ON MARCH 2, 2017 Los Porteños, a group of Latino/a writers in Portland, Oregon presented Hechos Alternativas/Alternative Facts at Literary Arts. Los Porteños read original poetry and prose in response to the preponderance of “alternative facts” shaping the current state of affairs. In a climate rampant with fake news, unsubstantiated statements, and the denial of evidence, join us for an evening of resistance against the disappearance of truth.
Pat Rumer, writer, BECOME AN UNDOCU ANGEL! - Term from Mo Goldman, Tucson immigration attorney.
“I’m so excited about seeing my father after 18 years,” a vibrant woman with dark-hair tells me over a cup of coffee. We are sitting in the basement of a United Methodist church that has opened its doors to shelter women and men travelling with young children. It is a large room with mattresses on the floor and suitcases and clothing scattered around. Graciela is from El Salvador and is with her four year-old daughter, who shares a shy smile from her mother’s side. She has the same dark beautiful eyes as her mother.
“We had to leave El Salvador. The gangs demanded that I pay half of my rent to them. I couldn’t afford that. It wasn’t safe so I left my husband to travel north to reunite with my father in New England. My father has worked in a hotel for twenty years and he has a job for me. I am going to work hard for him and my daughter.”
What will Graciela find in cold New England? Like most immigrants she is prepared to work hard, enroll her daughter in school and study English. She is definitely motivated. Will she be safe? Each person before leaving the shelter receives information that advises them to show up for their court date and how to avoid deportation. ICE gives each parent and child six months to apply for asylum or to get an attorney in order to remain in the USA. But now the new ICE priority is to deport immigrants who’ve been in the United States for less than two years.
Another person in the shelter is Juan, a short, sturdy man with Mayan features. Juan is travelling with his five year old son who loves to play soccer. He and another boy kick a big ball in the empty basement space – laughing and shouting “Goal!” Juan continues, "There is no work in my rural northern town of Guatemala. I have to support my family - the most that I could earn was $5 a day. My mother is a legal permanent resident.” He tells me proudly, “my mother is a pastor of a Pentecostal church in the Southeast. She urged me to come north to join her. I need to work – what kind of job do you think that I can find because as soon as possible, we will bring the rest of our family."
Juan is determined to build a better life. He has hope that he can do that in the USA. I don’t tell him that most of the jobs will be low-paying but what do I know? He may find a way to save money and send for his family.
Casa Alitas is another shelter in a nondescript house. It is smaller with room for only four families, but it is more intimate and welcoming. I talk with Juana, a young indigenous woman from Guatemala.
Juana speaks quietly, "I am going to meet my sister in the Middle West. In my poor rural village I was living with my mother-in-law and two daughters. My husband is in the United States but he has found another woman.
She leans towards me, "I am nervous about the bus trip because we will have to change buses in Dallas, TX. I don't read or write but I know that my older daughter will help me. I look at two 7 and 8 year old daughters playing next to us with wide smiles. Confidently, she says “my daughters will learn quickly and have a better life in the USA. And I am getting on the bus!”
Later, she shows me how to make Guatemalan rice - I chop tomatoes, onions and garlic. Her face lights up and she laughs, "I love to cook and did all the cooking for my mother-in-law and children."
She like the other recent arrivals committed an illegal act by crossing the border, it is a felony. If she is deported and crosses again, she will serve time in a federal private detention center. I sense her strength and courage to have travelled from Guatemala to the United States alone with her two beautiful daughters. I am hopeful that her sister will support her but she may not qualify for political asylum as the federal government will say that she is an economic migrant. Will her six month humanitarian parole paper from ICE protect her from the increasing raids by ICE?
TO BE CONTINUED:
-JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS IS A PULITZER PRIZE JOURNALIST, IMMIGRATION RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND FILMMAKER - he is also undocumented! He spoke at the annual Earl Lectures sponsored by the ecumenical Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. The theme of the weekend was Border and Identity.
We are Here because you were there refers not only to the U.S. role in his land of origin, the Philippines, but could describe Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador or Iraq or Afghanistan - the list is long. Many people become refugees or immigrants fleeing their country because of the United States political and economic involvement in their countries. He asked the question: "What role does U.S. policy play politically or economically as to why people move?"
He urged us to follow Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, Do good and tell the terrible truth. Or become necessary troublemakers. Jose Antonio Vargas organization, define american, was begun to change the way we talk about immigration and immigrants - to use stories to shift the conversation. defineamerican.com/ The website has a great one pager - #FactsMatter: Immigration Explained - One fact: "Immigrants commit less crime than the native-born population." Check it out - the source is the U.S. Census and American Community Survey.
Locally in Portland, Oregon the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice sponsored a half day workshop on nonviolent strategies for social change. We role played being in a protest - first, I was a Trump supporter yelling at an anti-Trump supporter or immigrant rights activist; then I switched with my partner and was trying to educate the Trump supporter about immigrant rights. Always talking in a nonviolent manner.
Then we practiced how to be peace keepers at a rally or march. Nonviolent strategies were at the center of the civil rights movement. Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech delivered at Riverside Church in New York City in which he made the connections between the injustices of racism and capitalism,with his critique of militarism and the Vietnam war. Today many activists are making the connections - racism, anti-immigrant actions and the war on poor people with the proposed budget of the Trump administration that would cut Meals on Wheels as well as preschool programs, let alone environmental protections.
ACTIONS: Each of us need to call our elected representatives in the coming weeks to urge them not to fund the Wall, detention centers and detention force. Instead, we want to say loud and clear - "Our tax dollars should be spent alleviating poverty and investing in our future - not rounding up our community members. My community welcomes refugees and immigrants."
Call 866-961-4293* call this number three times to be connected to your two US Senators and Congressperson. (Sponsored by Interfaith Immigration Coalition)
For information on local May Day rallies, marches and protests, go to reformimmigrationforamerica.org/rise-up/ Get involved, make your voice heard, speak out and show up for our immigrant brothers and sisters! Be an angelic troublemaker!
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?