What do we want? Immigration Reform! When do we want it? NOW!

Mr. López and I, (and your favorite third wheel, my Suegra), went to the immigration march in Washington D.C. yesterday. (Photo of me at left.  Hee hee.)

We dropped the kids off with my parents first, and I’m glad we did. I had enough difficulty looking out for myself,  and I didn’t need the kids saying, “I’m hot. I’m hungry. How long is this going to be?”… I had Suegra saying, “Puchica, esta caliente… Tengo hambre… ¿Cuánto tiempo más?”

Riding the METRO was insane. They were having delays since one of the tracks was not in use for maintenance or something. Also, we were packed in there like sardines, but I’m pleased to say, everyone was in good spirits for the most part, and we all remembered to wear our deodorant.

I did get stared at quite a bit, which was a bit unnerving. I don’t know where the other white people were, but most of the time, I was the only one in the general vicinity. People photographing the event kept taking pictures of me and my husband, as if we were some sort of shining example of racial harmony, (They should see how we fight at home!) – which was uncomfortable at best.

I’m proud that we went to support the cause and it was exciting. The actual event itself though, in all honesty, could have been organized a little better. (I say this without taking away from all the hard work people put into this, because, as is obvious from the turnout, it was a success. I just say this in the spirit of making things even better next time.)

My main “complaint” would be that they had way too many guests make use of the microphone, many of whom were not gifted public speakers. This caused the event to go on too long and I could tell much of the crowd was becoming restless, (we stayed from 2 pm to 5 pm, and they were still going when we left.) … Remember, this is 200,000+ people, (the largest number to assemble on the National Mall since President Obama’s inauguration), standing in the hot sun, many with young children, (or annoying suegras.)

Next time they would do best to condense the program and make sure everyone is on the same page. The message seemed to get somewhat lost some of the time. One speaker kept saying “health care reform” instead of “immigration reform.” She looked baffled as to why the crowd was not responding, and no one corrected her. A couple others  I felt almost crossed the line as far as disrespecting the President. (People, he’s on our side with this issue!) … And a few times speakers mentioned César Chávez as a source of inspiration. I’m shocked that so many Latino leaders have obviously not done their homework. César Chávez may have been a champion for the working class, but he was no amigo to the undocumented immigrants. His focus was his union, and anything that undermined those efforts, such as undocumented workers who would come in and work for less pay when he had his workers striking, was not something he tolerated. Chávez even went as far as to organize a group much like today’s “Minute men” to patrol the border, and he would also report undocumented immigrants to immigration.

History lessons aside, I’m excited about the momentum this has created. (And if you were in the crowd, you know that despite what was going on up on stage, the energy of the people was something tangible. The power is with the pueblo, as it should be!)

I hope you will please consider taking un momentico to sign your name and send a free fax in support of the Schumer-Graham bill for comprehensive immigration reform. Reforming immigration isn’t just necessary for bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so their families don’t live day-to-day in fear of being torn apart, but giving them a path to legalization means they can contribute to their communities, and our economy more fully, which benefits us all. Other issues that will be discussed as part of the bill are border security and modernizing our currently outdated immigration system so we don’t find ourselves sorting out this kind of mess again. A bipartisan bill is possible and this should be a concern of every person living in the United States, no matter your race, status, or political party affiliation.

Click here to be taken to the Reform Immigration for America site to send a free fax to elected leaders

The 2010 Census and the race question

I received my 2010 Census yesterday and decided to fill it out right away before it got lost in the basketful of junk mail.

I was stumped immediately on Question #1 regarding how many people live in the home. I had not intended to count Suegra… but the Census clearly states that you should count anyone under your roof on the date of April 1st, 2010, even if you don’t consider them a permanent family member.

So, even though we are a family of 4, I had to write a number 5 in that box. There it is…

Well, it turned out that this question was pan comido compared to the race questions.

Question #5 asks Hispanic origin. According to the Census, “Hispanic” and “Latino” are not considered a race – they are an ethnicity, since Latinos can be of different races, (take for instance, Sammy Sosa, George Lopez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and Enrique Iglesias. They are all Latino but they are all different racially – and that is just a very small taste of the variety found in Latin America.)

Yet, aren’t Anglos just as racially diverse? I am part Russian, Irish, Native American and a number of other things. My neighbor could be French and Danish, yet we are both thrown into the “White” category.

I’m always baffled as to why Latinos are singled out. Nevertheless, this was an easy enough question to answer on the Census. I marked “No” for myself and “Yes” for my husband, our children and Suegra, (writing in “Salvadoran” to specify in the provided boxes.)

Question #6 was the real problem. This one is asking about Race. If my husband, Suegra and children can’t identify as “Latino” (half “Latino” in my kids case), what are they?

