Each morning, Maria Ramírez delivers newspapers to some 800 homes in the towns of Bedford and Concord, Massachusetts, in a route that takes her at least 10 hours. Last September, one of her clients on that route sent her an anonymous letter that changed her life.
"I hope that when our new President gets elected and America becomes great again, you won’t have this job anymore," it said. "Sadly you deserve nothing."
The letter arrived around Labor Day, when Ramírez left her customers a note and a self-addressed envelope with their newspapers, as a way to seek tips. "The salary is not very high so we live off tips," explains Ramírez, who is originally from Colombia.
A few days later, the anonymous letter arrived to her house in the mail.
"I felt really humiliated," she told Univision by phone. "It’s as if they knew that I don’t have papers because I’m Hispanic."
In spite of her shock, Ramírez decided to write up a follow-up note to her 800 clients. In this second missive, she attached a copy of the note and invited her customers to give suggestions about how she could improve her work. "I will try my best to do better," she wrote.
The response was overwhelming: Ramírez received more than 100 letters of support.
"In my opinion the letter you received is thinly disguised racism," said one. "I hope you can see the absurdity and ridiculousness of this person’s rant."
"One of the best things about the United States is that we are one country even though our ancestors came from different countries," said another. "You should feel proud of what you do."
Ramírez said the letters lifted her spirits after the emotional blow. "Maybe they felt sorry, but at least now I know that not everyone thinks like that person," she said.
Although the incident was painful and scary, racist or offensive comments are not a crime actionable through the law. "Legally we can't do anything," said Scott Smith, a Bedford police detective who worked with Ramírez after the incident. "But we can still discuss how that speech impacted her and try to find out who is responsible for this. We can try to bring people together." The police were not able to identify the letter's author.
Today María Ramírez still distributes the newspaper every day, just as she's done for the past 12 years. She works at night and sleeps during the day. "This job is very hard. Americans don’t like to do it," she said, adding that she can’t miss a day or she’ll lose her route. "I've worked while I'm sick."
Although she tries to think of the letters of support she received, Ramirez still fears meeting her unhappy customer one day. "You throw the newspaper and think: could this be the person?"
Here are some of the letters of support Ramírez received: