Immigration and justice for all

If you couldn’t tell from Saturday’s fiction, I’ve had immigration on my mind. Specifically, the place of the Black community in the struggle for immigrant rights.

At the U.S. Social Forum, there was a workshop called “Crossing the Color Lines,” featuring a panel organized by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) to discuss a vision of just immigration and the role Black folks could play in achieving it. The panelists had some moving stories and words about crossing community lines and finding solidarity, but when it came time for questions, some of the audience members made it clear that their doubts, coming through an “us” and “them” mentality, remained: “Well, they don’t show up at our rallies.” “Well, it’s true that they’re taking our jobs!” “Well, they don’t want us around.”

It’s clear that if we keep thinking this way, as separate communities with separate concerns, we will remain divided. The frustration is understandable, of course. With the high rates at which unemployment plagues the Black community, it’s easy to point a finger of blame at Latino immigrants whose labor is cheaply exploited so employers can cut costs. It’s important to remember, however, that this system hurts all communities of color. Immigrant communities are hurting as well, and it’s not their choice to run things this way but the choice of those who see people of color not as humans but as animals who can be exploited, denied fair wages and benefits, and denied jobs altogether when they demand fair labor practices. It can be hard for anyone to find a decent way to make a living when facing the racism and classism that affects Latino and Black communities alike.

There’s also the fact that in spite of the way it’s framed in the media, immigration isn’t solely a Latino issue. I keep this in mind because, while some of my ancestors came to this country in chains centuries ago, my father arrived here from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s. Articles like this one claim that Black immigrants aren’t concerned with Latino immigrants’ issues, because many come with a more specialized focus on things like law and medicine, and therefore aren’t competing for the same “crumbs” as many low-income Latino immigrants. Sure, it’s true that my dad came here to attend school and eventually become a doctor. I can assure you, however, that that doesn’t mean that he’s been free of discrimination against people of color or immigrants. Let anyone who has walked away from his care, preferring to be seen by a white American doctor, tell you that the racist eye sees no difference between a Caribbean-born doctor and a Mexican-born farmworker.

The comments on that article are really disappointing — everything from blaming Latino immigrants for their own problems to saying that Black people are “takers, not givers,” and would never rally for anything. Such comments show a mindset that can only do more harm to communities that are already hurting. Communities that need strength, solidarity and support, not the pointing of fingers or the deepening of divisions that keep us apart. The first issue of the BAJI reader features a speech that the Reverend Nelson Johnson gave to the Low-Income Immigrant Rights Conference in December 2007. Rev Johnson speaks of building bridges between our people, saying, “we cannot and we must not allow black and brown people to be pitted against each other in a painful spiral to the bottom. That’s why we want to organize joint conferences with Latinos, blacks, whites, and others to work out together the road forward. We must build these bridges, for when people cannot work with each other even though they share deep mutual interests, it opens the door for a small privileged group to make decisions that are not in our interest.”

As Black folks, we can’t afford to sit by and allow those in power to continue a system that hurts our immigrant brothers and sisters, even if we think it won’t affect us. Once we look into each other’s eyes and recognize a shared struggle, we can begin to move forward.

“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”
-Audre Lorde

Published in: on July 6, 2010 at 10:34 AM  Comments (2)  
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Damn, I should be writing

On finding a writing routine:

I knew before I graduated from school that the hard part about setting out to be a writer would be, well, writing. It’s something I’ll never understand, why it’s so difficult to get around to doing what I love most. I was looking forward to freedom from the demands of academia to be able to write on my own time, but now the lack of a schedule that demands that I spend time writing is a challenge to overcome.

So far, if I have something that resembles a routine it looks like this: Getting up in the morning, sitting in front of the computer and thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.” Writing sometimes, or finding distractions to keep me from doing so. Then, going about my day. Cleaning while thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.” Or, sitting on the bus thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.” Or going to work thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.”

You can see where this is going. The end of the day comes and I decide I’m too tired to write, which makes me feel badly about myself after berating myself about it all day.

I know that once I fall into a routine of writing at the same time every day, I’ll be fine. I work well with routines like that. And getting up in the morning isn’t the problem; I’m used to getting up early and even if I didn’t want to my cat would make sure it happened. Blogging is helping, too. At least I’m getting my writing flow going. And if I’m blogging about writing, I figure I should at least be doing something to back it up.

I’ve also rearranged my room. The truth is I live in what is probably meant to be an office space and not a bedroom. It’s surrounded by windows on all sides and I absolutely love it, but of course I don’t have space for the desk area I’d love to have. But trying to write while sitting or laying in bed doesn’t help much with the motivation factor, so I managed to create a desk-like area for myself between my two bookshelves. I can lift the blinds and look out into the greenery of the neighbors’ backyards to my side, or stare into the neighbor’s office-equivalent of my room (somebody doesn’t know how to make the best of rentable space, geez) in front, and it at least makes me feel like I’m sitting in front of a desk and should be getting some work done (maybe thinking of it as “work” is part of the problem).

I’m going to shoot for writing in the mornings for now. Before I go out and take on the weight of the day. Hopefully most mornings, like today, I’ll be able to get some writing done. Before I was published, a stranger once told me that I shouldn’t wait for it to happen to call myself a writer. He was right. It doesn’t matter if I’m publishing what I’m writing or publishing it in the right place or having the right people read it to call myself a writer. All that matters is that I’m writing, so that’s why I’m aiming to do that, every day.

After all, putting a pen to paper and writing is so much better than sitting in front of a blank screen thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.”

Published in: on June 12, 2010 at 1:45 PM  Comments (2)  
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Is this how all blogs begin?

Here’s the story:

After a windy, adventurous road full of challenges and triumphs, I graduated from college with a degree in Creative Writing (technically, English with an emphasis in Creative Writing) and half a Sociology minor (okay, so I never finished it, but I can’t seem to let it go). It’s funny to me that after all that time of adding and dropping second majors and minors, trying to figure out what practical focus could actually get me a “real job” while I pursued my silly dream of writing, I ended up still focusing mainly on creative writing.

So now, of course, comes the inevitable question I hear every day: “What now?” I’ve been trying to come up with creative answers: Join the circus. Fix the oil spill. Sometimes I’m tempted to just say what I want to do: Get a dog. Travel the world. Change the world. Of all the answers, “be a writer” seems to be the most laughable. But why not? It would seem to be most logical to say that after getting a degree in Creative Writing, one would become a writer. Right? Heh.

Maybe it’s just me who makes a joke of it, if I dare to say that’s what I’m doing with my life now. I always accompany it with some self-deprecating line or laugh, because of all the answers, that’s not what anyone expects to hear. But I guess that’s what I’m doing. Being a writer, for now, for me, means: writing, preparing work to submit to literary magazines and writing contests, reading, considering graduate schools and of course looking for that “real job” to pay the bills in the meantime. I’d love to work with a non-profit, which is where that whole “changing the world” goal comes in. But who ever said that changing the world will pay the bills…

But here’s the main thing that makes me a writer: I write. So that’s my plan, to work every day to earn that “er.” In this blog I’ll write about how life goes along the way. I’ll post readings and events, share about some of my favorite writers, share some of my fiction and poetry. I’ll post about social justice work and life in San Francisco. I’ll write about what it means to me to be young, queer, Black and female. I’ll update when I come closer to figuring out what the hell I’m doing with my life, including my search for an MFA program and for a job, and when life laughs at my plans and takes me somewhere unexpected. And I’ll probably post some rants and raves.

And now I have a new answer when someone asks what I’m doing now. I’m blogging. Let’s see where this leads me.

Published in: on June 5, 2010 at 3:32 PM  Comments (4)  
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