Wednesday, October 27, 2010

67% Is Not A Choice

Jesus is undocumented, unafraid and speaking out for more than just the undergrads:

67% is Not A Choice. from Producciones CimarrĂ³n on Vimeo.

A New voice within the movement of undocumented and unafraid youth is finding it's self.  It is not the voice that has taken college campuses by storm with mock graduations and the rhetoric of valedictorian dreams deferred.  They are not the DREAMers we watched with admiration sitting in at Senator Mccain's office.  And Although mainstream media is yet to profile these youth on the pages of the New York Times or release op ed after op ed about their plight, these young folks are equally bold and with DREAMs that are just as valid as the DREAMers who have come out undocumented and unafraid.

These youth share a lot with their DREAMer brothers and sisters, but they also bring to the movement table, an understanding that most of their undocumented brothers and sisters who aren't enrolled @ UCLA or any other institution of higher learning face so many obstacles on the road to college that anything calling itself a DREAM Act needs to afford more options than College or Military.
They are beginning to raise these issues and this critique and like their DREAMer brothers and sisters they demand to be heard.

Please take a moment to sign this petition to demand that the community service path to legalization be added back in to the DREAM Act.

Sign this Petition, Support Undocumented DREAMs

More of these voices will continue coming out, and this website plans on lifting up their voices when they do:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An Invitation to the DREAM movement and Paul Ortiz from an Ally

Dear Paul and beloved DREAMers,

I read the two articles linked above and reflected a great deal on your perspectives.  As Latinos, veterans and activists Paul and I share much in the way of life experiences. When I hear Paul's history I am proud and stand in admiration wondering how I can connect with such a committed activist and build together. I can see why you are throwing your hat in the ring in defense of the DREAMers (Amazing Undocumented and Unafraid activist in support of the DREAM Act). These are folks I also admire and feel a deep sense of pride for because I consider myself connected to the larger community with them - a community of migrants, children of migrants, people of color, and marginalized folks fighting back against injustice. In many ways, I feel they have become excellent role models for our community. They challenge us to be unafraid and to stand for what is right even if it means taking risks. They have answered a call that many sheros and heros in our history have before them. They now form part of an amazing continuity of freedom fighters that includes the freedom riders of the civil rights era, the out and unafraid queer folk who staged the Stonewall uprising and many even before those moments in relatively recent history.

5 years ago I also felt the call and I also took some risks. See in 2004 I found my brown body in a blue navy uniform and I was asked to take young Marines to Iraq to face possible death and probable orders to take the lives of Iraq's women, children and elderly in large numbers as "collateral damage". I could not do it. What's more, I felt it was the time to take a stand. As a Latino I was also motivated by the reality that 4 green card Latin@ soldiers were among the first week's casualties and over 20% of the invading force was RAZA. These numbers speak to the reality that when brown bodies finish boot camp they are more likely to navigate combat rather than navigating radar and high tech systems. On the day I took my stand, December 6th, 2004, and refused to participate in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and spoke out publicly against that illegal and immoral war being fought disproportionately by folks of color - my family was actually risking something else as well.

My partner's visa had expired and my actions were drawing attention to our family at a time when her status made us vulnerable. She told me that the risks we faced were so much smaller than the risks that soldiers of color and Iraq's people faced. So I went through with it, and I was Court Martialed and kicked out of the military without many benefits. I was held in a legal detention center for 10 months and I served out a 3 months of a Hard Labor sentence as well. My wife discovered she was pregnant a few months before my trial. I was not free during the final months of her pregnancy our young family was divided.

It is this history that makes me feel closer to the ideals, activism experience and willingness to face risk of the DREAMers than perhaps most people who haven't lived these kinds of life choices that come with serious risks. After being discharged I was unemployed, uneducated, and unqualified to do anything other than War making from a Navy vessel. My undocumented partner and I, who were living in San Diego where I was discharged, had a newborn baby. Our Young family went from one friend's living room to the next living room trying to survive and figure out an employment opportunity that would allow me to support our young family. We were always terrified of travel even in the city and of accessing services because there were raids back then all the time and families torn apart by deportation. I wanted to petition for my wife's status but the process took long and living on unemployment checks and food stamps we could not afford the application and legal fees ($1500 just to get started at that time.)

