.
In our car-crazed culture, a driver’s license is not a privilege; it’s a necessity. To deny it to someone is a violation of a person’s inherent dignity.
* Names were changed to protect the truly innocent.