January 15, 2009: Witnessing On the T

Earlier this week, right after lunch, I was on a Boston subway train (aka “the T”) and, since it wasn’t rush hour, easily got a seat. Pinned to my down coat’s collar was my “I’m Pro-Immigrant—and I vote!” button. Since my friend—and tireless immigration rights activist—Mary Hopkins told me that she’d been verbally attacked for wearing that same button while on the T, I have been a little wary. But continue to wear it.

Across from me sat two young Hispanic men, neither dressed  warmly enough for the frigid weather, one so agitated his right leg shook violently from time to time. As the train rattled along, their attention was drawn to the older Asian woman seated to my left as she worked through the large bundle of bills on her lap, slowly and carefully opening each business-sized envelope, glancing at it, then moving on. Since she sat so close I snuck a peek: they were medical bills. A thick stack of them.

One of the young men and I made eye contact. “Whoa!” our eyebrows and slight tilting of heads towards the Asian woman seemed to say. “That’s a huge pile.” Did that young man wonder about her health, about her health care, about her ability to pay those bills? I sure did. Did he wonder if she revealed her private life to strangers on a Green Line train because she felt invisible? Or because she held down multiple jobs so the only time she had to do things like look at her mail was between jobs? I sure did.

Whatever was going with that woman and with those two thinly-clad young men, whatever the reason that man’s leg shook, one thing was clear: my travel companions’ lives were hard. Very hard. Harder than I can imagine, I imagine.

And I stress about wearing my button?


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1 Comment

  1. Thanks, Patricia! That button is from MIRA. AFSC also has a good one, which says “No human being is illegal” or “Ningun ser humano es illegal.” The verbal attack was easily turned aside — I thanked the young man politely for sharing his thoughts. It’s far outweighed, so far as I’m concerned, by the button’s positive reassurance to my fellow-riders that this white lady isn’t there to get on their case. (If you’re non-Latino & feel that it would do your soul good to be in a minority for a short while, I recommend the 111 bus out of Haymarket.)

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