Myths and Facts
Conference examines Latino immigration
BY CAMILLA MORTENSEN
Immigration rights advocates, scholars and community leaders will gather May 22-23 for a conference at the UO Law School on “Gender, Families, and Latino Immigration in Oregon.”
The conference, sponsored by the Center for Study of Women in Society and other campus groups, will bring together people from Eugene to Mexico and was put together in consultation with Latino communities throughout the state. The conference is bilingual and will provide English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English interpreters. It will also focus on the issues of speakers of indigenous languages.
Panel topics will range from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues in immigrant communities to health care and labor.
The conference wraps up with a keynote speech on Friday evening on gender and family issues among immigrant populations in Oregon and California, featuring Patricia Zavella (University of California, Santa Cruz) and Eugene’s Guadalupe Quinn (CAUSA).
EW spoke with Odilia Romero of the Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales (Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations) about her upcoming talk at the conference and experiences with immigrants’ rights issues. Romero will be part of the panel on “Myths and Facts about Immigration: Gender, Youth and Family Perspectives” that kicks off the conference at 7 pm on Thursday.
How did you become involved in immigrant issues?
I got into this work because I am myself a migrant. I came to the U.S. when I was 11 from the state of Oaxaca, from the highlands, from the Zapotec community. It’s based from my personal experiences as an indigenous woman. When I first came in the early ’80s, there was no organization that would represent us or would be able to translate [for us]. So based on this family experience, I joined the Frente when I found out it existed about six years ago.
What sort of work does the Frente do?
We’re a human rights organization. We do some political work, help people to politically participate in the U.S. who have become U.S. citizens, but we also work on human rights violations back in their home states. We work on the causes of migration like NAFTA and other policies that force us to migrate to the United States. We also provide interpreting services in indigenous languages. We have translators in Zapoteco, Trique, Mixteco and Purepecha. We provide different services to indigenous communities throughout the state of California from prenatal care to leadership development and how to protect yourself from pesticides.
You will be speaking about myths and facts about immigration. Can you talk a little about what you will be discussing?
I’m going to share my experience of what I learned from my grandparents before I first came to the U.S. I was left home by my parents when they had migrated to the U.S. in the late ’70s, and every time I would ask for them, my grandparents would tell me, “Oh they went to go make a lot of money with the gringos,“— we used to say the gringos, the white people — “and they are going to send you a lot of money, and they are soon going to come back, you’re going to have a house.” [My grandma was] like, “They are going to pick you up and you’re going to go to school and live nice, like the gringos. You’re going to learn their language.”
But I don’t think my grandma had the notion that it was a completely different language, and there was no way we were going to communicate. And when I came, I didn’t come to a nice house, but I came to what’s called the Pico-Union area in Los Angeles, which is a mostly migrant community in terrible conditions. It’s another way of poverty, different from the one I had at home. It was in an apartment building where there were eight of us living [in an apartment]; there was no playground, no trees, no greenery. She never said it was going to be such a small apartment, or that no one would speak my language when I came here.
Any thoughts on the ways immigration issues differ in a Oregon versus a place like California that has a longer history dealing with the issue?
I don’t know because there’s a lot of white community support for legalization and immigrant rights just like there are a lot of Latinos against their own rights, and their brothers’ and sisters’ rights, so it’s hard to generalize the difference between Oregon and California because it varies.
What would you tell anyone who may not be able to attend the conference?
I just think they have to think about people as human beings, not to think too much about the border; think about displaced communities, migrants, but to think of them as human beings, and not to support policies that criminalize immigrant workers.
The conference will be held in the Knight Law Center, 1515 Agate St. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 346-5015. The event is free and open to the public. The program is available in English at csws.uoregon.edu/Immigration/program.htm or in Spanish at csws.uoregon.edu/Immigration/program_Spanish.htm