Illegal Aliens: Poachers in the Smokehouse

As an Appalachian hillbilly who left my mountain home at a young age due to economic reasons, I can’t help but feel a kinship with the illegal aliens. However, I broke no laws when I entered the new world of opportunity, as the wealth of America was part of my heritage, and I have always realized how lucky I was. I did rub shoulders with prejudice in the big city of Detroit but it was nothing compared to the racial prejudice of those days. In an office of seventeen to twenty girls only one was black and had a friend across the hall that she went to lunch with. One day, she and her friend, wanting to eat at a popular restaurant, asked a few of us to go sit with them until they were served so they wouldn’t be turned away, and we did.  This was in 1956.

Having grown up with Gone with the Wind, the girls in the office thought of me as a southern belle; to them I was interesting because I was different. They were young, sweet and innocent, and I wouldn’t have traded that time and place for the most elite finishing school.

Job opportunities in the mountains were almost non-existent, the few available jobs already taken. If I wanted to get ahead I had to migrate and fortunately I had a place to go. But what if I’d lived in Mexico and work for wages was scarce? Would it be acceptable for me to break the laws of the neighboring country by entering it illegally? Even though it was in order to find work? Or do I show complete disrespect for my neighbor’s rights by circumventing their laws? And who should suffer the consequences?

My grandfather was a justice of the peace and one of his jobs was busting up moonshine stills. The moonshiners felt no guilt for making hard liquor; the only reason they hid was to keep from getting arrested and having their stills busted up. The reason they had stills in the first place was to make a living (and naturally they sampled the brew). To the mountaineer the reasons for the law were that the licensed liquor companies didn’t want the competition and the government wanted the tax revenue. Neither of which the moonshiners felt to be as important as a bump on a log.

But the law was the law, and enforcing it was my grandfather’s job. According to my older brother (excerpted from my book) “Grandfather would methodically dismantle the still–“cut the still”–with an ax and carry the empty copper pot on his back to his home, where he stored them in a corner of his garden, like a modern day auto junk yard. For an owner to try to reclaim his still would, of course, be to ask for a term in jail. From those stills Grandfather made many a copper bowl for use in making apple butter, which he gave to various family members and friends.”

Now if Grandfather had the sentiments of the bleeding hearts of today, he would’ve given those copper bowls back to the truants and told Grandmother to call on their wives and give them her best recipe for apple butter.

We know, of course, that illegal immigration was also encouraged and abetted by employers who wanted cheap labor, and this compounded the problem. Each side felt justified by its own need, in breaking the law or helping to circumvent its enforcement. Just as the moonshiner felt his need was a valid excuse for breaking the law and was abetted in this by his customers. Fortunately, Grandfather and other law enforcers, including the famous revenuers, did their jobs and moonshiners did not take over the country, or, God forbid, nobody would ever have heard of Kentucky bourbon.

I was born an American. My ancestors fought and died for this country and that is my heritage. Monetary wealth was not passed down to me but something more precious was. Along with the privileges of being an American comes the responsibilities, to protect and defend that which has been entrusted to our care. Instead, we have mice nibbling on our aged cheese and poachers in the smokehouse. The time has come for the “justices of the peace” to enforce the laws of this country.

(For any who don’t know, the smokehouse was where we kept our slaughtered, smoked and cured meats, a favorite place to raid, by both sides, during the Civil War)

4 Responses

  1. Like many other problems, you’ve got to go after the social causes rather than punish the human choices if you want anything to change, otherwise it just becomes a cat & mouse legal game, and these people become little more than scapegoats to rally the party around.

  2. Some of illegal immigration’s social causes are the responsibility of foreign governments, particularly Mexico which aids and abets criminal violation of US law (8 U.S.C. 1325), even to the extent of publishing a pamphlet to show how to evade detection after entering the US. Mexico has extensive wealth in oil and minerals and the largest number of billionaires south of the US, who pay less in effective taxation than the US middle class. Before we are justly called on to shoulder the burden of Mexico’s poor, we have a right to demand that Mexico devote its own assets to the cause. Another reason for Mexico’s encouraging illegal immigration is the profit it makes off it – Mexico’s second largest source of foreign revenue (after oil) is private money transfers from the US.

  3. Alright, the social causes begin in Mexico, which is exporting its problems to America illegally, across the border. Why isn’t that being addressed by our government? The people at the bottom of the economic chain in both countries are being forced to make extremely limited choices in order to survive (although I still feel we each have individual responsibility for our choices, regardless). Doesn’t our leaders realize how allowing this situation to exist has eaten at the moral code of our country, that all these things work together to define who we are? To the Mexican government, I would say we are saps and they probably sneer at us behind our backs.

  4. Amanda,

    I enjoyed reading a bit about your grandfather’s law-enforcement experiences. Walking through the woods near our south-central Kentucky home last winter, I happened upon a place where dozens of gallon glass jugs were lying around half-sunk into the debris of the forest floor. In summer they wouldn’t be visible because of vegetation, but they were easy enough to see in winter. I suspect that the man who built the house where we live was moonshining during the 60s & 70s.

    The possibility of the smokehouse being robbed might be one reason why the smokehouse is built near the back door in many old farmsteads in this part of Kentucky.

    By the way, I agree with you about the illegal alien issue. Best wishes, and keep on blogging.

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