Today President Obama’s executive order on the Dream Act goes into effect. That means that undocumented immigrants who were between the ages of 15 and 30 as of June 15th, 2012 will be able to apply for deferred action. This does not mean citizenship nor amnesty. Instead, those who are eligible, i.e, minors brought here by their parents and raised here, will have the opportunity to obtain immigration benefits and not have removal proceedings brought against them for two years. After that, who knows? Much depends on who will be our next president and how Congress will act.
Why do I bring this up? Because of the controversy and fear generated over this executive order. Yes, immigration is a hot – and sensitive – issue. To me, it seems much of the current anti-immigrant bias I see and hear seems to be anti-Latino. That is not to say that everyone sees it this way, of course, nor that Muslims nor Indians don’t suffer from a similar bias lately. Nor that people of other ethnicities, faiths, and races, for that matter, haven’t experienced their share of hostilities. Surely, many have suffered. However, as a Latina, I can’t help but notice the anti-Latino nature of the current debate on immigration. Often it happens in front of me, without the speakers aware of the fact of my ancestry. I seem to “blend” in as “American.”
I think about Latinos in my area who maintain our lawns and carry away our empty plates at restaurants. We interact daily, although few, if any, live in my town. I hear Spanish, in its varied regional dialects, spoken as I go about my day. Many of the speakers I assume are immigrants – documented and not. Some look quite young. Many are hard workers in menial jobs. Perhaps they are invisible to some Americans, but at the same time they have become integral to our lives, doing the work most of us don’t want to do ourselves. How many of us wonder about the conditions in the hometowns of many immigrants, or of the journeys they made to get here? Or of their working conditions here in the States? Does this mean people should be allowed to come in illegally? No, not necessarily. But compassion and understanding can be part of the overall picture.
Aside from all that, I feel an affinity for Latino immigrants; protective, even. And yet, at the same time, I really have nothing in common with people from Central or South America; I don’t know Guatemalan or Columbian cultures any better than I know Native American culture. To complicate matters, my Spanish is woefully lacking in fluency, despite Spanish being the first language I learned. But when I hear anti-immigrant/anti-Latino rhetoric, my instinct is to feel defensive and united, somehow, with ALL Latinos simply because we are Latinos, no matter citizenship status or country of heritage, or even individual ethics and values. I then find myself thinking in terms of “us” and “them.”
That’s not good. This differentiation between “us” and “them” prevents mutual understanding and promotes division. In the worst cases, it dehumanizes groups of people. And we are witnesses to terrible acts dehumanization can lead to.
Which brings me to this point: as multi-faceted and complex as the immigration debate is, regardless of individual background, we’re all human, equally deserving of being treated humanely and with dignity. This is something we must bear in mind as our country wrangles over a controversial issue.
I don’t know how Dream Act Lite will pan out, and maybe it is political pandering to Latinos to have signed it into existence during an election year, but maybe – just maybe – it can be the first step in comprehensive immigration reform.
P.S. On a lighter note, Dearest Beloved has done it again on his Epitaph page. Go check.
As a Latina in Miami, my experience is quite different. Here being a Latina is the norm, and being a “gringa” is the minority. You must speak spanish to do almost anything. Frustrating and infuriating to some, home to me. I don’t think I could live somewhere where the only Latinos I saw are the “invisible” workers (not that Pound Ridge is that way), and where sidewalk coffee shops were not available. I think Dream Act Lite is a great first step because it addresses kids who have grown up here, and believe this is their country. Some have even gone to war for it. Political move or not, from where I stand, the move is definitely in the right direction.