Mejia ordeal is vivid reminder of difficulties facing immigrants

From the Portland Tribune, April 27, 2001

By Joseph L. Correa Sr.

As a native of Peru, I am following the case of Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot very closely in order to learn more about justice, human rights and health care services to the Hispanic community.

Coming to the United States, the land of opportunities, is a great privilege. Learning to cope with the language, culture and preconceived ideas about our heritage is a challenge.

I was visualizing myself in Mejia’s position. No one could have a complete picture of the hurt, pain and anger Mejia suffered. I have been exposed to many people from the United States coming to Spanish-speaking countries. Residents go the extra mile to help, aid, nurture and protect the “Americans.”

In return, when we arrive in this country, we find people too busy, too cool and too unwilling to lend a hand. As a professional, I feel ashamed to say this, but the higher our socioeconomic position is, the more distant we place ourselves from being that “good neighbor.”

Last year’s statistics from the Department of Immigration and Naturalization show that Oregon receives more than 500 immigrants a month. Our Hispanic community is one of the fastest-growing populations.

It is very difficult to understand the challenges and roadblocks an immigrant faces. During a break at the hospital where I work, I was sharing with another immigrant the challenges our children face in our society. They have to conform to two cultures. A therapist overheard our conversation and delivered a strong statement: “If you don’t like the way we do things in our society, take your families back to your countries and die in poverty!”

If we choose to come to this wonderful land of freedom, it is because we have a dream. We come with a dream to help our families who still live in the country we left. Yet when we are in this great nation, the dream takes a different perspective. We dream of one day becoming an active, functional part of our community, to continue in the pursuit of excellence in all our endeavors.

Jose Mejia was one of these dreamers. He did not wear brand-name clothing. He was not looking for handouts. He was looking for a job along with his friends. He was poor but honest.

It took only the lack of two dimes and the receipt of two bullets to shatter his dreams. Several changes should occur as a result:

  • We must improve communication and be better prepared to serve the fast-growing Spanish-speaking community.
  • The Spanish-speaking community should be able to receive quality treatment in a safe environment. If a health care organization claims to serve Hispanics, it must have qualified bilingual personnel available to translate at all times. Tri-Met, the police and others should be better able to handle Spanish speakers.

Spanish countries made a motto popular around the world: “Si se puede!” Yes, it can be done! Jose Mejia’s dream will reach the Spanish-speaking generation of immigrants that will arrive tomorrow and forever. Jose Mejia is gone, but his dream will live.

Joseph L. Correa Sr., a native of Peru, is a health care consultant in Northwest Portland. He lived in Portland in the 1970s, then spent 19 years in Louisiana before returning to Portland three years ago.