I had a strange dream last night. In my dream the lights were low … there, stage right, the Chicano devil, wearing a black fedora, pointed black shoes, pock-marked face, oversized styled black pants, bright red shirt, thin black moustache, full-on zoot suit. I hear him whispering in my ear, “Go ahead, stick ’em, it’s OK, go ahead, do it.” I abruptly awoke.
Where am I? Oh, 1944 Los Angeles, near the end of World War II, Mexicans fighting sailors, gabachos, each other, pochos, their parents, themselves and an arbitrarily dysfunctional immigration system … I’m hazy, I’m finding it difficult to separate the past from the present, dreams from reality … my alarm goes off.
So here it is, 2013. I am sitting in the office of our congressional representative, Peter DeFazio. Latino/Hispanic voters from across the country have been given credit for re-electing a president whose administration has deported more undocumented immigrants in the past four years than the past three administrations combined, and now we are on the cusp of comprehensive immigration reform. Go figure. Peter reports that Congress is a mess. Not much will be coming out of that body for the time being. Political maneuvering, grandstanding and general gridlock appear to be the order of the day. Meanwhile, a large group of marginalized, abused human beings are waiting in the wings.
On the surface of it, the issues that are being discussed are green cards, paths to citizenship, guest worker programs, back taxes, border security, e-verify, waiting in line, fines, criminal records, families and reforming a broken immigration system. At the state level, getting licenses back, the economy, labor and public safety are dominant issues.
The underlying issues are even more complex: culture, language, history, financial systems, corporations, worker rights, education, integration, exclusion, global migration, global economics, the environment, open borders, closed borders, language, global and local food systems, human rights, nutrition, religion, health, stereotypes, gender issues. And as if all of these weren’t enough, let’s add the overwhelming task of recognizing 11 million people.
At the local level, the responsibility for informing, educating, and connecting with our immigrant community will fall to community volunteers and nonprofit agencies like Downtown Languages, Centro LatinoAmericano, Amigos, Huerto de la Familia and the many others who have served this community for such a long time. Where are the resources for this monumental task going to come from?
We have a lot to talk about. Over the coming months media will be reporting on the progress, or not, of comprehensive immigration reform. The intent of the Qué Pasa collective is to include the voices of local Latino/Latina activists and community members in the conversation. Our hope is to create dialogue, which will inform and promote understanding. The Hispanic community is not monolithic. Religion, class, philosophy, gender, language, education, music, art, economics, color, age, geography and tradition all contribute to the broad spectrum of what it is to be Latino or Latina, which defies categorization. This diverse group carries historical memory based on a generational experience that is bound by language and culture, which in turn informs identity and unifies. Family and language are the protective factors that keep us sane.
I know the planet is in crisis, double-speaking politicians yammer away, radical, dogmatic and unforgiving philosophies abound, and yet I sense opportunity. The work of Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers that forced the nation to witness the reality of the lives of Mexican immigrants working in the fields; the years that have paid homage to the sacrifices of so many Latinos who risked their lives standing up for human rights and fighting for this country; CAUSA, PCUN, the countless small and large Latino-based organizations, and all of our allies, who have stayed committed to making this a better place for all; the Occupy Movement reminding us about the issues of distribution of wealth, fairness, social justice; they have all conspired to get us here. Comprehensive immigration reform: a promising future where a new wave of immigrants from Africa or the Middle East or Asia or wherever, will not have to suffer being shadows, invisible and unappreciated for generations. Instead they will be recognized for bringing the gifts and hope that this nation so desperately needs.
Is this reality? Am I dreaming? Where am I? Oh, the alarm just went off.