Monday, March 24, 2008

Story Time! - Office Lunch

Most of my friends tend to be the children of immigrnats. So, I'm going to share some of our experiences in a new "segment" I've called Story Time!. I'm a horrible story teller and I know I don't do the original 3Am phone call justice so bear with me.

Last month a good friend of mine got a new job as an upper level type manager. She was an outside hire and to smooth things over with her new employees some of whom were passed over for the position she just received she took them all out to lunch. She was horrified to find the topic turning to politics over lunch and even more so when one woman started ranting about illegal immigration.

My friend is a former undocumented immigrant and most of her family members are still undocumented (the story behind her circumstances will be saved for another time). All of a sudden 2 of the other women and a man at the table started giggling and exchanging looks. My friend started to wonder if they knew about her situation.

One of the giggling women admitted her boyfriend was an undocumented immigrant. My friend and the ranting woman were both horrified but for completely different reasons. Growing up in an undocumented family you were taught to NEVER tell anyone about the situation. To do so was to put their existence at risk. As much as my friend wanted to tell the ranting woman that she used to be an undocumented immigrant, she didn't because the last thing she needed was to expose her family to a nativist. She envied and disapproved of the woman who had outed her boyfriend. She envied her because her point had been much more effective than any polite argument my friend had put forth in humanizing undocumented immigrants. At the same time the woman's disregard for her boyfriend's safety in outing him to a nativist horrified her.

That is the fine line many people walk. The best way to humanize undocumented immigrants is to put a face on them but by doing so we put them in jeopardy. Most people would rather protect their loved ones than make a point and I can't blame them.


Fash said...

This is something that I've seen before, and it really gets under my skin. I've met people (online; never actually met anyone in my sitch in real life) who use their undocumented partner as some kind of status symbol, like, hey look at me, aren't I just the most liberated person ever. And you know, I think that attitude, and the attitude that girl displays, that they are just dehumanization coming from the other end. These people would probably never imagine that they could be placed into the same category as the people who would call immigrants 'illegals' or 'cockroaches', but the fact is that when you have minimized someone's humanity to such an extent that you deny their fear in order to use them as a status or a talking point, you have placed you own self in that category.

yave said...

But then, if everyone lives in the shadows, citizens won't know the terrible things that are happening. It is certainly not something to take lightly, and it's easy for me to advocate it since i have nothing to lose, but out of status immigrants came out en masse in May 2006 and had a real impact. Unfortunately, much of that impact was to rile up nativists, but I think the tide is turning now, and perhaps that demonstration of numbers was a necessary step towards talking about migration. Only when migrants stand up for their rights (like MLK in Birmingham) and enough LPRs and citizens stand with them will we see real change. The Rapid Response Networks in NY/NJ, Boston, Chicago, and LA are one way to do that.

yave said...

Also I should acknowledge that there's a difference between being out of status in a sanctuary city like NYC, ensconced in immigrant communities where your neighbors have your back, where local law enforcement is not permitted to ask about your immigration status unless it's related to a criminal matter, where ICE is not conducting widescale workplace raids, where most New Yorkers--including a good number of immigration judges--are sympathetic to migrants, where maybe you overstayed a visa and have a potential path to lawful status--there's a big difference between that and being an EWI (Entry w/o Inspection) entrant with no currently feasible path to lawful status living in a border state full of nativists out to get you, with local law enforcement targeting you and everyone in your community. It's not easy in NYC, but it's a lot better here than in TX, AZ, NM, etc. That certainly plays a role in a decision about asserting one's rights and how public a role one can afford to take.

Anonymous said...

Even the term 'illegal' immigrant is upsetting. We are all brothers and sisters, I believe, so how can we exclude a member of our family from the table? I am also acutely aware how immigrants are often impoverished by colonisation or a western-backed war. You'd think after exploiting a country's wealth or starting a few conflicts, the profiteers might be a bit more gracious. But no. Instead immigrants are seen as 'other', a scapegoat to blame for the oppressors' mistakes. Thank you for this blog - I learnt a lot about the reality of being an 'illegal'. The May 2006 action sounds a brilliant way to raise awareness. Good luck with standing strong and standing together.