Monday, July 16, 2007

Racine - Day 8 (Sunday p.m.)

“¿Quieres hablar? No, no llores. ¿Quieres hablar? No llores.” (Do you want to speak? No, don’t cry. Do you want to speak? Don’t cry.)

This is the visual that will stay with most people who attended the Voces de la Frontera forum in Racine. We are in the audience participation part of the forum, about an hour into the event. A Whitewater worker facing deportation tells his story. His son, a bright eyed energetic child of about 7 years old reaches for the mic. “Do you want to talk?” asks the father. The child nods, but the words never come. His enthusiasm drains and the energy of just moments before dissolves into tears. We wait for the child to regain his composure, but as much as he tries, he can’t.

Another audience member speaks up. “I think actions speak louder than words. We can see that this child is hurting.”

The boy runs to his mother who then takes the mic. She introduces herself, “I am the mother of this crying child and that is my husband.” She discloses the fiscal and the psychological stress that the raid has caused them. Returning to the subject of her child, his arms still locked around her waist, face buried in her shirt, she tells us “he goes to school, he takes piano lessons, he plays soccer. We don’t have documents, but that’s not what is most important to me - I came here for him.”

The forum in Racine was a strong finish for the Reality Tour. It is Sunday evening and we are in Olympia Brown Unitarian Church. The church has a long history of opening its door to proponents of social justice. The church is medium sized, and the dark wood pews make a U around the altar space. The setting is intimate, comforting and welcoming- perfect for a discussion. The crowd is diverse, the most diverse we’ve seen thus far.

Christine assures the crowd that the decision to end with Racine was deliberate because of its history in solidarity and the strength of groups like the Dominican sisters, the NAACP, and Students United in the Struggle. Local panelist, Craig Oliver, current political organizer for the state of Wisconsin in the NAACP, affirms this sentiment is his calls for unity. He states that the NAACP national position is to oppose any bill, any law that does not have the humanitarian interest of all people involved.

He reminds us that struggle is not new and unity is crucial. He quotes Angela Davis, saying “if they come for me in the morning, they’ll be for you in the afternoon.”

There are a number of strong voices from the audience. One person calls on everyone to reclaim democracy, saying “we are the government. The people are the government.” It is our responsibility to demand justice.

There is a roar of applause in agreement. Another person jumps in, “no person is illegal. What the government is doing, that is what is illegal.”
Personal stories are shared:

“I worked for 17 years in Bolivia, I know what poverty looks like.”
“I was undocumented.”
“I am undocumented.”
“My brother wants to go to school because he is smart and he likes school. He sits at home because he cannot go to school. We feel sorry for him.”

Myths are dispelled:

“Someone I work with said they would like to be Mexican because so they won’t have to pay taxes. We are paying taxes equal to everyone else.”
“I am a chef in New York. My coworkers pay $50, to $100 sometimes $200 in taxes every week. Most of you get some of that back, I doubt that these employees will.”
“I am a real estate agent. The Latino clients buy homes that no one else will, often in dangerous neighborhoods. Sometimes they are crying when they sign the contract. Yet, when I drive by those houses, I see flowers, I see families. They are helping the housing market.”

The mic gets passed and people come together. There are few words of contention of opposition in Racine. We wanted this forum to be an open space. While it would have been nice to have some more debate in the final day of our tour, I cannot deny the power of the feeling of solidarity and the inspiration that one feels watching people come together.

Closing words come from a friend and a partner working to support the Whitewater workers. His words are passionate and his voice firm as he informs us that everyone who came risked their lives. They didn’t do it because they wanted to leave or thought it would be fun. They did it because they were hungry, because they were desperate. You would do it too, he asserts.

The event closes, evaluations are passed and people linger to converse and network. I flip through a couple of the Spanish evaluations in my hand and notice a consistent message in response to the question, “what did you like most about the forum?”

The answer: “That people are fighting for us.”

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Letting millions of lawbreakers off scot free is reclaiming democracy?

Here in the US we have laws. We have a Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution gaurantees equal protection and enforcement of the law. It says that in that respect all men women, and children are equal. So I have a question for you: If it says we are all equal, then why aren't we all being treated equally? --Meaning: if WE must obey the law, why shouldn't ALL men have to obey the law. Do Hispanics think that because they are not 'gringos' that they do not have to obey the law? Giving illegal immigrants anything besides a one way ticket home is racism against white and black Americans.

You people are disgusting showing your crying kids to us and pointing the finger at us. YOU KNEW the consequences of your actions when you broke the law; YOU brought it on your kids, and YOU are responsible. Furthermore it is disgusting to see grown adults hiding behind children when the law comes after them for their crimes.

The Bible says that we should obey the law. Jesus himself said that he who does not come in the front door (in good faith) but sneaks in any other way is the same as a thief and a robber. The priests that support this sin are broken ministers and God has reserved the hottest spots in Hell for them.