The reality is that the life of any immigrant latinoamericano is not any easy one.
Lets first focus on the reasons that latinos immigrate to this country. There is one word which encompasses the primary motive—opportunity. I know this may seem cliché, but this truly is the land of opportunity. Those of you who have had the opportunity to travel to a Spanish-speaking country should understand completely, and those of you who have not must do so in order to gain total appreciation for what I am stating.
When I say ‘travel,’ I mean that you have actually ventured out of the resort or hotel to see and experience un pueblito or el barrio of the country. If upon seeing you do not appreciate the opportunities that we so often take for granted then I would question you humanity. Personally, I would say that I grew up poor; I have lived in projects, been on welfare, benefitted from programs like W.I.C., and shopped at segundas. However, I have never experienced struggle like what I witnessed in places like el D.F. (México City), Merída, Yucatán, or La República Dominicana.
People come here to escape that struggle, and upon arriving the prejudice and oppression that they face here pales in comparison to what they had faced in their native país. Take a look at where many immigrants are employed upon entering the United States—the physical labor force and the service industry. Regardless of immigration status, whether legal or undocumented, they are often exploited in the workplace. Essentially meaning, they are overworked and underpaid, with little or no benefits.
Myths and misconceptions
For those that claim immigrants are ‘taking away’ jobs from U.S. citizens, let us assess this situation. When was the last time you saw a non-Latino migrante? Personally I have never seen one. When I was young, mi tía, who worked as a nurse in migrant camps in Northwest Ohio, used to take my siblings and I to the camps with her.
We would go there to play with the other children while she was working with patients. Kids being kids, I never really noticed any real differences between us, but did note that they had really tiny shacks that they lived in.
After my first year of teaching I worked as a pre-school teacher for the Texas Migrant Council in Helena, Ohio. Part of my job was to make home visits. I remember visiting the camps and just feeling disbelief about the living conditions. The most bothersome aspect was that I wasn’t in some third-world country; I was in my own backyard. In short, most of the jobs that immigrants fill are those that no one else really wants or they are seen as stepping-stone jobs.
Believe that immigrants are a costly burden to the U.S. taxpayer? Think again. If you took out the migrant workforce you could say good-bye to the relatively low cost of produce in this country. A head of lettuce for a buck? Forget about it. Just think about that the next time you get a great deal on some grapes or cucumbers.
Moving beyond the migrant population, immigrants do not come to the U.S. to not work and collect welfare. In fact, I find this to be a complete oxymoron. In addition, while the immigrant population does not benefit from many social services, they pump billions of dollars annually into the domestic economy and social security. The economy benefits from the immigrant as a consumer.
You are no better than the next Latino
I am puzzled by the concept that one latino can feel he or she is somehow superior to another. First, a person is a person regardless of race, class, or gender. At the most basic level, we are all human beings; we all breathe and bleed. While it is true that some people contribute more to society than others, that doesn’t mean you are ‘better’ than anyone else.
As the reader wrote to me in her e-mail, I too ‘cringe’ when I hear a latino say that another latino should ‘go back to where they came from.’ How can you say that? Listen, whether you and your family crossed the border or the border crossed you, the struggle and story of all latinos is more similar than it is different. If you are so disconnected from your cultura that you feel like this then I challenge you to get back in touch with your roots.
I can only speculate that the feelings that one person is more deserving of the right to live in this country than another is spawned from ignorance. Maybe that person has never known the struggle of being an immigrant. Perhaps they were never enlightened by those in their family that have.
It could be that language is the motivating factor. I agree that everyone in this country would benefit from speaking English, but believe it or not there are many places in this country where you do not need to speak inglés. For those that feel this way I hope you also speak Spanish or are learning to. After all, Spanish was spoken in this country before English was. Lastly, English is a very difficult language to learn; just some food for thought.
This a time to unite
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that latinos are now the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. The reason I bring this up is because if we as a raza continue to engage in self hate and disunity, then we are destined to become a powerless population.
To the contrary, if we unite and mobilize in our communities, then we are a force and voice that must be accommodated. I have discussed previously the importance of voting and doing so in a well-informed manner.
The time is now mi gente. We can collectively cause a change for the better for nuestra raza y más importante para nuestros jovenes.
My feelings and this article can be summed up by a clever sign that I saw recently on a church sign addressing the lent season: Forget the sweets, give up the hate. ¡Hasta la próxima vez!
I would love to hear from you about my column; please send me feedback or let me know if there is something you would like me to write about. You can e-mail me at [email protected]. ¡Gracias por tu apoyo!