The Republican Congress is at it again. Not only are they pushing us toward government shutdown, but also, according to recent reports, they are essentially killing any hope we had of immigration reform—however imperfect the “Gang of 7” plan is. Once again, the United States forgets its history as a nation of immigrants and turns its back on those who by no choice of their own were brought to the United States by their parents.
Once again, we have to wait for our government to take action, as the lives of young Latinos are being toyed around with like a game of dice. It’s easy to blame the Republicans, I suppose, but aren’t we all to blame? How can we, as citizens of the United States, stand by as our Latino brothers and sisters are treated like second-class human beings?
We are all accomplices. The food we eat, the clothes we buy, the electronics that we use every day are all picked, sewn, and produced by workers making substandard wages—sometimes from other countries and sometimes here in the United States. The people that work in the kitchens in restaurants, the janitors that clean stores and office buildings, roofers, mall kiosk workers—these are people who make up the unseen economy, and we often don’t even see or notice them.
It’s so disheartening to me, especially because I recently had such an inspiring conversation with Teresa Ortiz, an activist who has worked toward immigrant rights since moving to the United States in 1970. I met with her just a couple of weeks ago and I saw how hopeful she was that finally, finally, Congress would pass some sort of bill that, if not perfect, was a step toward immigration reform.
Interestingly, Ortiz told me that Minnesota was a major player in the growth of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act movement—which I hadn’t realized—with progress made by the Immigrant Rights Coalition, Isaiah, and other groups. It was these groups coming together that really started to build momentum for the movement, she said.
Coincidentally, after my conversation with Ortiz, I happened to visit El Colegio, the charter school in South Minneapolis for a profile that I’m working on, and there I met two young women who have been very involved with the DREAMer movement and were participants in a hunger strike in 2010.
Alejandra Cruz went to Southwest High School, where she was involved with a Latino group there before graduating in 2003. After graduating, she and others weren’t able to get scholarships for college, or even a work-study position, though she was able to attend Augsburg College where she worked through school.
After high school, Cruz began working on immigrant rights. She was first involved with an organization called United We Dream, and then began organizing around the Minnesota DREAM Act. “We wanted to organize with DREAMers across the nation,” she said.
In 2010, Cruz went to the United States Social Forum, a national gathering of activists around the United States, and exchanged information with other activists across the country. After a group in San Antonio organized a hunger strike that lasted 32 days, the Minnesota group decided to finish their hunger strike here. “They wanted to pass the torch to us,” she said. “It was a symbolic action: when they were done with their strike, we started our own in Minnesota.”
Cruz started working for the summer program at El Colegio in the summer of 2010, teaching ballet folklorico, as well as community organizing. “We were using whatever we know in terms of dance and traditions, and implementing that knowledge into community organizing,” she said.
El Colegio has been the home for Minnesota DREAMers, according to Cruz. They would organize at the space and hold meetings and training workshops there.
Cruz’s cousin, Maria Nava was just a freshman at the time of the strike, but she participated as well.
Today, both of these young women have legal status, Cruz through the DACA program and Nava through the family court system.
A senior, Nava hopes to attend community college and get her certification as a nurse. She wants to work hard to get good grades so she can transfer to a four- year program, which at the moment she can’t afford.
I see these two women—intelligent, strong community leaders, who have temporary status in our country—and I think, “We need them.” These are the future leaders of our community. Why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to make them citizens—for our benefit, not just theirs?