The options are:

Black, African Am., or Negro
American Indian or Alaska Native (with space to fill in the tribe.)
Asian Indian
Native Hawaiian
Guamanian or Chamorro
Other Pacific Islander (such as Fijan or Tongan, etc. with a box to fill in which one)
Other Asian (Pakistani, Hmong, Thai, etc. with a box to fill in which one)
Some Other Race (and a box to fill in which one)

For myself I marked “White”, but I was baffled as to what to do for everyone else in the family. Racially they are “ladino” (mestizo), which in El Salvador means an Indigenous person mixed with Spanish blood who has adopted the Spanish language and culture, (mostly leaving behind the Indigenous language and culture.)

The problem is, my husband’s family doesn’t know where their Indigenous roots come from. Are they Pipil? Lenca? Aztec? Mayan? They have no idea. I’m sure this is the case with many people from Latin America. With the way the Spaniards arrived and began converting everyone to Catholicism, forcing them to speak Spanish and adopt European ways, (not to mention massacring the uncooperative among them) – it became a shameful, or even dangerous thing to be Indigenous. It is a similar history to the way the Native Americans were treated here in the United States. Even in modern day Latin America, if a person acts in a uncouth manner, they are called a stupid “Indio” as an insult. And so, one’s indigenous roots is not something most families would have wanted to keep records of. Perhaps they considered it something best forgotten, and so now generations later, it has been.

So here I am with this Census, wondering how I am supposed to fill it out. I decided to search the internet to see if anyone else was struggling with this problem and found this article. Apparently I am not the only one scratching my head.

“El Paso – Anthropologists and Latino residents of El Paso have called into question recent statements made by a social activist that advise Hispanics to register their race as “white” when it comes time to fill out the census form this month.

Speaking to the El Paso Times this past week, Jessie Acosta, chairman of the El Paso Complete Count Committee, estimated that 98 percent of the Hispanics living in El Paso are technically white. His comments have generated much controversy and confusion in the community.

Academics and citizens agree that census officials have committed a “racial inaccuracy” by not offering Hispanics the opportunity to register themselves as “mixed,” given that the vast majority of Latinos are of mixed descent, with Spanish and indigenous American ancestors.

Margarita Rendón, a Mexican woman living in El Paso who regards herself as trigueña [a lighter-skinned Latina], stated that there exists enormous confusion over the race sections on these types of questionnaires. She stated that she is neither black nor white, and for this reason she always marks the box labeled “Other” to answer these questions.

“I always thought that the gringos were the white ones,” she said, a bit confused.”

-Héctor Manuel Castro – El Diario de El Paso
March 10, 2010

I think it’s laughable that the Census wants Latinos to mark “White”. Since when do they get to be included in the exclusive club? I’ll mark my husband as “White” when he gets treated as “White”.

Besides, how many Black people have just as much “White” blood as the majority of “Latinos”, yet they are expected to select “Black”.

I wrestled with how to fill out this Census for over an hour, and then I finally decided I would just mark “White” AND “Other”, not just for my kids, but for my husband and Suegra, too. In the “Other” box, I wrote “Latino”, but also considered “Mestizo”, “Ladino”, “Indigenous”, and any number of Central American tribes. I wrote it in pencil just in case I change my mind. I’m wondering how other Latinos across the country are answering this question. Please leave a comment!

When did “Mexican” become an insult?

I wish I had something more fun to talk about but it looks like I’ll be blogging about racism for the second post in a row. I feel as if I’ve been bombarded by it on all fronts lately.

First our youngest son came home from school and asked, “Mommy, is there such a thing as a bad ‘N’ word?… Someone said it on the bus.” I couldn’t help the sharp intake of breath that I took. I tried to be calm, since some of the “bad” words he’s asked me about before turned out to be funny misunderstandings. Perhaps he hadn’t added yet another bad word to his vocabulary so soon.

“Well, what word do you think is a bad ‘N’ word?” I asked.
“I don’t think I should say it,” he said, reaching for a pencil and a piece of paper on the desk. “I’ll write it.”

And so he began… N-I-G … he paused. “I think it has two G’s,” he said, writing the second one. G-A-R. Well, he misspelled it by one letter, but the word scratched onto the piece of paper in his childish manuscript made me sick. I scribbled over it and erased it then threw it in the trash before answering him.

“Yes. That is a very bad word. That is worse than all the curse words put together.”

His eyes widened. “But…what does it mean?”
“It’s just a bad word. It’s a mean word to call someone. Never ever say it or write it again.”
“I won’t – but what does it mean,” he persisted.

I sighed before launching into a discussion about slavery, Martin Luther King, racism and the power of words to hurt others. I told him that if he ever hears anyone say that word again, no matter how much bigger or older they are, he should tell them to their face that they’re racist and ignorant.

He nodded his 8 year old head in understanding and promised he would.

