Cross-posted on rawtheekuh.tumblr.com.
As an excited member of the American University class of 2014, I was ecstatic that the President of the United States had chosen MY future alma mater to discuss an issue that is both highly personal and politically polarizing: immigration. Since I have a talent for stating the obvious, I will say that I simply would not be here without my parents’ fateful decision to leave their pyaare watan. I feel you, Mr. President – we’re both the children of immigrants. Indeed, the act of migration is an experience that bonds us.â€¨â€¨
Watching Dana Bash make googly eyes at the CNN cameras and tell the world how “angry” the Latino community is about the lack of comprehensive reform makes ME angry. Last time I checked, Latinos weren’t the only immigrants affected in this increasingly contentious debate . Why limit the discussion to just the impact on the Latino community? I’m from Houston where we have a substantial number of immigrants, legal and otherwise, Latino and non-Latino. The immigration debate hits close to home for me, not only as a Texan and a young second-generation American, but as someone who has seen her own friends and family members put through the ringer trying to find work, live an honest life, and stay out of trouble to achieve their version of the American Dream.
My parents, my sister, the Bhutanese Nepali refugees I met through my summer internship, the friendly Latinos who come up to my father at Fiesta and start speaking Spanish: all immigrants. They all represent sides of the immigration issue that I have experienced but that the American media has failed to show. Though each immigrant community has distinct challenges, they also have similar desires: independence, freedom, & security. I thought it was difficult for my family members, skilled & English speaking, to deal with the INS and wait to become citizens. I realized that they had it easy compared to many. What if you’re like one of the Bhutanese boys I met, 17 and translating between Nepali and English for your parents, relying on charities and social workers to help you fill out your green card application?
I’ve seen footage on local TV and images in the Houston Chronicle of people stuffed into glove compartments and the bottoms of car floors risking their lives for this dream. My heart aches at their desperation and their determination. But… another part of me cries out at the injustice my aforementioned family and friends must feel. “It’s not fair. It’s not fair that they entered illegally and now they’re demanding amnesty. It’s not fair since my parents didn’t try to do the same thing. These ‘others’ are breaking the law. We should send them back.” But of course, the debate is far more complicated than these two polarized positions. A “law and order” attempt to target illegal immigrants in Arizona has instead turned into a merry-go-round of potentially blatant civil rights violations and racial profiling. Please tell me that we all know how “fair” SB 1070 is (maybe some don’t.) Despite the growing numbers of undocumented immigrants from places like India and Africa, some more conservative members of our community insist on siding themselves with the blunt right-wing rhetoric of mass deportations and fear-mongering. Many are willing to see the “white native Minuteman’s” perspective over the “scary Latino that speaks no inglÃ©s.” I myself have been tempted to resort to this simplistic comparison.
As I continued to watch Obama he then opined that, “Children should not have to pay for the sins of their parents” (a statement in support of the DREAM Act). I stood up and cheered in front of my TV. Again, I feel you, Mr. Obama. I know what it means to want to create a life for oneself beyond the choices of one’s parents.
“Get to the point, Radhika. Where exactly do you stand & why should I care?” I am not trying to make this about my own state of flux or confusion, although I acknowledge that must be partly what comes through. It is about real lives that hang on the whims and winds of the political climate. It is about how those same people are seeking stability and happiness. In order to achieve that, we must elevate the discourse and cut past the media hype. Most importantly, we must educate Americans who may not have experienced the trials and tribulations of immigration themselves. Because the stories of those who have done so should and must influence our nation’s dialogue on immigration.