In response to my Sarasota Herald-Tribune article published Wednesday, I received this powerful, gripping letter and obtained the writer’s permission to publish it without a name attached — Rod Thomson
Dear Mr. Thomson,
I hope you are doing well and staying healthy. As a New York-born daughter of Hispanic immigrants, I felt compelled to commend you for such a thoughtful opinion in yesterday’s online edition of the Herald-Tribune.
I do not understand the political back and forth, but what I can tell you is that I was terrified and horrified when I heard Mayor DeBlasio urge people to snitch on each other and made it so easy to report offenders. He was just so matter of fact about it.
You do not have to go to Orwellian fiction to find examples of neighbors becoming anonymous snitches and people disappearing. My parents are Argentinian, and everyone knows a cousin who was snatched up by the government in the name of public safety never to be heard of again in the ’70s. The Mothers of Plaza De Mayo, wearing white headscarves, still march each Thursday in central Buenos Aires with pictures of their sons and daughters who are known as “los desaparecidos” (the disappeared).
Many fled the country to the U.S., where this type of DeBlasio clarion call was once unthinkable. It sent chills down our country’s collective first-generation immigrant spine. My fellow American citizen friends have no idea what it means to live in countries, once strong democracies with constitutions modeled on the one our founders dreamed up, whose people have slowly ceded more liberties and control to the giant bureaucracies that now reign over them. The powerful have become so entrenched that free and fair elections are impossible, and the people have to resort to banging on pots as the only recourse when another outrageous mandate comes from executive action.
In Cuba, this citizen snitching is part of everyday life. Each “calle” has a street captain and residents are rewarded for snitching on anyone who has a banned book, good black market coffee (the one marked for export), or is secretly teaching their children English. As you mentioned, in just one generation this became the “new” normal. More recently, Venezuela, once a rich and powerful nation, devolved into a dystopia where friends turned on each other to survive. The stories of recently arrived, educated, middle-class Venezuelan parents are hard to sit through.
I once had my flight delayed and met a Honduran woman who told me of the years the local police captain spent raping her in her own home. The first few times he parked his patrol car and had his deputies wait outside while he raped her. Over the years she stopped fighting and would just be ready when he called, better than have to explain the bruises and broken bones to her family. She never told her children, but her parents knew. When her pre-teen daughter was threatened she paid coyotes to have her three kids smuggled to a brother who lives in Minnesota. She had finally obtained a visa to see them after 12 years, and we were both stuck at the airport learning about each other. Her daughter is now married and she was looking forward to meeting her new grandchild.
Just this past week, I was translating for a Spanish-speaking mother who had left her home country a few years ago, with her children, her sister and her nieces, with the pretext of a Disney trip to escape the threats made by a political opponent who won the city council election for which she had run. She was the CFO of her local hospital, a political appointment, and is gratefully cleaning American houses with her sister so that their children have a chance to live in freedom and never be owned by government officials. Up to this pandemic, she has never missed a rent, car, utility or phone payment and relied on no other income than their earnings – $900 per week. You think you have heard it all, but she revealed that in Colombia, anyone with a four-year college degree will eventually be asked to choose between compromising ethics to become part of the corrupt machine or joblessness and a life of crumbs rationed out by said machine. Many smart kids opt to just get a job and stay under the radar than go to college. Her very bright sister chose to become a hairdresser.
In Puerto Rico, the new governor moved early and quickly with the most widespread restrictions seen in the United States, by executive order, including a curfew for all residents to stay home after 9 pm, and ridiculous measures such as mandating which days of the week people can drive their cars depending on whether their license plates are odd or even numbers. It has caused such confusion and anger, especially among the elderly, as people who have lost all income now face being harassed by police with steep fines up to $5,000 and incarceration if they mess up and take the wrong car on the wrong day to get milk!
Of course, you can always slip the cop a $20, as that is “normal” in our countries. I remember a few years back I saw on news report about three Hispanic men who tried to give a police officer money when they got stopped on a traffic violation, the reporter stating how incredible it was that they tried to bribe an officer. I turned to my husband and said they were just doing what we all do in our countries. Saves the hassle of the court and you are helping the low-paid public servant and his family! It’s expected, by all sides. I’m not trying to justify it, just adding a little perspective to what has become “normal” in many of the countries we leave behind.
So yes, for all of us who have collective real-life memories and experiences, this call to snitch on our fellow Americans is petrifying. There is nowhere left on earth to flee and be free if the U.S. becomes the “democracies” from which we all escaped. Unfortunately, so many Americans are blind to what this means.
Thank you again, and I am sorry for the unwarranted vitriol that such an intellectual argument will surely elicit.