Since my co-worker and I embarked upon our local echo of the national campaign for immigration reform back in February of 2013, all that’s been running through my head is: we immigrants (along with our allies), we’re going to win this.
There’s been too much suffering and destruction of all our immigrant communities by a cruel system kept running by fear, criminalization, exploitation and separation.
We are going to win this.
Yet as we keep advancing in our collective struggle towards a better future and a second country to call our own, the toxic contempt for immigrants voiced by political dinosaurs and their lemmings keeps getting worse. And, excuse me, I’m human, and as an immigrant myself, I cannot help but take it personal. My first response isn’t sadness, because that’s not what keeps me fighting. It’s indignation and shock, when I hear the other side spew utter fallacies and lies about immigrants, whom they’ve probably never even had a conversation with in their lives.
So, for what it’s worth, it’s time to set the record straight.
Since I began organizing in the very Caucasian state of Iowa, outside of my co-workers and Mike, my ears have been exposed to consistent falsehoods attempting to vilify immigrants, especially Latinos – my community.
The immigrant of the racist imagination is allegedly on welfare, food stamps and getting free healthcare. The racist imagination believes that all immigrants are criminals, out to get them, and that they are in this country as invaders. The racist imagination believes that immigrants are sweeping up all the jobs, that we have lower IQs (Heritage Foundation), that we’re not humans but dogs (right, Steve King?), that we are not workers, but terrorists. The racist imagination has tried so much to dehumanize us and defeat us. But they will never be able to define us, they don’t know us. Like I said before, we are rising with full strength. We will win against the ugliness of racism and ignorance.
Now, let me tell you the story of the immigrants that I know.
The immigrant that I know is a working mother, a domestic violence survivor, who finally broke the cycle of exploitation by temp agencies and through her own merit landed a good job at a financial institution. She gets up at the crack of dawn every morning –even Saturdays—takes her kids to school, works 10 hours every day and pays for everything –including her own house—with the money she makes at work.
The immigrant that I know is a business owner who began her venture from the basement of her home and whose small yet ambitious restaurant is a landmark of her community, opens 6 days every week, pays all kinds of taxes and creates economic activity in her city.
The immigrant that I know is a recent microbiology graduate, who despite good grades, was never eligible for scholarships or financial aid due to his F-1 student visa. A brilliant young man who, while studying full time worked his way through college, sacrificing nights and weekends working at a nursing home, caring for elderly white people who would have the nerve of being racist to the man who helped them live their last days with dignity.
The immigrants that I know are construction workers, who, whether in Iowa or South Dakota, brave inclement weather, bear abuse from exploitative employers and are subject to occupational hazards, as they build government homes that they’ll never qualify for or renovate land grant universities their kids may never be able to attend.
The immigrants that I know are underpaid dairy farm workers, who left their native homeland in hopes of achieving economic independence and escaping drug violence and crime. Young men that spend hours milking cows, enduring incredible stench and subzero temperatures in the winter, for laughable wages, just so all of us can have our milk, our cheese or our pretentious Greek yogurt for a few dollars. And who still, at the end of every backbreaking 12-hour day, are thankful to be in this country and smile when they are able to load up their beat-up car with a few Walmart grocery bags.
The immigrant that I know is a board certified surgeon, who after much economic sacrifice and studying, made it through the stringent American medical residence system even when all odds were stacked against him. A taxpayer who spent his resident years operating on kids victimized in the inner city by gun violence in Detroit, Michigan, and happily took the opportunities to serve medically underserved areas in the US, who without his presence, would have no hope of any kind of trauma healthcare.
These are just some of the immigrants that I know.
Each and every one of them is currently stuck in some part of the immigration system. Each and every one of them has never qualified (or even attempted) for any kind of federal benefits. Each and every one of them has paid into the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid system, knowing full well they will never see a dime back from it. Each and every one of them is working every day to support themselves and their families. Each and every one of them have made incredible sacrifices – leaving family and friends behind, just for that opportunity to have a better future.
Each and every one of them loves this country as much as their native land.
As for me, you know my story – at least 17 years in the making – navigating the system, paying taxes, working hard, integrating into the culture, speaking English and knowing about government, giving my heart and soul to living in this nation.
All of us in unison, only to be referred to as “aliens”, as dumb people with low IQ, as terrorists, as burdens and leeches of a system that we subsidize but never see any return on. I’m sick of it, because you don’t know us. Despite all your bigotry and hatred, this is our country too, and this time around, we are going to win.