Tag Archives: Latino Heritage

Latino Political Power Starts at the Dinner Table

4 Aug

Some kids I knew watched sitcoms or MTV after dinner.

Not me.

My brother and I knew that once 6pm hit, no matter what we would be watching, we’d have to tune into the news. I could not quite understand why my father would make us watch or read about politics, especially before I reached my teenage years. If it was up to me, I would have been watching The Wayans Bros.

Part of the reason my parents put on the news had to do with their educational experience back in Ecuador. Like primary and secondary school students in many other Latin-American countries, they were required to take a civics class, meant to teach them about the workings of government and the role they could play toward progress and social betterment.

The message of those classes stuck with my parents, even if the Ecuadorian government didn’t always live up to classroom standards. My father felt that if we understood the political landscape, we would feel a sense of responsibility to do our part in making sure our country moves forward in a socially responsible manner.

However, current events aren’t the only things that shape my opinions and concerns. I also cared deeply about family and community. With politicians promoting anti-immigrant policies and xenophobia – opposed to actual reform – I feel an obligation to consider the greater Latino community, not just my own interests.

Like many children of Latino immigrants born in this country, I witnessed the social and economic struggles my parents went through on a daily basis. I was exposed to this reality at a young age, giving me a sense of familial responsibility, a cultural trait that I’ve seen many times over in other Latino and immigrant families, regardless of country of origin or economic status. Whether I was interpreting, filling out forms, or attending doctor’s appointments, I became aware of how government and its institutions work – or don’t work – to serve immigrant communities.

In this respect, our sense of advocacy transcends politics. To borrow a phrase from gender activists, I would say that within our Latino culture, the personal is political. Issues of immigration, healthcare, labor, and education aren’t just up for debate – they’re issues that affect our families directly.

We cannot solely blame government for ignoring Latinos. We should also hold ourselves accountable. While we are the largest ethnic minority in the United States and our voting population is 9.7 million, only 50 percent of eligible Latino voters actually vote! We live in a democratic country where we have a chance to make our voice heard at the polls, but the Latino voting population has not done its part. So how can we expect government to address our concerns when we don’t turn out for elections?

Once I turned 18, instead of voting before work, my father would wait for me in the evening and we would take a trip to the election polls as a family. Even now that I am married and living on Long Island, when election time comes around he will not forget to ask, “Ya votastes mija?” or “You already voted?”

I realize that it’s easier for me to remember to vote because I grew up with a civic-minded father. But as I think about the Latino voting population in the US, which continues to increase by about 500,000 every year, I hope that parents across the country are nagging their kids on election day, changing the channel to the news at 6pm, and teaching our next generation about the power of their vote.

(This post was first featured in Long Island Wins http://longislandwins.com/index.php/features/detail/latino_political_power_starts_at_the_dinner_table/)

No Hablo Spanish!?

15 Mar

Growing up in a Latino immigrant home, I learned the importance of Spanish and English in the United States. Spanish is my first language and English my second. My parents figured they’d take this approach as being a Latina-American, I would be exposed to English everywhere else. My physical features clearly depicts where I am from, sometimes so much people are taken back when words come out of my mouth.

My parents were my only link to Latin America and where I came from — and they made sure this link was a steel chain…a chain that has become a strong part of my identity today. History, Literature, Politics, Values were all part of a foundation strengthening my identity. My eyes embraced poetry by Cesar Davila Andrade & Pablo Neruda; Literature by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — particularly his book, “El General en su Laberinto/The General in his Labyrinth”, a story surrounding itself upon a historical and important figure in South America, Simon Bolivar. I would sit attentively as my dad told me of the Gran Colombia and what became of this once ideal South American Country and what it was present day. I would watch and read news on current events in Latin America…I lived in Latin America all the while living in the United States.

I spoke, learned, thought, read and wrote Spanish but as years passed and as I integrated myself in a predominantly English-Speaking country I rapidly moved away from my little Latin America. I was always my family’s interpreter. But as I made friends and attended school, English took over as my first language. Eventually Pop culture took its toll on my life and I fell into a world of hanging out, wanting sleepovers or become part of the Girl Scouts and thinking friends were family. Next thing you know, my parents were at a fervent struggle, with me in the middle and Anglo-America on the other side tugging.

However, there was one thing that kept me from losing my identity…one thing my parents never forgot to remind me by doing this one thing….and that is Speaking Spanish. A language in which constantly reminded me where I came from, enforcing all I was taught through that language. And so I ask myself one perplexing question….why are so many families…as I have witnessed…within our own community so reluctant to pass this on to their first generation Latino-American children?

