This past weekend I participated in the third annual HomeWalk, an event to raise funds and awareness to end homelessness in Los Angeles, with thousands of other people. The walk raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year that are distributed to organizations working to house the homeless. The money is great, but potentially more important are the efforts through the walk to educate walkers, donors and the general public about the myths and realities of, and solutions to, homelessness. By putting a human face on this tragedy, organizers help people understand that “those people” are more like “us” than we tend to think.
How we approach an issue is most often shaped by personal experiences and relationships. This point was driven home for me again by a letter to the editor in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, in response to Gregory Rodriguez’s recent column belittling a Senator’s proposal to exclude the undocumented from the 2010 Census:
I am a lifelong Republican who voted for Richard Nixon in 1960, but have always been concerned about dehumanizing our immigrant families and workers in the U.S.
I got involved with the Day Workers Center in Laguna Beach originally to get these day laborers out of our neighborhoods. But I have come to know many of the workers. They are hardworking, believers in family values, honest and bent on improving their lives.
They do pay taxes. They do try to get their children educated. They do contribute to our local economy. More important, they teach our Anglo children the meaning of diversity and respect for difference.
Rodriguez is right in insisting that we recognize our productive noncitizen families and workers — not just because they enhance our population for congressional representation and federal spending allocations but because they belong to our local communities.
This guy started out wanting to get rid of day laborers, but in getting to know them he realized they just wanted the same things he did. Wouldn’t it be great if more people would take a chance to get to know “those people” they put down so much? Maybe they’d realize they’re really just a lot like “us.”