They rang the bell after supper the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
I didn’t know who they were at first.
We’d heard the racket of the truck on the street the way we hear the trash and recycle trucks on early mornings – only this was not a scheduled day for either.
A box truck moved down the center of the street outside, hooded men hopping in and out the open back door with the diligence of an army of ants.
When I opened the door, a Latino man grinned at me and thrust a heavy plastic bag into my hands, saying, “complements of Mayor Stack.”
The bag contained a frozen turkey.
This being my first holiday season living in Union City, I was surprised.
My neighbors on either side and across the street were not, greeting the men and the truck the way kids might greet Santa Claus’ elves, taking the gift of turkey with a grin and a wave.
But there was fear in some of the faces, and doubt, a concern one of my neighbors later told me came as a result of what might happen after Donald Trump is sworn in as president in January.
For some undocumented immigrants, this may well be the last turkey they receive from Mayor Brian Stack’s Civic Association (the group distributed 22,000 this year throughout Union City and beyond. I gave mine back for them to give to someone who really needed it.)
The fear is legitimate since Trump has vowed to export undocumented immigrants, and if history is any guide, this could mean tearing apart families.
ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) is as feared in neighborhoods like mine as ICC or ISIS is in the wider world, with a ruthless reputation that means they sometimes drag fathers and mothers away from their kids, or force families with legal children to choose whether to drag children with them back to the country they are exported to – which has been done even under the auspices of the current Democratic president.
Many do not trust ICE. One Jersey City couple was assured that if the male of the couple came down to ICE offices in Newark to talk, nothing would happen. They immediately detained him, releasing him only after two state senators and one congressman intervened, and then it took a whole year of legal wrangling to get the matter adjudicated.
So for immigrants already distrustful, the new administration’s promise for enforcement only instills more fear.
Immigrants aren’t alone cringing over their Thanksgiving meal over the possible changes that will occur next year. Two transgendered women I know fear the repeal of Obamacare will strip them of the hormone and HIV treatments they just managed to afford.
While Trump claims to be an early advocate of LGBT rights and promised not to revoke rights such as gay marriage, Trump’s proposed cabinet appointments tell a different and terrifying tale. One candidate for U.S. Attorney General has a history of opposing civil rights legislation and voting rights. The man Trump picked for his chief strategist is a well-known advocate of the ultra right wing. The vice president has espoused “curing” gays as if he believes being LGBT is a disease.
This raises questions as to whether or not we are going back to the bad old days in which gays, immigrants, blacks or women have to worry about walking the streets unmolested.
Will some kid have to go collect a bleeding gay uncle from a bar he should not have gone into, the way I did when I was ten?
Would someone who is booked for not paying a jay walking ticket have to witness the abuse of a gay kid in a Hollywood police holding cell the way I did?
Will we have to worry about some military recruit being pummeled because – scared, lonely, and fearing he might die in Vietnam – he sought to sleep against some warm body in the military barrack – something I saw and still can’t get out of my head?
Will the same thugs who screamed “Heil Trump” this week get license to prowl the streets of America inflicting fear and pain on the most vulnerable in our society?
So, as grateful hands take free turkeys from the army of Stack’s volunteers, I wonder what each family will be thinking about over their Thanksgiving meal. Will the administration taking over in Washington, D.C. forget — or choose to forget — that this is among the most American of traditions, a holiday so engrained in the American spirit, a tradition started when native born Americans welcomed newly arriving immigrants from abroad with a meal?
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org