Walking down the street of NYC or riding its trains and buses I sometimes listen to Latino immigrant parents speaking to their children in English and sometimes when their children attempt to speak Spanish they would correct them. I have also met young Latinos who would not speak a word of Spanish nor associate themselves with their culture. Instead they seemed very removed from this part of their identity.

Throughout my Graduate studies I found an answer to this question and much of it has to do with living in a country in which constantly promotes xenophobia. This country was established by immigrants and there has always been an influx of different ethnicities throughout our history. When Irish immigrants migrated to this country, similar animosity was expressed by alleged true Americans in the U.S. They were socio-economically set aside. At one point they co-habited positively with African Americans a group also set aside by American society. Seneca Village and Five Points were two historically recognized neighborhoods in which Irish and African Americans co-habited. However, the Irish had one benefit working to their advantage, their color. Soon, Americans were not able to bear the idea of a white group living with a group of color. They rapidly integrated themselves to American society all the while leaving their culture in an attempt to portray what an American was implied to be.

As many of us have watched documentaries or tuned in to the daily news we see, hear and read about “real Americans” and their anger towards Latino immigrants — “We’re in America, in this country we speak English”…”Why can’t they learn English?!”. Rejection, repugnance, disgust are all expressed through crimes and even policy making on behalf of state governments.

Many immigrant parents feel and see this animosity and thus naturally feel the need to protect their children from hate and anger simply because of where they come from. Many then feel they need to inculcate their children the American way in order to be accepted by society, not realizing they were aiding in burying an important part of their identity.

Seventy-Five Percent of the world does not speaking English. That means English is only a small part of humanity. Everything else is composed of different colors, languages, food, history, politics, religion, etc. And the United States should represent what this country truly is…a country of Immigrants. An example of how humanity can live in harmony regardless of differences.

And as Latinos, we should be a little stronger than that and strengthen our identities through language because it is nevertheless our only enduring door to our rich and beautiful culture that many of us still take pride in.

 

The Vicious Cycle of Anti-Immigrant Policies

10 Sep

“RESTRICT ALL IMMIGRATION PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR CHILDREN AGAINST RUINOUS LABOR AND BUSINESS COMPETITION THROUGH UNRESTRICTED IMMIGRATION”

Based on the language of above-mentioned quote, one can link it to today’s current issues in our country but if one would inquire where it came from, this was written in a newspaper article in the early twentieth century–now blown up as a large poster board in one of Ellis Island’s exhibits, describing the xenophobic sentiments and policies generated and promoted throughout that time.  Individuals from Irish, Italian, Polish and Scandinavian descent were cast aside and fell victims to violence, harassment and persecution simply because of their migratory status.

Towards the late nineteenth century, President Wilson’s Immigration Act of 1882 restricted the influx of immigrants, denying uneducated immigrants to this country and specifically denying Chinese immigrants the right to migrate to the U.S.  The Temporary Quota Act of 1921 during President Hoover’s administration monitored the amount of immigrants coming into this country from Europe.  The National Origins Act of 1924 opened doors for massive Irish migration unlike the massive restriction of Italian migration to this country (65,700 Irish immigrants compared to 5,000 Italian immigrants coming into the U.S. ‘Data based on Erickson-Coble’s study).

Prior information is only a minute explanation of this country’s vicious cycle of anti-immigrant sentiment which creates a paradox since this IS the only country established by immigrants. Today we are faced with the Arizona law SB1070. Rhode Island, Florida, Massachusetts and New Mexico are some of the states in this country who have begun proposing anti-immigrant policies within their states. These policies proposed by individuals which if we were to take it upon ourselves to research are more than likely, unless they are 100% Native American, descendants of immigrants.  However, the argument to a comment such as the one I just mentioned would be that their descendants arrived here under legal conditions but this too can be questioned.

This country was found through blood-shed and war, internally and externally.  The history that is neglected by much of academia from grades K-12 is the mass genocide of real natives by settlers who are now ancestors of many of these anti-immigrant politicians and individuals.  Under basic human law, the morality of how this country came to be founded, can be considered illegal thus deeming all of us, with the exception of Native Americans, illegals.  So how can the pot call the kettle black?

