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Join the Largest Social Movement of Our Decade
You are about to meet the largest social movement of our decade. All across the country young people are organizing. Immigrants and non-immigrants, we are taking to the streets to protest some of the most racist legislation to ever enter the halls of Congress. We are walking out of our schools, organizing the social justice community and rallying our statehouses. April 10 will be the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice, and it will be the biggest day of demonstrations around the nation.
We urge you to join local groups, participate in the actions on April 10 and speak your voice through the ballot box. What happens to this community is happening to all of us, especially young people of color. The immigrant rights movement is the quintessential movement of this decade. The House proposal to make 12 million immigrants into felons is a truly criminal idea.
I'm a Latina who grew up in a predominately white rural community in Texas. My father is a Mexican immigrant, and my mother is a Mexican who was born and raised in San Antonio. I'm a Mexican who was born in the United States to citizen parents. So, I'm one of the lucky ones, right?
As I watch my country debate immigration reform, I question just how lucky I am. What exactly would ripping families apart, destroying children's livelihoods and perpetuating a culture of fear and blatant racism for young people of color in the United States do?
I grew up hearing the word "wetback" being used all over my town of Kerrville, "I've got some wetbacks working on my ranch," or "He's a pretty good wetback." I also learned quickly that my lower middle-class status afforded me certain social rights. I could be told by my affluent white friends, "You're different Val, you're not like the other ones." Something about the way people took pride in telling me "you're not like the other ones," always stuck out as wrong in my head. Most of my parents' friends were Mexican families, and we were often in the hood visiting our closest family friends and having various celebrations together.
While my white friends went on skiing vacations, Disney World vacations, and Florida beach vacations, my family took the same vacation every year -- one big road trip through South Texas to H.E.B. grocery store in Laredo to fill the car up with as much food and other essentials -- sugar, cooking oil, toilet paper, paper towels -- as we could for my great-grandmother and extended Mexican family.
My great-grandmother, "Abuelita," had a personal favorite -- Cheetos Puffs, because she didn't have teeth anymore and could fizzle them down easily with some soda. We always remembered the Cheetos. After we bought groceries, we'd cross the Texas-Mexico border in Roma, and entered Miguel Aleman, Mexico. At that point I said good bye to air-conditioning, paved roads, a bathtub and sleeping on anything other than some blankets on a concrete floor.
After a week of broken Spanish conversations, attending mass with my great-grandmother, having my hair brushed and braided by various aunts, eating mangos and paletas, and bathing in a metal trough on the front porch, we would leave Mexico and return to the United States. My parents would take us to Port Isabel, South Padre Island, and we would fish for a couple of days and play on the beach before we returned home to Kerrville.
I always knew I wasn't like the others, and the others in my opinion were the middle-class white families that so much wanted my total assimilation. I was a good student, and I did achieve, but I knew who I was. I had a tremendous amount of respect for every Mexican worker I ever encountered. Each worker was a part of my identity, and what was said about that worker and that worker's family was a reflection upon my own.
It is because of my sense of identity and my knowledge of the family history that the current legislative proposals in the immigration reform package infuriate me. I sat in silence and shock when I read that there was a proposal on the table to make every undocumented person in this country a felon.
A mother who wakes up well before the crack of dawn, makes food for her family, sees her husband off to work, and puts her children on the bus for school. Then she walks to a house in another neighborhood where she cares for that family's children as if they were her own. A felon.
A father who builds houses all day long in the hot Texas sun for very little money, and in the course of the day is looked down upon by many people he encounters -- looked down upon because he's dark, sweaty and dirty from working in the sun all day. A felon.
Both parents return home, make dinner, care for their children and pass out from total exhaustion. Felons.
On the weekend, they sometimes go to the flea market, but often enough dad has to work again, and mother has taken up watching someone else's kids on Saturday afternoon while she tries to do all the laundry and clean the house. Felons.
On Sunday they head to church and pray for all of the members of the community, return home, have dinner and try to get some rest before the work week begins again. Felons.
The notion that someone could actually split these families apart since most of the children of undocumented workers are full-fledged U.S. citizens is horrifying. Turning 12 million immigrants into felons would create more chaos and horror in the United States than the avian bird flu and mad-cow disease combined. Young people understand the potential impact of this situation, and that's why we are in the streets.
We are staring in the face of the largest social movement of our decade. And it's not just in Los Angeles. When 20,000 people are marching in Milwaukee, and a couple of thousand people are standing outside of a federal building in Oklahoma City, it should be loud and clear that the immigrant rights movement is huge. When Latino high school students walk out in places like Wilson, N.C., the world should know that the time for a serious and cohesive movement has arrived.
This is an opportunity for every social justice organization and supporter to lend its support to the immigrant rights community. This community will grow to be one the most powerful and relevant voting forces this nation has ever seen. Our strength lies in our ability to fully understand that.
We are educated, we know the issue firsthand, and we are motivated and strong. Most of all we are watching. We are watching and keeping the names of the community leaders and elected officials weighing in on this issue. We are also watching those who are sitting this one out. What is happening right now is monumental, and no one should doubt that it will have a huge impact on the ballot box.
Young people know this -- they have already started the movement. And they do not protest in a bubble. We know that we are able to struggle on this issue because of the people who have struggled before us. We know that the same people who created the civil rights movement and the farm worker movement are all in support of fighting for human dignity.
April 10 will be the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice, and it will be the biggest day of demonstrations around the nation. The following cities have rallies in the planning stages: Houston; San Antonio; Austin, Texas; Dallas; St. Louis; Minneapolis; Detroit; Chicago; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Miami; Charlotte, N.C.; New Haven, Conn.; Danbury, Conn.; Hartford, Conn.; Birmingham, Ala.; New York; Boston; Milwaukee; Washington, D.C.; and many more. As of today, here are the cities that have confirmed a time and location: New York: "Full Rights for All Immigrants" at Battery Park, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Salt Lake City: "Unity Rally" at the City-County Building in downtown Salt Lake City, 4:30 p.m.
If you can't make it to the protests, take action by email, here.
Valerie Benavidez is the Alliance and Advocacy Director for the League of Young Voters.