Del #Mayday al Cinco de mayo: Guacamole, margaritas y tequila… oh yeahhh

From #Mayday to Cinco de Mayo: Guacamole, margaritas and tequila …oh, yeahhh!

By Yarima Merchan Rojas

 

#INmigrantVOICES  #5DeMayo  #CincoDeMayo #Mayday #DayWithoutImmigrants #ImmigrantsFeedAmerica

Every time I set foot in the United States I become a ‘Latina’, a term not very close to my daily life. Although it seems a bit abrupt: arriving at a foreign country -and that by that mere fact- where you are instantly socioeconomically/demographically labeled and classified. It is as if you customarily wear a Mexican hat and poncho for a photo (which itself is embedded within low-mount marketing clichés). This idea of the ‘Latino’, however, is not that much of a sting to me -no offense taken-, since I relate it mostly to Project Uno’s merengue music songs (they ‘sold’ the idea of ‘Latino’ music to me in any case, I must confess).

Apparently, the term ‘Latin’ was coined during the Nixon administration to account for the population from various origins:

“The weight of Hispanics in Texas and their influence in those elections pushed Nixon to take into account the Latino population in the country. Although most were Mexicans, movies like West Side Story (1961) were already talking about Puerto Ricans in New York. It was necessary to find a term that would define both. (…) Before introducing the term ‘Hispanic’, the United States Census Bureau only offered the possibility of declaring that the citizen was white, oriental, black or indigenous. White House committees focused on choosing ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’, in a debate that continues today and in which US Hispanics also disagree.” [1]

The truth is that today the concept is reduced by many Americans to obscene and grotesque simplifications that range from guacamole and tequila, to cha-cha-cha; or to the rather “picturesque” aesthetics of the worker with a helmet, the worker behind the counter or looking after the gardens (always kindly and sweetly smiling). Perhaps some other Americans prefer the currently ‘best-selling’ version of the ‘Latino’: that of the dangerous and vicious immigrant. Only the minority of U.S. citizens that have visited Latin America, or have an actual bond with Latin American people (beyond employing/paying them) dare to acknowledge that there is, indeed, a varied non-standard social and cultural wealth in the region. The truth is that the concepts of ‘Latin’ or ‘Hispanic’ only make social and political sense within the North American context. In Latin America, we have neither ‘Latinos’ nor ‘Hispanics’ walking in the streets, because, despite the fundamental feature of language, our cultural constructions have so many elements and nuances that are not limited to one of the many languages spoken in the region: this would amount to referring to US citizens as ‘English’. Likewise, when coming to this country, one comes to learn that there are also Mexican American citizens: OMG! …which leads me to think: have lived among Mexican Extraterrestrials then?!

San Francisco, like many other cities in the United States, is a city of stark contrasts such as being so near to the very ‘cradle’ of the most novel technological developments, but at the same time is a city with tremendous inequalities that occur before the eyes of every one of its inhabitants, right in the street, in the public space. The current situation has put the local political agendas in the dilemma of resistance -vs- construction, in which resistance (which comprises political rallies and meetings, as well as solving and dealing with everyday concrete problems: fear, lack of money, collective communication, ObamaCare removal, etc.) takes a great amount of the time that we could use for the construction of alternatives or political proposals. In San Francisco it is almost inevitable to wonder, how is it that the American population [2] that speaks Spanish has no greater weight in public policies, educational policies, economics and development plans? How has it reached such a level of mass simplification and cultural loss? How is it that this social history embodied in the name of its streets and spaces has so many signifiers without meanings? As a visitor, the stories of family breakdowns -especially after knowing in-depth the scenario of violence that forces many people to leave their places of origin- and the nightmarish conditions they must face on their way to the US (for many of these people, crossing through Mexico is the most accurate depiction/incarnation of Hell).

However, at the meeting #INmiggantVOICES -which was held prior to #Mayday-, Gato (a Mexican artist and worker) pointed out that there are many actual benefits from working from the perspective of citizenship: “[…] we are hit by the immigration issue and it hurts us, but if we see beyond the situation of this country, the local middle classes do not give a damn about the concept of democracy beyond the electoral scope, if the ruling class tells them ‘let’s go against the migrants’, they go do it; even at the expense of their own interest, because they know that immigrant workers mean paying lower wages. However, at least 30 million immigrants have great opportunities beyond the realm of electoral dynamics: our civic political activity has been constant in the last few years, we are building a Community network, it is a work that is based on friendship, the family, and the community (although we lack more organization). Lately, it has also occurred that more professional workers have joined our effort: this is useful because they work in administrative tasks and they have more political influence. On the other hand, the left-wing organizations of the United States have left out of their agendas the immigration issue, preferring to stay in ‘good terms’ with the ‘progressive’ democrats”. It seems that only a few actors want to assume the internal political cost of actively addressing the immigration issue.

