“Ay mijo, mira mis manos. Las tengo muy maltratadas.”
“Oh son, look at my hands. They are very mistreated.”
I glimpsed up at my mother from our kitchen table. She stands in front of our kitchen sink holding her hands in front of her, inspecting them as if they were the worst thing in the world.
“Mother, your hands are fine.”
No, they aren’t. They are mistreated — they are burned, they are scarred, they are beaten, and yes, they are mistreated. They are the product of almost two decades of hard labor. Being an undocumented immigrant, my mother was always downgraded to working jobs that required her to sacrifice her hands. She worked in maintenance, cooking, and several other jobs that took a toll on her hands.
My father’s hands are also mistreated. They are the hands of an undocumented immigrant who worked for almost two decades doing tire service. The dark grease under his fingernails and the deep cuts were testimony of the hard work he had to endure on a daily basis.
“Mijo, mis manos son feas.”
“Son, my hands are ugly.”
“No, your hands are beautiful.”
I saw beyond the superficial cuts and scars simply to find beauty in their hands. My mother’s hands: the hands of a woman that never gave up, the hands of a woman that survived on her own at a young age, the hands of a woman that raised three young boys to be gentlemen, the hands of a woman that would leave your mouth watering simply because her cooking was that good – her hands are beautiful. My father’s hands: the hands of a man that was able to put a roof over a family of five, the hands of a man that never backed down from working furiously to provide for his children, the hands of a man that regardless of the circumstances never abandoned his family, the hands of a man that always found a way to give to others — his hands are beautiful.
Yet, the scars that can’t be seen on the surface are the ones that have hurt my parents the most. These beautiful hands have deep scars from humiliation, from dehumanization, from racism, and from prejudice. My parents, two undocumented immigrants, have a lifetime to show in their hands. They are not deserving of being called “illegals” or of being told that “they don’t belong here.” They are not deserving of having jobs that exploit their labor for minimal pay. They are not deserving of paying taxes and not receiving any benefits. They are not deserving of living their lives in fear from being taken away from their family. They are not deserving of anything less than other citizens in this country because they have sacrificed everything, including their hands. So, before you downgrade them, take a look at your hands, because I am sure they are not half as beautiful as my parents’ hands. I am sure that they haven’t lived half the life that my parents’ hands have lived.
Be warned: if you decide not to respect those hands, then you will be confronted by me. I, the product of those beautiful hands, will not hold back. I will honor those hands because those hands raised me, fed me, educated me, and gave me everything I needed to be where I am today. Every day I am reminded of their sacrifice simply by looking at my perfect hands. I am reminded of this while I sit in a lecture at Stanford University, holding my pencil, ready to take notes. I am reminded of this every time I pick up a fork to take another bite of my food. Right now, as I type this, I am reminded of my parents’ sacrifice by seeing my perfect hands hover over my keyboard. My parents sacrificed their hands so I could have these perfect hands. While I know that my hands will never have half the beauty of my parents’ hands, I will never stop honoring them in every way possible. So, don’t you dare disrespect those hands. Don’t you dare.
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