The Big Loss: Things I Never Thought Would Happen in America

Statue of Liberty cartoon by Dan Rattiner
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

Here’s what I encountered late last Thursday afternoon as I drove down Montauk Highway through Bridgehampton from west to east. In front of the Bridgehampton Commons, there was a police car with flashing lights parked by the side of the highway behind a pickup truck filled with pool maintenance equipment. The driver appeared to be a Hispanic man. He was sitting there stone-faced, looking forward.

I passed the Citarella store, on my side of the road, which had a big sign out front reading HELP WANTED. JOIN THE CITARELLA TEAM. Further along, I passed Loaves & Fishes Cookshop and the Bridgehampton Inn, which also had a Help Wanted sign out front.

Still further along, by the post office, another police car with its lights flashing sat parked by the side of the road, this time behind a pickup truck with lawn-mowing equipment in the back. Again, I believe it was a Hispanic man behind the wheel.

This is the East End today.

It brought to mind a prizefight I watched on TV about a month ago. It was for a welterweight championship. One of the contestants I had seen before. His name was Ray Beltrán, who in his earlier days went by the name “El Perro.” He would come into the ring wearing a studded dog collar, which he would remove after being introduced.

To the best of my knowledge, he’d never won a championship, although I recall him fighting for one several times. Facing him was a dark-skinned man from Peru named Jonathan Maicelo, who I had never seen before. The commentators said he was unbeaten.

Both fighters were very skilled, and the judges might have a hard time scoring it, if it came to that. Maicelo was young and powerful. Beltrán, now in his mid-30s, was not what he was in his 20s. There was no studded collar.

On several occasions during certain rounds, the camera panned to the audience, where sat a Hispanic woman and her two young children, cheering on their man.

“That’s Beltrán’s wife,” one of the commentators said. It’s not unusual for the cameras to briefly note a fighter’s family during a fight. But what the commentators said next was:

“If Beltrán can win, he will be able to stay in America. It’s all on the table for him tonight.”

He explained. Beltrán had come to America without proper documentation. Being a prizefighter would not prevent his being picked up and sent back. But being a world champion prizefighter would. He would be in that category of undocumented people with special skills. Like Melania.

As the fight unfolded, I had several thoughts. One was that, in this sport, fighters sometimes get into the ring with few skills to be “opponents” for top fighters. This was not the case with the man from Peru. A champion had moved up into a higher weight class, leaving this belt available. Maicelo wanted this, too.

The fight ended, very close in my opinion, and the two men embraced. The judges would decide. When they did, tears rolled down Beltrán’s face as he raised his hand in victory. The man from Peru, on the other side of the referee, turned to face Beltrán and began to applaud the outcome with the rest of the crowd.

Here on the East End, good Hispanic men are in danger of being hauled out of the country. One is Luis Marin-Castro, a man from Ecuador brought to America at age 11, once eligible for DACA, and with a wife (who is a U.S. citizen) and three children. When he was picked up on April 9, he was reportedly just 72 hours away from getting a green card.

I do not blame Donald Trump for all this. He can’t help himself. He’s a man without empathy and this is his time. I blame Congress for not working out a compromise long ago. Half the country thinks that having tens of millions of immigrants here without proper papers is a problem. Half do not. Now families are being torn apart.

The Statue of Liberty should turn her back. Welcome your tired and your poor and hungry to the rest of the world as they leave.

So sad, as Trump would say.

(At press time we have learned that on May 9, Luis Marin-Castro, after a month in detention cells in three different states, was released on bond. He is now back on the East End.)

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