Regarding the political parties, it is worth noting that since the electoral campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney Latino voters were considered as a strategic target. What is clear is that beyond the dubbing of the messages or the portrayal of ‘Latin’ faces -or even beyond the relevant work of Hector Sigala in the political campaign of Bernie Sanders-, in the United States there are no strong political representations of the American (yet not born in America) community. The population of Latin American origin in the United States (accounted by the population census, and without counting second and third generations of descendants) is equivalent to at least 18% of the total. According to NALEO (the National Directory of Latino Elected Officials), as of 2016, the Latino community had a total of 3 senators (two Republicans and one Democrat Junior Senator), 20 representatives, 7 state officials, 50 senators, 157 state representatives who, along with county officials, municipal officials, court clerks or special district officers, add up to 6176 public officials [3]. In meetings held prior to #MayDay in San Francisco, some of the audience laughed to wonder if Marco Rubio was then the best ‘representative’ of the political strength and influence of Latin Americans in the US. There is a clear underrepresentation of this important segment of the American nation in the state apparatuses.

For many migrants, the problem of the rusty, monolithic American politics, characterized by a ‘representative’ democracy controlled by white political elites -whose wealth comes from everything that they have been able to extract from the worlds-, is also their problem. In addition to the xenophobic antics of the Trump administration, social and cultural devaluation permeates many migrant communities on a day-to-day basis and affects not only to those who come from Latin America.

At #INmigrantVOICES, Susana, a Colombian teacher living in Palo Alto, commented:

“For many, it is a priority to know how legal status problems can be solved because their daily reality is ‘I am frightened because they can deport me’. But let’s not lose sight of another reality: the consequences that are to be faced in 10 or 20 years. For me as a teacher, it is inevitable not to think about the profound consequences that this type of politics and reality have upon the children of migrants who face identity conflicts by being deprived of language: they come to schools with poor knowledge of English and Spanish, their parents speak Spanish at home and they learn English at school, but the children don’t have extra support at home. The context isolates them from their group because they are not taught Spanish adequately; there are children who have to leave school due to the lack of adequate didactic accompaniment. They are lost in an insurmountable linguistic obstacle. Some speak Spanish but they do not read it or write it well enough, they do not acquire a literary culture that would allow for a better education. The superpower they would have by being bilingual is, at the same time, their curse. If they could graduate from school managing both English and Spanish that would open a whole realm of working and educational opportunities for them, since there is a real demand of bilingual people, but it is as if the system itself canceled this possibility.

Another problem is the high cost of living, there are families where both parents have up to three jobs to support their children; they are obviously underemployed because by their legal status they don’t have access to fair wages and benefits. Thus, we have an abandoned youth, who helps these children with their homework? who accompanies them? This is heartbreaking because the reason for many people to migrate into another country is to provide a better future for their family. Then, the community must consolidate itself in such a way that we say: YES! we are going to build a better future. We have the right to acquire a new cultural heritage without denying our origin, without being rejected”.

The average Californian can be politically correct over issues like ‘you served gluten at a party where there are people who do not eat it, you’re being insensitive!’, but nevertheless there prevails significant lack of ethnic sensitivity, for example, ‘we don’t pay any benefits to the immigrant lady who cooks for us; we pay her a lower salary drop by drop because she speaks Spanish, and does not have papers”.

In this sense, it seems that even the children of Latin American migrants that were born in the US are still ‘Latinos’. Evelyn, a Mexican teacher, and social worker says:

“Children do not become citizens with equal conditions for being born in the USA, they only become second-generation migrants and they continue to carry with the stigma and the labels”.

