By Cynthia Suarez
The 16th of February. A day without immigrants. Charlotte. Chicago. Detroit. Los Angeles. Minneapolis. New York. Pittsburgh. All major cities that boycotted for the rights and opportunities of thousands of immigrants. Joined by countless citizens, immigrants from all walks of life unite in solidarity during this protest. Dozens of restaurants, grocery stores, and companies closed down their businesses as an act of unity and support to the striking immigrants and citizens. Others closed down in recognition to the unanimous protest participation from their staff. But what does all of this mean?
Allow me to shed some light on a topic of the utmost confusion to some lost individuals.
The majority of immigrants came to the United States of America to work in the “land of opportunity.” This country was once considered a place where people from all walks of life could become citizens and live out their dreams, or so they thought.
In December, 6 2005, the House of Representatives approved the “Sensenbrenner bill,” introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner. The bill proposes to stop illegal immigration by reforming immigration laws and enforcing additional border security; it includes a Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control. Among other specifics, this bill says it is a felony offense to be an undocumented immigrant, assist immigrants, and gives authorization to build an additional 700 mile wall along the Mexican border.
Why should a person have to be punished by death or imprisoned, for coming from another country to live a better life? Why should citizens be labeled criminals for helping these people find their way? Why should they build a wall along the Mexican border which targets Mexicans? It is simple. They should not at all. A wall is more than just a physical barrier; it is a symbol of structural racism, segregation, detention, and obstruction.
Therefore, millions of immigrants and citizens, from major cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles, protested against the Sensenbrenner bill in 2006. Organizers named this event “A Day without Immigrants,” as a stepping stone towards immigration liberties. In spite of this nationwide effort, protesters also challenged the risk of being fired from their jobs, unexcused from their schools, arrested by police officers, etc. They put their prerogatives to the side, and made a substantial statement on the major impact that immigrants have in the United States.
They protested as a political response to the unfair and partial immigration laws, President George W. Bush Jr., and all else who mandated these laws. These activists recognized that immigrants were the driving force of this country. They knew that they deserved an equal opportunity to live and work in the United States, without being deported and torn from their families. They protested for those who worked here and were paid nearly nothing, but still provided for their families. Since then, many reform acts have been vetoed, preventing citizenship to undocumented immigrants from countries not limited to Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Keep this in mind. This is why they fought and for what they are still fighting. I stand with them in solidarity, because they are fighting for their recognition, dignity, human, and immigration rights.
Donald Trump, the newly elected President of the United States (POTUS), does not welcome a world of unity, equality, or even love. Still, these people protest in efforts to end this ongoing political dogma of illegal immigration. Protesters demonstrated their backbones in this country through all forms of commerce. Students did not attend school; workers did not work; online and in-store purchases were not made. The impact was evident to say the least.
So why are these illegal immigrants still being denied their citizenship, if they consist of hardworking, commendable, and resilient individuals? How can ignominious acts of racism and oppression toward immigrants be applauded and thanked, if they accept jobs citizens don’t want, build homes citizens live in, make food which citizens eat, and profit off the work immigrants do?
Indeed, growing populations bring forth inevitable and unintended consequences. The United States is home to a diversity of nationalities and ethnicities. A myriad of people live here, so the probabilities of crime and terrorism are higher. Therefore, the blame should not be placed on a single minority. All Mexicans, or Hispanics in general, should not be marginalized and blamed for the damages of everyone. Similarly, all Indians or Muslims should not be labeled terrorists post 9/11. It is racist, unethical, and vile to categorize any minority as such, based on the actions of psychotic and inhumane individuals. Yet, racists who target these minorities are the same ones who deny or disregard white terrorism. How? Why? Explain the Charleston church shooting or even the Oklahoma City bombing.
For many years, broadcasters concentrated on giving illegal immigrants a bad name; Donald Trump just capitalized on it. When he was still a president-elect, he claimed illegal immigrants were all Mexican rapists and drug dealers. Yes, a president-elect openly made these false allegations. He fed the public lies that he could not support and some foolishly accepted them as facts. Trump encouraged these ignorant people to enact, vocalize, and justify their racist actions and behaviors. And what did he do when he became president? He gave racism a new color. Orange.
Systemic racism manifests itself in two ways: Institutionally and individually. Thanks to Donald Trump, institutional racism has become much less covert than it once was. Now, people with authority openly express their hatred towards minorities and favoritism towards Caucasians. Trump, someone who holds executive power over America, overtly discriminates against Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and other people of color. He recently created a travel ban executive order against seven countries, most of which are Muslim-oriented. Banning these countries is his way of saying, “Hey, it’s still okay to be racist. No harm no foul. Oh, racial profiling? Go ahead!”
His actions also promote the internalized racism in whites. They believe the white race is superior to others and utilize their white privilege as they see fit. What’s more, many white people are also internalized racists on an interpersonal level. There are white racists who overtly target Mexicans saying, “Go back to where you came from,” while being ignorant to the history of their own forefathers.
So? What now?
Today, we fight harder. It is personal and it has been for centuries. The citizens and immigrants or America will not surrender until they remedy this plight. I will not either. It is an endeavor I will see through for I must uplift my people, and speak out for the marginalized, the ridiculed, and the forsaken.
I am proud to be the child of two immigrants who came to America with nothing, but prospered. They created a foundation for my siblings and me to build upon and continue their legacy. My father is a man of action and very few words. From him, I learned that I must have agency over my future and not allow others to dim my spirit. My mother is the hardest worker I know. From her, I learned that my education is something no one can ever take away from me. She has taught me that a mother does not give up on her children, even when her world is caving in on her. She tells me that I am her champion. So, I must have the courage to fail and remain driven.
Because of them, I know that I am fortunate and that my life has meaning. I am blessed I do not have to wake up every morning and check the news for the latest deportation checkpoints. Every single day, I do not have to pray that my husband does not get detained or deported to his native country. I can live my life without being in a constant state of anxiety. I do not have to calculate my every move without error, in fear that I will be permanently taken from my family. I can make mistakes and not be thrown out of the country for them. I am not ostracized or accused of stealing what I have rightfully earned… this was my mother’s life before becoming naturalized.
I can show her empathy, but I will never be able to fully encompass those threatening years of internal and external struggles. I will, however, be forever in her debt for all she has given me and for the little she has asked in return. Like her, these immigrants do not ask for much, but make ample contributions for the prosperity of this country.