Opinion: The Latino Resistance

[This article was originally published in La Voz.]

Mariel Fiori (Photo via La Voz)

Thanks Mr. President Donald Trump for having awakened so many people sleeping in indifference, or in the feeling of helplessness. Thanks Mr. President Donald Trump for your executive orders, your members of cabinet, your words for the media. Thanks for your conflicts of interest, your relations with Russia, your intention to abolish the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), and a long list of other thanks. Maybe it sounds ironic, or sarcastic, but my appreciation is genuine.

A few days ago, a certain Susan Keller published on Facebook a list of 25 points through which we can see that Trump really is making America great again. Some of the reasons she claims include: millions of Americans now know who are the state and federal representatives without having to look them up on Google; millions are also doing more exercise by holding up signs and marching every week; the postal service is enjoying an influx of cash thanks to the stamps that millions of people are buying to send letters and postcards to their representatives; the videos of municipal meetings are now entertaining; the same goes for live coverage of sessions of congress, which are now as popular as the Kardashians; those who protested against the travel ban for people from seven Muslim majority countries gave $24 million to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which has been able to hire 200 more lawyers, because those lawyers are now our heroes.

And at home? Yes, here too those Latinos who hadn’t woken up yet, are doing so now, more and more every day. A couple recent examples. In Dutchess County, legislator Joel Tyner (along with students from Bard and Vassar) wrote a letter asking that Dutchess County be declared a sanctuary. The Dutchess legislature has a Republican majority (18 out of 25 total), so it would be very difficult that they have a topic like that on the meeting’s agenda. Because many people had protested in support of immigrants and refugees in marches in Poughkeepsie and other cities, Tyner asked county residents to go to the legislature meeting on Feb. 16 to make their voices heard, not in the streets, but directly in front of those who make the decisions. I was there, completely surprised by the number of people, mostly Hispanic, who showed up. Personally, I consider this participation, the first for many in front of local government, a success. Some say we were 100 people, others 200; I don’t know the exact number, but we were definitely a crowd that went to show that this issue interests us, and although not everyone could speak, it was clear to the legislators what all of us were doing there. Another positive thing that resulted from the meeting: out of the 25 legislators of Dutchess County, already seven of them (the seven representatives of the Democratic Party) signed the letter in favor of sanctuary. It’s not enough, but it’s a start, a first step.

A day before that, on Feb. 15, in the city of Newburgh in Orange County, someone took a video of the immigration police, ICE, entering a building next to a Latino store. The video went viral in minutes, and within minutes panic spread throughout the city and its surroundings. One of the councilwomen of Newburgh, Karen Mejía (the only Hispanic in a city where half of the residents are Latino) found out quickly from the chief of police what was happening: it was actually a drug trafficking operation, a routine operation. But the fear is real and our local elected officials must say publicly how they intend to protect those most vulnerable. Mejía understands this as well, so since the middle of February she, along with other community leaders, are fighting for the city of Newburgh to approve a resolution in which it is stated that local police can’t collaborate with immigration [authorities], unless there is a court order (what some call “sanctuary”). On March 13, the city will make the decision in a meeting at the Recreation Center (401 Washington St.), the place chosen because of the number of residents that is expected will attend.

Once more, thanks Mr. President. I am thankful because now the people, all types of people, are involved. They don’t stay quiet, they ask and demand loudly for fair treatment; while at the same time they seek to learn more about this famous thing called democracy and the separation of power.

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