It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’d like to enjoy that in under 9 hours, we’ll start a brand new year. The thing is that you can put a name on it: “New Year’s” but without any collective effort and planning, it’s gong to be the same year masked under “2018.”
We don’t want 2017 to roll onto 2018. In 2017, the immigrant community received several hits:
- The Muslim travel ban targeted at our Muslim brothers and sisters
- The end of the DACA program that protected 800,000 youth
- The end of TPS protections for the countries of Haiti and Nicaragua
- Rising levels and spaces for anti-immigrant rhetoric
We Have to Protect Immigrant Bodies
I recently watched From One Mistake: How Immigration Became My Very Personal Fight, a documentary available on YouTube. It’s told in a simple narrative style with Hendel Leiva speaking into the camera for most of the film with some glimpses of hate crimes on the national level, but with a focus on New York race relations.
In a candid way, Hendel shares with the audience that at one point in his life, he spat out hate speech to immigrants as a “prank.” It wasn’t long before his conscience and the worth of the human body caught up with him. In this hour long documentary, Hendel explains what steps he took to amend his past by turning to advocacy and empowering people to share their story. One of his projects is Immigration MIC, a podcast that features interviews with immigrants vocal in their community.
The film is a story of redemption, and I wish more, if there are any, converts would share their story. I wouldn’t know about Hendel if he had not found me online and invited me to the conversation.
Stories shouldn’t collect dust in our hearts. Stories have to be passed on, through literature, through music, through film, through our very mouth. To protect all kinds of bodies next year, we need spaces for stories. We need ready ears.
2017 Was a Year of Not Listening
This year I worked with the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, a Baha’i sponsored community program. This is where I met Ron Lapitan, whose goal is to speak with all types of people regardless of religion or political background. His published book The Earth is One Country is part of that community goal.
This year, I had my own sort of revelation about community. The Culmore area, where I’ve grown up, has a reputation as a dangerous zone. For years, I’ve been cautious to know my own neighbors. Through the junior youth program, I met families and youth in the area. I learned their names. I learned to change my community by engaging with it.
When I see youth in community groups, I see potential. We have to start preparing the future early. And the stubborn adults of today? We have to understand what’s made them who they are and what misconceptions they carry. This is particularly important online: ending disagreements with “you must be an idiot” or correcting people’s grammar with the goal of making your opinion “right” don’t make any of us morally superior.
I’ve been told some people are lost causes, and sometimes, when I’m feeling too woman, too brown, too immigrant, I think that myself. I don’t have any magic fix for the country, but let’s not wait until our present becomes a dirty past, until the history textbooks group 2018 with 2017 as another year that didn’t listen.
Claudia Rojas is poeta. She’s also a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) holder. TPS protects individuals fleeing natural disaster and war on a temporary basis. The program has been extended for many years; no permanent solution has ever been presented. Currently, the countries of Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan have lost their TPS designation. El Salvador, Claudia’s country of origin, has 200,000 TPS holders whose lives are at risk should Congress or America fail us. Call your member of Congress today through the FWD.us tool or find your representative’s info online. We cannot delay.