These anti-immigrant policies promote violence, xenophobia and racism within a society that is not fully educated within the field and importance of immigration.  We have slowly witnessed the increase of violence towards the Latino community.  Just as anti-immigrant policies are being promoted and increasing, so are hate crimes.  The murder of an Ecuadorian immigrant in Long Island, a group of Guatemalan immigrants in Brooklyn, Mexican immigrants in Staten Island are some of the cases we see on the 6pm or 11pm news.  What we do not see is a discrete and social impact these policies have amongst us.  This I can attest to…

As many New Yorkers can relate, we constantly witness or are part of confrontations during our travels.  And I myself have heard or seen a shift in some of these confrontations.  In a city full of diversity and modernity one cannot imagine racism would exist but it does.  If one is brown, the usual stereotype these days is that we are illegal or we do not speak Spanish.  Ignorance + Anti-Immigrant Policies= Hate…this formula has viciously transcended into our daily lives.  I myself have been witness to comments such as, “GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY, YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!!!”, “THIS IS AMERICA, LEARN TO SPEAK ENGLISH”, “SPIC!”  Words that are freely used by a individuals young/old and who consider themselves, “American”.  But I ask myself what is American?  Latinos are American, all of us by birth, for we come from only a different part of America.  And English is not a native language, for it is a language brought forth by European immigrants who in some shape or form forcefully established themselves in a country already inhabited by Native Americans all whom have been in some form been cast aside from asserting what can be considered an illegal immigrant.

Every country has every right to control their own borders, to that extent I can agree.  However, immigration reform policy is urgently needed.  Current policies only repeat the mistakes of administration’s pasts and ignite the same hate Western European immigrants had for Eastern European immigrants in the late nineteenth century or Protestant immigrants had for Catholic Immigrants in the early twentieth century. Today, Latinos are the second largest consumers in the USA and hold important roles within the labor market, illegal or legal.  Our community and influence is embedded within the market therefore in a highly globalized country we are essential to this country’s past, present and future.

Christopher Columbus Day?

11 Oct

As a child, Christopher Columbus Day was a day of celebration at school.  The week prior to this famed holiday, teachers would have us cut out ships or write reports on him.  The children’ section at the Library would have a wide selection of books on him.  Some with pictures, others even had pop-ups!  We would come into class and present our reports and show off the pictures we found or drew of him or his famous ships…the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.  It would be an exciting week at school, a week that would end with a star sticker on the board, next to our name or a big “Excellent” on our projects.  But at home, Christopher Columbus Day would have an antagonistic effect.

I remember my father and mother nodding their heads in discontent.  My mom would always chant, “Cristobal Colon murio por ladron!” (Christopher Columbus died because he was a thief!).  My dad would tell me how he could not fathom the idea of learning lies in school.  How could a learning establishment teach children to celebrate a man who helped sack and eliminate a goup of people…much like other so-called Conquistadors in Latin America.  But my innocence and undoubting reliance on my teachers led to an argument.  It wasn’t until I later learned to seek outside sources and found there was more to this man than a book with pictures and pop-ups.  More than a gullible mind could comprehend.

Once Christopher Columbus set foot on the island of Hispaniola in 1492 it opened a door of greed.  Enslavement seemed necessary and some form of directed labor & coercion would be essential to “civilize” a New World.  Natives were soon enslaved and forced into hard labor conditions all in intentions of finding gold.  Posterior to Columbus’ second voyage and ongoing search for gold the New World was terrorized, tortured, starved, enslaved, exploited and murdered.  These Old World immigrants were left destitute after promises of wealth only became an empty dream and blood in their hands was a heavy price to pay in history.

Now I ask myself, WHY IS THIS A HOLIDAY?  In 1934, Franklin Roosevelt established Christopher Columbus day as an official holiday.  This day celebrated Catholic immigrants’ contribution in America throughout history.  Columbus was conveniently used as a positive figure among immigrants in this country.  At a time where immigrants of non-British descent were looked down upon, this day celebrated their presence in this country and hoped this day would encourage a socio-political acceptance of this group of people.  But many were and are not aware the actual contribution this man made in history.

Today’s immigrants are Latinos. Many of whom come from Central & South America and the Caribbean. I, as many Latinos denounce this day.  A day of celebration for some is a day of remembrance of the blood that has been shed by our ancestors not only in Christopher Columbus’ hands but in other Conquistadors’ hands as well.  While many of us celebrate, “El Dia de la Raza”, I will keep asking myself why should it be Christopher Columbus Day?  Why can there not be another day celebrating immigrants and diversity in general??  That would be a bit more conceivable.