7/8ths Latina.....Mrs. Kerry???
- July 28, 2004
A Close Encounter with Immigration Politics
By Roberto Lovato
An adoring crowd of Latino Caucus members raucously greeted Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of presidential hopeful John Kerry, at the Sheraton this morning. Fresh on the heels of her multi-lingual debut at the Democratic Convention the night previous, Heinz Kerry came prepared with a tried and true trope of Latino politics: immigration.
"I�m about 7/8ths Latin," said the Mozambique-born heiress to the responsive Caucus - many of whom could remember when the scions of Democratic and Republican politics wouldn�t even direct radio messages their way. Clearly in command of these foot soldiers, Heinz Kerry took the immigrant pitch a step further: "Recently a columnist challenged me saying that I really wasn�t an immigrant...because I was not poor." To the political piZata of a columnist, she replied: "Never heard of refugees, people who flee from difficult circumstances? Never heard of waiting for two years for a visa as I did? Never heard of being single, alone, working in New York City as I did at 25 years old at a tough job far, far away from your parents in Africa?"
By the end of her dramatic delivery, some were near tears, as she concluded: "You do not have to this country shackled � or poor -- to know what immigrant life is." The quiet before the storm of applause signaled that the audience was hers.
After dedicating most of my professional adult life to securing legal status for Salvadorans and Guatemalans - including members of my own family who fled war and extreme poverty - I too trembled to hear Heinz-Kerry�s story. Like most in the audience, I carry the immigrant tropes in my emotional DNA. Many, if not most of the other speakers, including people many of us worked with (and worked for in the case former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros who I got to know when he was head of Univision) to secure protected status for Central Americans, also shared immigrant interests: ."), Hillary Clinton ("Wasn�t it great to have a future first lady speaking fluent Spanish? And won�t it be great when we have a President and first Lady who understand that in order for America to lead the world you cannot turn your back on your friends in Latin America?") and Michael Dukakis ("My parents are immigrants." "My grandson is named "Pedro Antonio Dukakis.").
While I stood entranced by all the Latino and anglo elected officials stirring my subconscious with their appeals to the immigrant parent within, legendary United Farm Workers co-founder and friend Dolores Huerta whispered to me: "I heard they just killed the AG jobs bill!" The reliably forthright Dolores� reference to a House bill that would accelerate legalization among agricultural workers startled me back into journalist mode.
Suddenly I started noticing that, while the immigrant stories were quite moving, not a single speaker said anything about the AG jobs bill or the DREAM Act (proposal to help 65,000 undocumented high school graduates become citizens if they complete college); none of the speakers mentioned the recent immigration raids and detention of hundreds in Los Angeles, (my home town), and other cities including Houston; there was no mention of the South Asians and Latinos I interviewed AROUND HE COUNTRY in the course of documenting cases of beatings with baseball bats, fire-bombed homes and other hate crimes targeting immigrants since politicians of both parties - including some of the speakers at the Caucus event - were ratcheting up the post 9/11 "defend America against its enemies" rhetoric.
Although some specifics about issues like education, housing and jobs did flow over the roaring crowd like a wave at a ballgame, immigration issues remained under the radar at this Caucus meeting, in the shadow of the DNC platform.
"The Democrats do support the DREAM Act and the AG jobs proposal -- but you have to search hard to find it in the platform. Support for immigrants is only on the Spanish DNC website - not the English." observes Ali Noorani, head of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition which is advocating for DREAM Act-like legislation in his state.
At a press conference titled "Where is the Vision?" he adds, "Nearly every speaker at the DNC this week says "we are a nation of immigrants" And I expect nearly every speaker at the RNC will also say "we are a nation of immigrants." He then asks, "These days, what does �a nation of immigrants� mean?" and answers with specifics not mentioned at the Sheraton, "It means the abuse of immigrant workers; it means no access to higher education; it means detention and deportation; it means NO PATH TO CITIZENSHIP."
Echoing Noorani�s statements was eighteen-year old Angela Perez., who is not yet a legal resident and wants to continue her accomplished success in school, "I want my chance,"she says, sharing stories about immigrant friends locked in legal limbo and parents trapped in low income jobs and living in crowded stress factories with roofs. �I think our politicians -- including Latinos � should be more aware of immigration issues. We�ve had too much talk and not enough action." Asked if she thought a Democratic President would speak the �legalization� word, she responded, "Only if we keep pressuring them."
Feeling Angela�s determination, I conclude that it might make a difference whether or not the person stirring my subconscious with their appeals to the immigrant parent is poor like my parents were.
Roberto Lovato (robvato63@...) is a Los Angeles-based writer with Pacific News Service and frequent contributing guest columnist to HispanicVista.com.
The news is to be reported not to sway opinion. No more melodrama of constant entertainment trivia on news time. The founding fathers knew that government is always corrupt, that is why they gave us civil liberties. The people must lead to survive corrupt governments. Read the constitution. (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this includes information for research and educational purposes.) Al Soto (c) 2004
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