haven for who

by Aaron Jafferis

Once upon a time,
this city, New Haven, gave birth to… me.
Well actually, my momma did, and I’m her kid,
but she did it with New Haven.
I mean she did it with my dad,
but they did it in New Haven.
I have ID.
Since then, many people have done it in this city,
and others have gotten busy in other countries
and come into this city
where they discover, to put it simply:

New Haven has issues,
i.e. jobs are hard to come by
even for natives like me
but New Haven has started issuing ID
to anyone who lives here, whether they got
here legally, or not.
The “New Haven Resident Card”
is way benevolent when things are already hard,
but New Haven did this on purpose
to birth a new “haven” for undocumented immigrants.
We admit this – we think it’s good for business!

While other states stop and check people
who are obviously illegal,
and are questioning the Fourteenth Amendment
that turns U.S.-born kids of immigrants into citizens,
New Haven’s creating a nation unto itself
telling all the undocumented they kick outta everywhere else,
“Come here!” “We’ll live together” “¡ándale! Or whatever.” “Next!”
Now, I like to be welcoming too, but you gotta see the side effects.

On August 18th of this year,
the hottest place to be on New Haven’s Dixwell Ave
is a foot back from the soot-blackened, oil-splashed grill
in the way back of a li’l mom and pop restaurant,
where a lone man stands and the rest of us don’t want to be,
‘cause there ain’t no fan, let alone AC.
The cook’s back is wet, white shirt sweat through,
yet he’s not complaining ‘cause he came to New Haven
from some country with an even hotter kitchen
where minimum wage for a week was prob’ly a chicken.
Don’t know if he has papers – probably not.
But he’ll get ‘em for the four kids he’s probably got.
And he’ll get the rest of the day off,
‘cause his wife’s ‘bout to pop number five,
since it don’t matter how you arrive –
you got to survive, too.
In the midst of Dixwell’s depressing incessant recession,
this immigrant has
what many citizens born on this street don’t have:
a job. On Dixwell Ave.
While lines at homeless shelters snake round the block
and food kitchens’ kitchens make meals ‘round the clock,
and kids I grew up with are stuck between a hard place and West Rock,
our “welcome, illegals” policy seems bound to stop,
but it doesn’t. So dozens of jobs are stacked
on the sweat-wet backs of people like this cook
who looks innocent and all, but whose immigrant father-in-law
is in prison after going berserk
trying to blow up a foreman who wouldn’t fork over work,
and if we’d deported that guy and this one,
and every other undocumented trying to scam the system,
think how thick our pockets would be
if the only immigrants we admitted
were the grandfathers of people like me!

Like my Greek granddad who wanted to work so damn bad
he took a job as a cook in the back
of a soot-blackened mom n’ pop shop on Dixwell Ave,
and—oh shit. I look at the date on the paper on the lunch table
and it says August 18th, sure,
but it ain’t 2015, it’s 1934,
the midst of the biggest depressing depression,
millions of people not working,
anti-immigrant fever lurking behind each look
and that greasy immigrant cook is my Greek grandpa
hustling to keep his kids alive
while simultaneously helping Dixwell survive,
and his Slovak father-in-law who died in prison,
who I thought was someone else’s problem, isn’t.
He’s the immigrant dad of my grandma
who married that Greek cook
and carried their four kids and is
about to pop number five: my dad,
which is why I ain’t mad New Haven’s glad
to give ex-convicts and immigrants a shot,
welcome ‘em all, documented and not,
‘cause if it weren’t for the welcome mat laid out that year,
if it weren’t for that grease, that baby, that tear,
that sweat dripping down that wet immigrant back,
I would not be here.

  • “Creative riches explode from one small, claustrophobic space in ‘Stuck Elevator,’ the extraordinary musical that... pack[s] an epic’s worth of inspired music and inspirational content, performances and design... A vibrant opera-musical theater hybrid with a story both personally compelling and eye-opening.” – San Francisco Chronicle
  • About Aaron

    Aaron Jafferis is a hip hop poet and playwright. Read his bio, his CV, or contact him.