After almost a year of this lifestyle a job opportunity appeared in Oakland. This was almost as scary as continuing our current reality because it meant crossing immigration check points in order to go north. Because the job had a 3 month trial period we made an even more difficult decision that I would go first and stay in a friends living room while sending money back to my wife who now had to navigate the city, undocumented and not very fluent in English- by herself. As soon as the first paycheck came we began trying to work for her status but the lawyers said we had to be together and so she had to come up to Oakland. I went back down and we decided we would risk everything driving up even though my trial period was not over yet. We hopped in a little car and headed north with a newborn and not much to call our own. As we approached a truck weigh station I think some powerful force intervened on our behalf. I accidentally got off on the weigh station, which was only for trucks, and it just so happens by doing so we dodged immigration Checkpoint. My wife's heart pumped so hard I could feel it in her tense piercing grip around my right hand as we drove just ten feet to the right of the destruction of families like ours.

I am sharing some of my personal life to assure you that I am not the "Social Justice Elite" by any stretch of the imagination. I am not an "anti-militarist absolutist" by any stretch of the imagination. My experience led me to commit myself to work with young people of color and undocumented youth in low-income realities to fight for rights and challenge the militarism that leads so many in these communities to death, psychological trauma and dire poverty. I've spent the last 5 years working with high school aged youth from low-income communities of color mostly in the public schools of this interesting state of California. I am committed to these youth. I organize with them politically, I believe in lifting their voice but I also am committed to their basic needs. I help many of the youth I work with on homework and school projects, I've invited more than one into my home when they were in trouble. They have cried on my shoulder and vented in my living room. I've advocated with them about problems in their group homes, in altercations with police, and in problems at school. I've volunteered to teach Spanish as an active elective, in an effort to make enough credits to graduate on time for one of them. This community is my life. I know it well, I know their stories and most of this country does not. Most of this country does not seem to want to listen to young low-income people of color.

So let's talk about undocumented youth within this community. Studies and activist often mention that there are over 2.1 million undocumented youth in this country and about a quarter of them live in California where I have been committed to doing my work in the public schools. Most are in elementary school or High school or were there in the last 5 years at the same time that i've been active in these same High schools. Few, a relatively small percentage, are in college where you do your work. I don't mean that to minimize your commitment or your voice but I think perspective is critical. The fact is of these 2.1 million we know that at least 1.4 million will never see a college classroom. There are reasons for this. Reasons that most activist and people wrestling with our country's inequality are somewhat familiar with. But I will restate a few.

Tracking systems in public schools that often pipeline white students to college tracks while students of color and especially undocumented English language learners are tracked into paths that don't prepare them for transfer into 4-year institutions. English Language Learners often undocumented are also mislabeled "special needs", other times they are erroneously thought to have speech impediments and other tracked disabilities simply because they are not English dominant and administrators misunderstand this. The parents of undocumented youth earn far less income and work longer hours on average than parents who are citizens, leading to low parent involvement and behavioral as well as academic problems that push these students out of school or into poor grades and bad tracks. The lack of federal financial aid for those who somehow make it past all these other barriers means youth who are academically prepared for college still lack access to college. Many undocumented youth have family commitments that result from their parent’s status. These commitments don't allow them to pursue a higher education and they include coming from single parent homes where the eldest has to play parental roles or become a wage earner at an early age.

These stories and these youth who will never see a college classroom, account for over 67% of the 2.1million undocumented youth being talked about in the DREAM debate. They are the majority, the most affected, and they are almost completely absent from the dialogue. We are focusing on the voices of the relatively small slice of this community that is very articulate, educated, and either already in or clearly pipelined toward, a 4-year university. I admire them, I support them and I can understand very clearly why being with them and seeing their valiant efforts day in and day out how someone as committed to justice as you, would stand with them. This is exactly why I stand with the other 62%. I admire them and I support them because they have a strong voice as well, they have a lot to say and they are also valiant. Every day they face this adverse system that pushes them literally out and they do so with courage. Yesterday one of these valiant youth told me enraged how he feels when even teachers speak of "illegals". He responded "I may have come from Mexico but they came from England, so why am I the Illegal."

These moments of push back and resistance have made me fall in love with these young folks that no one seems to want to listen to. They are not as fluent and articulate as some of the DREAMer voices in English. They are not without "baggage". They are often not college bound. But they have dignity, humanity and incredibly valuable things to teach us as well.

I learned a lot from your open letter, Paul, even if some comments felt unfair. I am sure this letter will contain some language that you to will take issue with. But I also hope that the DREAMers and you too, will find some value in my perspective and my call for inclusiveness and unity.

