In the 1980s, when I lived in San Francisco, I worked with a woman named Mary O’Sullivan. Mary was from Ireland, not Irish-American. She was also a lesbian. I enjoyed her company and she mine, so we quickly became friends away from work as well.
- I have a friend I’ll call K. She is the mother of several children, and she and her partner consider themselves to be the co-parents of these children. K was born in Mexico, but her mother brought her to the United States — illegally — when K was a small child.
Mary and I went out to a lesbian bar in the Mission District. After awhile, when we were both a bit bored, she asked if I’d like to go with her to meet some of her Irish friends at her other hangout bar around the corner. Of course, I said yes.
- K’s mother has since acquired a green card, and all of the children are citizens because they were born here. Her partner is also American by birth, although Latina by heritage. K doesn’t drive or have a state ID card because she is afraid of attracting the attention of any law enforcement or governmental agencies.
Hanging out in the Irish bar with Mary and her friends was fun. Her friends were stereotypically Irish, hard-drinking, story-telling, song-singing charmers. This wasn’t the last time I went to the bar both with and without Mary.
- K is as American as they come, except for that pesky thing about paperwork and being born a few miles too far south. She can’t even go to Mexico to visit her brother and her other relatives who live there, because she would have to re-enter the US illegally. She hears her mother’s stories about visiting, and K expresses no real desire to visit there anyway.
I learned that Mary and most of her friends were in the US illegally. They drew no particular attention from the Irish-American cops in San Francisco or their landlords or their employers. After all, we all found them to be charming.
- K works a few hours under the table to earn a few bucks as well as to get out of the house for a few hours a week, getting out of their home, which she often sees as being her jail. This job was offered to her, she didn’t seek it out. Without papers, and because of her fear of being separated from her children, her partner, and the place she considers home, she cannot look for other work even though she would like to. Other than that, her time outside of the home is going to church. Her partner works two and a half jobs to support the family.
I soon learned that not only was Mary’s bar a social place, but it was a hangout for IRA members. These charming, happy-go-lucky people — including Mary — were terrorists, wanted by the law in their home country, here in the United States raising money for the weapons that they were shipping back to Ireland to use to kill people.
- Things are bad and getting worse for K. She cannot even talk with the immigration department for fear of being deported, separated from her kids, her partner, her family, the life she has known for all of her 30 years. There is no end in sight.
After the political situation between Northern Ireland and England was resolved, Mary was able to return to her homeland. As a matter of fact, there had been a significant “brain drain,” and she and others received financial incentives to return to the place that they loved.