Fighting Poverty with Passion
I didn’t really know what to write about for this month’s blog. I really don’t have that many stories I would like to share. Unlike some of my fellow VISTAs, I can’t tell you about X, Y, or Z Foundation Award that I recently won or how a famous celebrity donated thousands of dollars because they liked what my organization was doing. In fact, I was just going to write an update of what’s going on at my organization, but instead I chose to write about something different. While I sat down to eat my lunch today, I decided to listen to the latest podcast from NPR’s Latino USA. One of the stories they covered was about a family torn apart by deportation, so I decided that for today’s blog I would talk about immigration.
They come over here to work for us; they escape decades of race wars, illiberal democracies, and gang-related violence only to end up behind the counter at a McDonald’s or in the fields picking X, Y, and Z; and yet there are some people in this country who beat the drum of xenophobia to drive the public and politicians into a frenzy over the issue of “illegal” immigration. The Salvadoran nanny in their home, the Honduran janitor at their office, and the Mexican cook at their favorite Latino—pick your own subcategory—restaurant reveal the hypocritical world they live in. If they were to open their eyes for just one second, they would see that their world depends on these immigrants. But, even then walls along the Mexican-United States border get erected and people are deported, separating father from daughter, mother from son. Growing up in Texas, I saw this firsthand plenty of times, but it the reality set in when President Bush’s administration set up the border wall in the mid-2000s. (Please refer again to the picture above to get an idea of how it looks from my neighborhood.) Whenever I go back and see the border wall, I want to bring it down to show the government that in South Texas we didn’t want this, nor do we tolerate it.
As y’all know, these two years I have worked with the Latino community here in New Orleans as a Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA at the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana. Every week I saw mothers come through our doors, asking how they could apply for social services. I won’t lie to you by saying that I wasn’t frustrated with them at times. I was. The fact that people would apply for social services and become so dependent on my organization to see them through almost the entire process angered me. I wasn’t mad that they were applying for those services, though. I’m a Socialist after all. What drove me crazy was that we live in a society that doesn’t make it any easier for these people to be self-sufficient. In other words, without an organization like the one I work at, a Honduran immigrant with three children would have to jump through hoops and hurdles to get assistance like SNAP. Yes, they’re unauthorized immigrants, but a majority of them have children who are citizens. However, that means little to the bureaucrats who process my organization’s members’ information. And to make matters worse, the Department of Children and Family Services, or at least its Louisianan branch, seems to lack a willingness to translate its document into Spanish. What good is a letter informing Mr. Garcia that his application has been accepted/denied if he can’t read in English? Where I’m from we call that “una pendejada.”
The duo Calle 13 has this one song titled “El hormiguero” (“The Anthill”) that has a line that I love to quote: “Ahora si el vaquero [el gringo] nos maltrata, puede ser que a las hormigas [los latinos] les salga lo de [Emiliano] Zapata.” And that’s the one thing that European Americans, especially those who champion the deportation of Latino immigrants, don’t realize, mostly because of self-imposed ignorance of the history of the people they bring into their homes, offices, fields, etc: a majority of these people have survived ethnic cleansings, brutal dictatorships, and extreme poverty. They also have a rich history of taking to the streets to demand social justice when they’ve had enough. Whether or not they succeed, it often doesn’t matter, because once an Emiliano Zapata, Fidel Castro, or Hugo Chávez appears on the scene, there’s no turning back, the revolution is on! Now, I’m not a gambler, but if you were to ask me, I would put my money on the fact that there’s going to come a day in the 2020s or 2030s when we’ll see a social movement in this country rise up, demanding the social justice our society is to inept to implement today. And at the head of this movement will be men and women who have had at least one of their parents deported.
Only time will tell what awaits us as a nation. We don’t have to go through a Mexican Revolution or a Cuban Revolution in this country. We can still do the right thing today and end mass deportations that only do more harm than good. However, if we collectively drag our feet than we’re going to eventually hit a wall. And lest we forget, there are over 600 million souls just south of the Rio Grande, or, to quote again “El hormiguero,” “hay más hormigas que vaqueros.”