Struggling immigrants desire basic human rights and U.S. freedom

Cindy Von Quednow

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The war in Iraq and immigration are two issues that are of big concern in today’s political and electoral climate. They are also issues that resonate deeply within the Latino community, both in the United States and in Latin America.

Studies have shown that the U.S. Military has molded their tactics in order to appeal to and recruit young disadvantaged people of color. Recruiters and recruiting offices tend to be located in urban areas where there is a large population of Latinos and African Americans.

Latinos make up 13 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces and as of 2007, 419 have died in the war in Iraq. When the war started in 2003, 32,000 “Green Card Soldiers” were shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan, in hopes of facilitating their citizenship to the U.S. There is no telling how many of these soldiers were able to obtain citizenship in life or death. There is also no way of knowing how many of these soldiers really were legal residents of this country, some going to extreme measures just for a chance to erase their “alien” epithet.

The criminalization and dehumanization of immigrants, both legal and illegal, makes it difficult for them to live normal lives; they live in constant fear of being caught and deported back to their home countries. What mindless hate mongrels and talking heads don’t take into consideration, or don’t take the time to inform themselves about, is that immigrants don’t come into this country with the pretense of “invading.” Most, in fact, are fleeing war, repression, economic and social injustice, etc., usually caused and perpetuated by the imperialistic nation we call home.

Latin America has been a powder keg of rebellion, war, strife and injustice for decades, centuries even. People and lands have been raped and pillaged in the name of imperialism, capitalism, liberalism and modernity (all synonymous by, the way). Regardless of the label, conservative, liberal, communist, or revolutionary, most Latin American leaders (with a few exceptions) have been affiliated with the interests of the U.S., making their people victims of puppet governments and outright corruption. Even if these leaders are not tied to the U.S., they still treat their inhabitants, their people with less importance than their own totalitarian goals, causing mass migration and cynicism.

El Salvador, for example is controlled by an ultra-conservative government that supports George Bush’s every order. It is the only Latin American country that has soldiers fighting Bush’s far-away war. Despite these two politician’s chummy relationship, their respective countries are in shambles. Even though the U.S. houses millions of Salvadoran refugees, they face discrimination in urban areas, like Los Angeles, where racism and discrimination are the norm.

The young and disillusioned come from El Salvador or elsewhere, fleeing bullets from civil wars and delinquency, only to be denied access to an adequate education and basic services in “America the Beautiful.” They are then left with two options, join the army and fight in an unknown country, or join a gang and stay and fight the war at home. Either way, they lose, ending up six feet underground.

Upon risking their lives and dignity to reach “El Norte” these nameless and faceless victims are forced into the mediocre and demeaning work force in order to gather enough money to send their families back home. Titles, positions, or degrees earned in their countries of origin are left behind; washed away by their sweat, tears, and the waters of the Rio Grande.

Once at a stable job, they risk being raided by la migra, face charges, or deportation, and the process starts all over again. This is the age-old story of an immigrant’s life. It is the subject of countless books, documentaries, and feature films.

The books “Undocumented in L.A.” and “The Tattooed Solider” tell similar stories of Central American refugees who have fled the civil wars in their respective countries (Nicaragua and Guatemala) only to confront a similar war in the streets of Los Angeles. Both protagonists experience segregation and violence during the volatile period leading up to the Los Angeles riots. Coincidently, both are confronted by their pasts when old enemies show up in their new lives.

Anayansi Prado, the young director of “Maid in America,” a documentary about immigrant women living in Los Angeles as housecleaners and nannies, is about to release a film about children crossing the U.S. border alone.

Despite the efforts of writers, directors, activists and organizations to bring awareness to the very real and poignant struggles of recently arrived immigrants, things haven’t changed. Latin America is still full of third world countries (whatever that means), and thanks to a little thing called free trade, which has widened the gap between the elite and the workers, our neighbors to the South continue to live in harsh conditions. Today, parts of this country are considered third world, with rampant poverty and unemployment surrounding us, and if things continue down the same downward spiral, we are destined for a catastrophic fate.

In order for harmony to exist in the world, there must be an end to unjust war and harsh treatment of humans, and, ahem, aliens. How hard is it for competing countries to come to terms with one another, together stop violence and hate, and promote peace and love? Apparently, as history has shown, it’s really, really hard. But to quote one of my favorite professors, “The last thing we should lose is hope.”

Albert Camus said it best: “We must stitch up what has been torn apart, render justice imaginable in the world which is so obviously unjust, make happiness meaningful for nations poisoned by the misery of this century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But tasks are called superhuman when men take a long time to complete them, that is all.”

Ideally, come January, we will have the perfect person in the White House, one that will keep everyone’s issues in mind, and solve all the problems of today, and tomorrow. But does that candidate exist? Call me cynical, but, no. Unfortunately, there is no such person. Basic human rights should be something we all strive for not ignore.

Last time I checked, I was living in the land of the free, it’s time we started acting like it.