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The City

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immigrant experience


I looked at the mango tree you planted and thought of you

Bricks photo

Bricks - Ladrillos

It's early morning, and day laborers gather on a street corner as the businesses around them open for the day. They clamor for the attention of the cars that slow down in search of strong backs for hire. One young man, José, reads a letter from his native Honduras: "I looked at the mango tree you planted and thought of you." It is a far cry from the concrete and steel of the city streets.

As an organizer circulates leaflets about an upcoming meeting regarding the police and shopkeepers who are trying to get the laborers off the street, the men literally chase down their next job, running after drivers calling "pick me, pick me."

A contractor stops and opens the back of his truck, choosing men interested in his promise of $50 a day. He hesitates before allowing a man with his young son on the truck, but the boy refuses to stay behind. Once his selection has been made, the contractor closes the truck, and the laborers - literally in the dark - are shuttled to an unknown work site.

When they arrive at a vast lot outside the city where a building lies in partial ruin, the contractor tells the men that they are to gather bricks, chip away the mortar, and stack them for recycling - all this effort for merely 15 cents per brick. Some of the men get angry because they were lured to the job by a false promise of higher wages, but the driver explains that if they work hard, they can make twice as much.

men at work site

At the lunch break, José continues reading his letter, which tells of his cousin coming to New York to find work. "We'll soon be a village of women and children," the letter explains. Meanwhile, at the job site, one man accuses another of stealing his bricks, and a fight breaks out. The sound of crashing rock interrupts the scuffle, and the men run to find that a wall has collapsed on José. They frantically dig him out from under the rubble, and finding him still breathing, they send someone to get help. There is neither a phone nor a vehicle - the boss has left them unsupervised until the end of the day. They carry José from the rock pile and lay him on the ground. As they argue about working together and complain that the boss treats them like animals, the man who went for help returns and says that he couldn't get an ambulance because he doesn't know where they are. The workers remain stranded, some frozen with hopelessness, others smashing bricks in anger. As José draws his last breath, they cover his face with a handkerchief and the older man's son places the letter underneath José's lifeless hands, a final link to his homeland.

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