A few hundred Chicagoans huddled around a makeshift stage on a blustery spring Saturday. They gathered at Daley Plaza, the political heart of the city caged by glittering sentinels of steel and glass. Warm rays from the sun flooded the square where protestors held homemade signs displaying the words: “UNDOCUMENTED. UNAFRAID. AND UNAPOLOGETIC.” They, the people – students, activists, advocates, immigrants and passersby – were there to demand passage of the elusive DREAM Act, an antidote dangled ritualistically every year over the more than 2 million youngsters it would immediately heal.
Nearly 800 people had promised to attend on the event’s Facebook page; I’d be surprised if at least half that number showed up this March 10. A pathetic display of the political will of our Latino community.
Where was everybody? Where were the DREAMers and their supporters, the same people who persistently bemoan the unrealized ambition of a president and the miscarriages of an impotent Congress? There are over half a million undocumented souls in Illinois alone, most of them living in the metropolitan northeast. Yet an event aimed at raising immigration reform to the forefront of national politics could scarcely muster 500 inhabitants of a city whose sphere of influence envelopes almost 10 million people.
The scene was nauseatingly dismal. I could see in the eyes of the undocumented participants I’d invited the distinct look of hopeless disappointment. This is it, we thought to ourselves. This is the movement for immigration rights; a few desperately committed individuals. No media crews. No national organizations. No local leaders – no Gutierrez, no Durbin, no Quigley. Just a few kids crying amidst a cluster of steely skyscrapers.
The Latino community maintains its dormancy like some resting leviathan; comatose, in fact. How blaring must an alarm be to spring our people to action?
Now a cantankerous mob unites against us, torches and pitchforks in hand, looking to harass and make our lives so miserable that we’ll “self-deport” to our ancestral homelands. And if you think their animosity is only targeted at “illegal” immigrants, or even just immigrants in general, you really must be dreaming. The political stances of today’s American public are not so nuanced. They want to rid their country of undocumented (Latin American) immigrants and anyone who looks the part. If they didn’t, if they truly accepted Latinos as part of the American fabric, they’d look to make our undocumented brethren as American as we are; to make them like us. But they don’t want to make them “like us,” because “like us” is seemingly the source of their sufferings.
Rest painfully assured, the opposition is organized. So we must organize as well, not to snatch up power we have no claim to, but to ensure that our proper rights as a people are safeguarded in the present battles and those certain to come. What the Latino community lacks is leadership and participation. Our campaigns thus far have been mainly scattered and divorced, coalescing here and there in grand semblances of concerted effort. But such instances are as constant as the aligning of planets, and the watchful opposition remains undaunted.
Our people need a King. We need Freedom Riders. Only then will Latino America truly begin to wield its political might.