Given that I absolutely admire and stand in solidarity with the intentions of the DREAMers if not the current DREAM Act options for 67% of our youth. Given that I want to build with this new vanguard of the freedom fight and with you and your important contributions to this fight. Given that our movement can be stronger if it includes more voices especially the voices of the majority and the most affected among undocumented youth. I want to propose that we try to move forward together incorporating each other's voices and concerns. I want to invite the DREAMers to meet with the youth I love and hear their stories, concerns and needs. Most importantly I want to ask that the DREAM movement would invite us to their table where we would be honored to sit and better STAND with them and organize with them for all of our collective rights and freedom.

At that table we will have to have difficult conversations about whether federal financial aid such as Pell grants is negotiable, and whether community service and vocational paths are negotiable, and lastly what the military component means to 67% of the youth who are most affected and for whom college may not be an option.

I am sure there will be some compromises; I don't expect all of our issues to unilaterally shape the debate. But I do hope they can get a fair hearing, without name-calling and with sophisticated understanding of what is at stake and sufficient voice for the major stakeholders.

I think I have laid out the case for why the voices of the youth I love and of veterans of color like myself deserve to become part of the dialogue. These are the most affected youth and the largest part of the undocumented youth community and to exclude them would betray the spirit of this struggle for justice. As long as a military component is on the table then including voices from young vets of color are critical so that issues around militarism in communities of color are raised so that we understand are at stake. Paul, I know and appreciate that you were able to follow the footsteps of Zinn and Fanon and to a large extent so have I even if I am still low-income living in affordable housing and not your typical success story. And you are right that those experiences shaped me and politicized me as they did you and our elders you mention. However this experience is the exception not the rule. For every Zinn there are thousands of homeless vets. For every Fanon there are thousands of veteran suicides (18 a day as we speak).

For every story like mine there are dozens of stories like Jesus Suarez del Solar who got his citizenship through the military but post humorously after bleeding to death in the harsh Desert lands of Iraq. So our stories and our ability to raise the stories of the homeless, the war casualties, the suicides and all manner of injury that the military can inflict (on our Arab brothers and sisters as well) have to become a part of the DREAM dialogue so long as a military component is considered.

I’m hoping to build bridges and unity like what we saw in the marches of 2006. Back then I marched with a diverse group of folks from the community - Latino families who lost someone in the deserts of Iraq and others who lost family in the desert of Arizona. We marched from Tijuana, Mexico to San Francisco, California raising the issues of criminalization and militarization of the Latin@ community. We said no to deportation and no to deployments. Our March stopped of at Cesar Chavez's Grave to let him know he can rest in peace and power because his struggle continues. We stopped at recruiting stations not to advertise the military path to our community but to challenge it. We marched with folks in the central valley living the migrant struggle and with urban Latin@ youth who have a military recruiter’s target on their migrant backs. Brown Berets and Latino Veterans marched alongside each other calling for peace in the Middle East and in our communities here at home.
In struggle and toward comm-UNITY,

Pablo Eduardo Paredes
Latin@ Veteran and Ally to Undocumented Youth
American Friends Service Committee
Youth and Militarism Program and Human Migration and Mobility Network

Insults aside, Issues emerge

On my birthday and Indigenous People's Day, Sally Kohn, a shero whom I otherwise admire, decided to fight fire with fire in an Insult match with four DREAMers. But insults aside some real issues emerge from both pieces.

The DREAMers argued that:

"The Nonprofit Industrial Complex is a network of politicians, the elite, foundations and social justice organizations. This system encourages movements to model themselves after capitalist structures instead of challenging them."

But for many that critique was lost in an emotional reaction to:
"Our progressive allies insist in imposing their paternalistic stand to oppose the DREAM Act" (emphasis added)

Sally argued that:

"While the young DREAM Act leaders are mainly those who want to go to college and thereby gain citizenship, the undocumented members of most 'mainstream' grassroots immigrant rights groups are low-wage workers who are struggling to make a living and support their families"

But for DREAMers this challenge to acknowledge privilege was probably lost in an emotional reaction to:

"I wish that, in the aftermath of a collective and hard defeat, they weren’t acting like petulant children." (emphasis added)

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and two P-words don't make a dialogue. But if we can get past the name calling of “paternalistic” on one side and “petulant” on the other side, some real issues emerge.

Too many DOCUMENTED, privileged, often white and often men - do too much of the talking, framing and decision making in the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (which is a fair term and accusation in this current staffer of a non-profit's opinion). Even in my non-profit, ultimate say on what work does and does not happen on the immigrants rights front is not in the hands of a person of color or migrant for that matter.