A few days later, my oldest son came home and told me a girl had pushed past him in the hallway at school and said, “Get out of my way, Mexican!”

He doesn’t know her name, and he said, even if he did, he doesn’t want to report her. This would get him a reputation as a “snitch” and a “cry baby”.

I told him to correct her next time. I told him to say, “First of all, that’s an ignorant thing to say because I’m not even Mexican, I’m half Salvadoran. Second of all, why do you think it’s insulting to call me a Mexican?” I’m sure that such a measured response will be answered by a mouth breather like that girl with silence, as the tiny gears in her undersized brain, come screeching to a halt.

Maybe I shouldn’t make fun of the child though. She is probably just a product of her ignorant parents… yet if her parents were raised the same way, how can they know better? … Does being ignorant make someone blameless or do they have a responsibility to challenge the beliefs they were taught? What if they aren’t intellectually capable?

Racism directed at the children brings out the mother tiger in me, but the one time I dealt with blatant racism directed at myself, I laughed, and I’m still not entirely sure why. Walking through the shopping mall, holding hands with my husband, a large white male in motorcycle riding attire, passed by on my side. “Race traitor,” he whispered viciously.

I stopped in my tracks, my mouth fell open, as his words registered in my brain. Race… traitor… Me? As if I belong to him, to whites? As if I owed him some sort of loyalty?

“Did that guy say something to you?” my husband said.

“Yeah… he called me… a race traitor…” I said, and then I started laughing. My husband looked at me for a split second, quite sure I had lost my mind, but he decided he would worry about my mental state later as he took off in the other direction. He isn’t sensitive to racism specifically, but he will defend my honor to the death, (as any decent caballero should.)

“Where are you going?!”

“I’m going to beat the shit out of that guy! Let me go!”

I felt his muscles tense as I held tight to his arms. “No, no. It’s not worth it!”

Every time I loosened my grip, my husband started to take off again until I convinced him that he would end up with a police record and jail time, or worse, in the hospital, and we didn’t even have health insurance.

That happened last year but just today, my husband tells me the conversation turned to politics with an Anglo co-worker. The guy asked my husband who he voted for. This is something my husband has learned to keep to himself but for whatever reason, he answered truthfully.

“I voted for Obama,” he said.
The co-worker groaned. “Why’d you vote for him? You know his middle name is Hussein? That’s a Muslim terrorist name right there.”

My husband doesn’t get riled up by those sort of comments the way I do. He just ignored it and said calmly, “I voted for him because I felt he was the best person for the job.”

End of discussion. Hopefully that guy doesn’t have a white hood in his trunk.

All of this comes at an interesting time. My husband and I are probably going to the Immigration Reform March in Washington D.C. this next Sunday. Our oldest son wants to go, and although I think it would be a great experience for him, I don’t plan on taking him. I’m just nervous about how dangerous it could be. I’m not worried for myself, but as any mother knows, when your kids are with you, that changes everything. Suddenly the crowd looks that much bigger, the counter-protesters that much angrier, and you realize that it wouldn’t take much, (a single racial slur yelled out to the wrong person), for things to dissolve into total chaos.

I hope it will be peaceful, but I’m not betting my children’s safety on it. There are too many people out there with too much hate in them.

(Video contains explicit language.)

Now I wish I had a dime
for every single time
I’ve gotten stared down
For being in the wrong side of town.

And a rich man I’d be
if I had that kind of chips
lately I wanna smack the mouths
of these racists.

Podrás imaginarte desde afuera,
ser un Mexicano cruzando la frontera,
pensando en tu familia mientras que pasas,
dejando todo lo que conoces atrás.

Si tuvieras tú que esquivar las balas
de unos cuantos gringos rancheros
Las seguirás diciendo good for nothing wetback?
si tuvieras tú que empezar de cero.

Now why don’t you look down
to where your feet is planted
That U.S. soil that makes you take shit for granted
If not for Santa Anna, just to let you know
That where your feet are planted would be Mexico


Do you support immigration reform?

A few weeks ago I, along with tens of thousands of others across the nation, participated (as a listener), on a conference call with Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and other prominent Latino legislatures. The topic at hand was immigration reform.

It was pointed out that on the campaign trail, President Obama promised comprehensive immigration reform within his first year in office. Hermanos, we are weeks away from Christmas, it’s not going to happen on time, (does anything in government?), but we need to help make it happen as soon as possible. There is no time to waste as people are deported, families separated, lives broken.

Rep. Gutierrez promised that in the coming weeks, a campaign for immigration reform would be launched and he stressed how important our support would be. Now he has introduced a bill to Congress called the “CIR ASAP Act”. Please join me in contacting Congress and telling them you support this bill. It will take you only a minute. Just head over to Reform Immigration for America, fill out your name and address, and click “send”.

¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!