In this context, May began in San Francisco with the #MayDay activities and protest rallies that contrast with the propaganda bombing in bars and entertainment centers related to Cinco de Mayo, the party that for many Americans represents tequila and Burritos (oh, yes!). In 2014, Cinco de Mayo was the day in which more alcoholic beverages were drunk (besides the winter season); this entails a paradoxical commercial appropriation of a commemorative and important historical date in the Mexican context: The Battle of Puebla. The birth of Ignacio Zaragoza (who defeated the French army in this battle) in Texas and what this celebration represented for the Mexican community in Texas, even for the American at that time, becomes an opportunity (rather a lousy excuse) for drinking Margaritas. This year, president Trump abruptly decided not to commemorate 5 de Mayo at the White House.

The Mexican newspaper Animal Político echoes Félix Sánchez’s statements on this subject: “The decision of the White House to renounce the celebration of Cinco de Mayo is another slap in the face for many Mexican Americans and Latinos. Instead of embracing our nation’s multicultural heritage, we are deepening divisions, not seeking common ground, “Félix Sánchez, president and co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) In English) [4].

In San Francisco, at 11 o’clock in the morning of the 1st of May, at least five thousand people took to the streets, it was possible to see some groups formally organized, while many marched on their own. The starting point of the march was Justin Herman Square, to head for Civic Center Plaza. At the final meeting point, two women (in Spanish and English) proclaimed:

“This day, the May 1st Coalition stands in solidarity with the workers in struggle, with all immigrant communities, with the Muslim community, with the LGBTQ community, with women, with the black community and all those under attack, also against war, and against American intervention in any corner of the world. And it calls on all those present here not to disband, to remain awake and active, because only our continuous participation and struggle will make possible the success of our demands”.

The demonstration had a notorious Mexican majority, but also some flags of the Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, Perú, Puerto Rico, were seen; some black people attended (I should say that in my America to call someone ‘black’ is not offensive, on the contrary, for many their skin color is motive of pride), members of LGBT communities and some ‘güeros’. The environment was very festive, seasoned with Mexican indigenous dances, copal (traditional Mexican incense) smell, human monarch butterflies, joy.  A variety of claims was represented in banners: ‘We are also human beings’, ‘not illegal, not burritos’, ‘love is the answer’, ‘our work also builds this country’, ‘Stop Trump/Pence and their fascism’. There were also clever slogans against the wall, against ICE, against the criminalization of the migrant, in favor of sanctuaries, among others. All of these exemplify the different the many different levels of struggle and demands

Regarding the current immigration context in the United States, Evelyn, who along with Gato and many others were also an active part of the group YoSoy132BayArea [5] commented: “[…] the recognition of those of us who we here and of where we come from is basic for approaching other people with clarity and accurate information. To know that as immigrants we have rights, that there are legal processes that nobody can skip. We must educate ourselves and be self-aware. This moment has been marked by racism, it is fundamental to make networks and share information. Sometimes children are anxious to lose their parents, that generation is suffering in fear: whether they want it or not, they already have the stigma”.

Unfortunately, there is also the discourse of fallacies: ‘if you don’t like it here, why did you come?’, ‘would you be better in their country?’, ‘This is our land, you (the others) have to adapt’.  There exists a constant negation -which has been present in the history of California- for recognizing the multicultural reality, and even the very rich multicultural history of the conformation of the state. Even when a great number of streets and spaces in the city have Spanish names; although there is a Taqueria on every corner, you will not find an American who adequately pronounces the words that name those places or meals.

Carlos, a Colombian anthropologist, who is also dedicated to teaching, says: “[…] one is not a migrant only in space, but also in time, when one arrives in the United States arrives with all its cultural baggage, the second generation learn in school and on the Street the elements of the local culture, but at home they still have cultural elements from their parents, the third generations are much more adapted, but they do not stop having the stigma of migrants.’ Carlos is a teacher at a school, he says that when he asks his American students what they want to speak Spanish it is recurrent that they respond: ‘[…] because when I am a business manager, I want to be able to communicate effectively with my employees. That seems to be well seen in this context”.

Under current geopolitical thinking, it is taught Mexican schools that the country belongs to North America. In Mexico, we recognize that the strongest wall that the US government has built begins in Mexico. There are no less than 60,000 Central American migrants missing in their attempt to reach the United States. Seemingly, this North America contains but two great territories: Canada and America (the US, home of the ‘true Americans’). Susana mentions that in the United States there are maps that even name everything that is -geographically- below the US as Latin America.

