In the midst of a joyous celebration at honoring our 2008 Landscaper of the Year finalists, there was tragic news from home: A 20-year old girl in our town was killed in a head-on collision with an alleged drunk driver. Subsequent news reports have identified the driver as a Hispanic man with no license who is in the country illegally.
On the other end of the emotional scale was an uplifting story recounted by Landscaper of the Year finalist Bruce White of the Harvest Tree Company in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Bruce and his brother Wayne, have a Hispanic employee who has been with their company since its founding more than 20 years ago. Over that time, the two brothers have helped their employee and friend gain his citizenship, send four children to college, and eventually become a part owner of their landscaping company.
These two stories are a stark reminder of how polarizing the immigrant worker situation is in our country. In an election year, political candidates and campaigns tend to present people like the alleged drunk driver in my hometown and Bruce White’s friend and co-worker as poster children displaying the best – or worst – characteristics a particular group wishes to emphasize.
Yet Hispanics are just like any other ethnic group in this country. The vast majority are the hardworking, decent people just looking for a chance to make a better life.
You may soon find yourself defending your company’s hiring practices to customers, the general public or even local governments as a result. Perhaps the best response is to emphasize the positive traits that make Hispanic workers so crucial to your success: loyalty, family, professionalism, punctuality and responsibility, for example. Putting a human face on group of people that is both anonymous and mysterious to many in this country is a good start to finding practical, reality-based solutions to our country’s current immigration mess.