It seems that our favorite “longtime Isla Vista resident” is now angry with protesters who choose to wave flags other than American flags at immigrant rights rallies. Is there any right-wing bandwagon he won’t jump on? The problem with Mr. Sarria’s editorial (“Wave the U.S. Flag, Not Mexico’s,” Daily Nexus, April 26) is not his objection to the use of other flags, his expression of his opinion or the sharing of his story. The big problem is that he has unquestioningly accepted the conservative media’s reframing of the debate over immigration reform from one about the rights of an entire segment of our population to one about perceived “anti-Americanism” or “lack of patriotism” among that segment.
Growing up in a Southern California city with a high population of undocumented immigrants, I was always struck by the enormous inequalities they braved. As a strong believer in human and civil rights, our official refusal to concede even the most basic of rights always seemed unjust and un-American to me. Thus the “immigration issue,” in my eyes, has always been one of a struggle for rights and equality. That all changed last year when the Minuteman Project began its high-profile patrol of the Southern border. Its activism accompanied a surge of anti-immigrant sentiment, including the formation of a Southern California group whose founder lives not more than an hour from here in Ventura. These groups, along with their representatives on the fringes of the Republican party – including Tom Tancredo, the Colorado representative who became infamous for suggesting a nuclear strike against Mecca – successfully created the “crisis of the illegal alien” in the mind of the American public.
It seems rather convenient that the crisis occurred just in time for midterm elections. And it was in this climate that the Sensenbrenner bill, HR 4437, was drafted and passed in the House. Unauthorized immigrants may be disenfranchised. They may be economically disadvantaged. And as a group, they are not the best educated. But they are not stupid. They realized the effect the law would have on them, their livelihoods and their families if enacted, and they organized to oppose it. Being unable to wield any political influence at the polls, they took the only option available to them: massive, nonviolent protest. And yes, they did bring their flags with them. They brought flags from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. In the Northeast, the Irish marched en masse with Irish flags to make the same demands. In Florida, they marched with Dominican and Haitian flags. And in our nation’s capital, there was a large demonstration by immigrants from African countries. At many rallies, the Puerto Rican flag was also seen, despite the fact that the Boricuas are already citizens. Why? Because the protesters brought flags not only out of pride for their individual heritages, but as a show of solidarity that crosses ethnic, religious, cultural and geographic lines. And the effect was undeniable. The numerous counterproposals and amendments to the original bill when it arrived in the Senate prove that fact. However, politicians, with help from the media, were able to sidestep the issue by misconstruing it. When the media takes the issue of millions of people coming together to demand their rights with a single voice and successfully spins it into the phony issue of “foreign allegiances,” it makes it all the more easy for politicians to ignore the demands in the streets and change the debate into one over how high the border fence should be. That’s why I support and intend to participate in the Great American Boycott on May 1. Not only is it in line with the American and international tradition of honoring workers on May Day, but it is a massive nonviolent way to demonstrate the economic impact of immigrant labor. And, most importantly, it will return the public discourse to a discussion of rights.
I enjoin the readers of the Daily Nexus to take part in the one-day boycott – no selling, no buying, no working, no attending school – as a measure of solidarity with immigrant workers. As students, we are the conscience of the nation. And I implore Mr. Sarria not to uncritically accept everything presented on the television news. Especially since at some points in his editorial he shows strong sympathy for the underpaid and unrespected immigrant. By buying into the agenda of the corporate class – who are the true beneficiaries of the “illegal immigration situation” – he has unwittingly done a disservice to the movement to extend rights to the most downtrodden members of society.
Benjamin Wood is a graduate student in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education.