In Carlos’s opinion, it is also incredible that in the 21st century, the United States continue to label the people who enter the country –as, for example, in the forms of Homeland Security- according to their ‘race’: “[…] then there is the confusion of:  are you Latino or Hispanic? Thus, ethnic, racial and linguistic elements are mixed under the same category in which the government pretends to qualify people. One can’t help to wonder: and, where is science or scientific criteria in all of this? I think Americans must be taught that we belong to the same continent and are of the same “race” (lol), this definition of ‘Spanish speaking’ is pure cultural fear to the otherness, fear of daring to know the other. For example, the subject of California gastronomic culture, which is basically Mexican. It is necessary to revalue the Spanish-speaking, even surpassing the segregation that Americans of diverse regions themselves promote; first, we have to break those nuances that separate us”.

To conclude, I believe that the event and the general environment that prevailed helped to delimitate the great challenges that we must face. On the one hand, the revaluation of the very social fabric of migrants from all regions of America of their own cultural heritages, as well as the recognition of the power and enormous possibilities that a multicultural work of citizens can offer to this country. #INmigrantVOICES was only an exercise of the many reflections and actions produced around #Mayday; however, it outlined important points in the debate of what to do to change reality and the tremendous inequalities throughout the Americas.

 

The following are some of the main reflections that resulted from the collective dialog:

 

  • The recognition that “seedlings are important, small achievements”.
  • You can’t settle yourself with having gone out with a banner at a rally one day, the construction of a community network is an everyday task.
  • From all over the Americas, and from left/right positions there are many polarizations; but it’s on the issues which are common, that we must move forward together. Maybe not all the same time, but wherever this might be possible.
  • Progress is measured in how much we achieve as a community, we must leave aside the sectarian perspective that we might bring from our own countries. If we realize that we are all equal to ICE, we will be able to join forces.
  • “If it rains there, it does not mean that is dry here”. We also recognize the violence that forced people in many countries to be expelled, even the extreme violence that accompanies this process and route.
  • Not everyone has to carry a banner in the demonstrations but to assume roles that allow the social tissue to regenerate. Thera is many ways to express our claims.
  • You must learn that you have rights, and must not reproduce unconfirmed/inaccurate information. Do not play the game of the politics of fear.
  • The question arises: how do we remove these stigmas? The importance of humor, of the laughter of the capacity of imagination.
  • The violence and scorn of many latin American governments are clear; in cases like Mexico, there are not real government positions of support to migrants, even when Mexican immigrants are responsible for a large proportion of the country’s income.
  • It is important to recognize the cultural diversity among migrants in the USA, we must try to understand the realities of Jews, Muslims, Asians, other Americans like Cubans or Puerto Ricans, are different.
  • It is important to stop the reproduction of policies of fear and misinformation. One slogan of the demonstrations in Chicago was: “Fear paralyzes, good information organizes.”
  • As long as there are traditional political structures that hold power, it is worthy to think that someone has to fight and represent the migrant communities in those spaces. But those who do not want to fight on this stage also contribute to the growth of the empowerment of the citizens.
  • Some participants mentioned the importance of creating a Latino party.
  • Emphasis was placed on the importance of collecting technology resources and making them sustainable. ‘”Economic independence is political independence”.
  • The importance of putting a lot of creativity into the transversal political struggle; of not reproducing the same ideas/forms, which can become exhausting.
  • It is not just about breaking stereotypes, it is about sharing what we know. We must know and recognize the organizations that already work and support these issues.
  • It is important to build different dialogues with US citizens of non-Latin American origin, to share what we are from other positions that value the social/cultural wealth of each group.

¡We are not “discovering America”, we are just recognizing it!

I thank Gato, Evelyn, José, Carlos, Susana, Ricardo, Alejandro, Juan (and much more), for these joint reflections.

________________________________________

[1] http://blogs.elpais.com/usa-espanol/2010/06/latinos-en-california-hispanos-en-texas.html

[2] When I write ‘american’, I mean that has its origin in the American Continent (I don’t refer to the US).

[3] NALEO Educational Fund, 2016 National Directory of Latino Elected Officials: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/naleo/pages/188/attachments/original/1474060157/2016_National_Directory_of_Latino_Elected_Officials.pdf

[4] http://www.animalpolitico.com/2017/05/trump-festejo-5-de-mayo/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yo_Soy_132

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movimiento_YoSoy132

 

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