At the same time, the DREAM movement rasing these concerns is generally led by folks within the migrant community who have a level of privilege that is the exception not the rule for undocumented folks. We are talking about graduates and post-graduate students of schools like UCLA, UC Berkeley, and even a Harvard student or two. Promotional videos, congressional testimony and most things pro-DREAM Act generally reflect this college going or college bound led movement dynamic.

Both of these real critiques, as they relate to the DREAM Act, can be addressed in a meaningful way by going back to the community. Now I’m not talking about propagandizing and talking pointing our folks to sign petitions and support policies that remain illusive. I’m talking about genuine listening and dialogue and sharing of full information about what is being talked about in the halls of washington and non profits. Then listening and making a space for undocumented folks (the majority of whom are not going to a UC or a big private school anytime soon and neither are the majority of their sons and daughters) to lay out what THEIR agenda is and not impose OURS or guilt trip folks into supporting ours.

Campesino Housing, Rural Oregon- No Soy El Army Tour
Every time I have dialogues in the community about the DREAM Act without framing terms with non-profit or DREAM Movement imagined limits of “what’s possible and politically viable” just laying out the text of the document the intent and basic facts. The community always responds by saying things like: we want legalization without conditions, we want financial aid for college, de-criminalization, an end to ice raids and secure communities, an end to enforcement approaches that have taken thousands of lives. The vast majority of folks I dialogue with never ask for a military path to citizenship, while a vocal minority strongly rejects it.  The vast majority of community voices are also unwilling to negotiate away their demand for financial support to make a college path in the DREAM Act viable and equally unwilling to negotiate away non-military paths to legalization.

In short, the community prefers CIR that does not include border enforcement approaches and deportations, but if pushed to articulate a DREAM Act vision the community basically describes Dick Durbin's original bill with a community service path to legalization, Financial Aid including pell grants and no military "option" and they reject the current language of the DREAM Act as a de facto military Draft for most undocumented youth.  This has been my experience at several gatherings it does not speak for the entire undocumented community but we wont know where they are, unless we hear from them. My guess is their Agenda will continue to reflect these demands.

When we take THAT agenda, the community's AGENDA and fight for it with the community voice in front and us as allies behind. When this agenda becomes the immigrant's rights non-profit agenda and the DREAM Movement agenda, then these real critiques that have emerged will be silenced and we will look more like a people power movement. But in the mean time, Non-profits look too much like political parties detached from their constituencies and the DREAM movement falls into the traps of the very things it critiques of these non-profits, speaking for and not with a community from a position of relative privilege.

Let's DREAM bigger and together!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Deployed to Iraq or Deported to Mexico

The "Latino Instigators" at Cuentame are asking us to stop and think hard about, "what does the military path mean for Latina/os?"

In the clip below we get a rare glimpse of the double standards that our community is constantly facing.  Deploy our young brave youth to the middle east as good old american soldiers but the families left back home are threatened with deportation to Latin America because they are not "American enough"

Fighting Two Wars (Video from Cuentame)

These double standards are everywhere a Latino or migrant of color looks.  When it's time to pay taxes your status doesn't matter.  You can pay taxes under any social you choose to use and Uncle Sam will gladly take your cash.  However, when you fill out an application for financial aid to go to college, your status becomes an issue for Tio Samuel.

When you are asked to sign up for the selective service so that you can be drafted to fight in a war your status is no problem.  But when you want a license or the right to work then your status is a big problem.

This constant double standard of brown bodies always being just good enough for the battle field but not quite good enough for much else is alive and back again in Washington D.C.

This time our DREAM Act is adopting the double standard.  In its first version, the DREAM Act was a real DREAM come true.  It involved financial aid in order to help our struggling families send their youth to college.  It involved a community service path to legalization for migrant youth who may not be able to access college or want to be involved in military actions.  But those Dream supporting options were deferred and deported from the final language of the DREAM Act.  A military option as a path to legalize was then deployed by the Senators who marked up the original DREAM document with nightmarish options.

This Cuentame video ends with a moving story of triumph.   A Family that joined hands with allies and stood up to the double standard.  There is no better time to learn from this experience and join hands and stand up to the double standards that have been written into our beloved DREAM Act.

Without a fight, without us lifting our voices up to demand more.  To demand a community service path to legalization, to demand financial aid including pell grants.  Without a struggle to demand what we deserve, we will see many dreams deferred, many dreams deployed and many dreams deported.

No more double speak and double standards; Demilitarize the DREAM!
Pablo Paredes
Latin@ Veteran and Ally to Undocumented Youth