How Not to Welcome a Brown Person

I was at a recent convening of middle-class, well-educated liberals. This being a Washington, DC area group, it was predominantly White, with a spattering of African Americans, a couple of Latinos, and one Asian. Me. Now this is a pretty welcoming organization and they do try hard to promote diversity. One woman, however, simply went overboard and ended up alienating the very people she set out to embrace.

During lunch, I found myself the only person of color at a table. The woman, who looked like she’s been fighting the system since Woodstock, took a chair close to me. Then, with the smug look of a child who was about to show off what she just perfected, addressed me in Spanish. Flabbergasted, all I could muster was “I’m not Latino, I’m Asian.” Without any sign of embarrassment or remorse, she pointed to my name tag. “But your last name is Spanish.”

So, let me get this straight. Just because I’m Brown, appear Latino to you, and have a Spanish last name, then I must be Hispanic? And English has got to be my second language?

Sensing that I was about to burst into an angry Asian man, I decided to join my African American friends at another table. They readily empathized and insisted that I finish my meal with them. One White person got enraged on my behalf and said I should I have called the woman out. The other White people at the table had interesting responses. Most changed the topic immediately and talked among themselves. The silver-haired man next to me, decked in head to toe Georgetown pastel prep, got paler and stiffer. He excused himself as soon as he could.

Over breakfast the next day, I recounted what happened to actual Latinos. One said, “yeah, I get that a lot,” in fluent English. The other said, “it’s just as bad as being asked ‘where are you from?‘” This led to an attempt at explaining to our White friends why all this bothered us. I’m not sure if any of  them really got what we were trying to say. Before long, they were back to their comfortable and polite conversations. The three people of color were left to commiserate among themselves in this very White and very liberal space.

But not to fret, the group is really trying hard to attract more of the minority du jour, Latinos. It’s official policy.

Reposted on the Huffington Post.

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Latino Coalition Pushes for Acceptance of Gay Familia

LGBT support

July 9, 2012; Source: Journal Sentinel

On Monday, 21 of the nation’s leading Latino organizations announced their endorsement of a comprehensive public education campaign, Familia es Familia, aimed at building support within the Hispanic community for acceptance of LGBT family members.

The groundbreaking initiative provides bilingual and culturally appropriate resources and information to empower voices within and from Latino families and communities. The campaign also provides training, technical assistance, and support to coalition members and spearheads a national effort to educate the public through a range of viral components that include an interactive bilingual website rich with videos, resources, and publications; social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; and an organizing campaign to engage the community through their mobile devices.

“The polling shows that many in the Latino community already understand that there is one struggle for equality, a struggle that benefits from appreciating common mission,” Thomas A. Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund said in a statement. “Familia es Familia is a campaign that will help to deepen the understanding that a discriminatory deprivation of rights on any basis is a cause of concern for all. Together, we can overcome all of the irrational biases that adversely affect any member of the Latino community.”

Freedom to Marry, a marriage equality advocacy group, provided the seed funding and serves as fiscal sponsor for Familia es Familia. The Gill Foundation has also committed to providing additional resources.

“A growing majority of Latinos in this country know that every gay or lesbian person is part of someone’s family—a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a loved one—and the more conversations we have, family member to family member, the more support for the freedom to marry grows,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “Latino gay couples seek the freedom to marry to affirm and strengthen their love, their commitment, and their ability to take care of each other and their families; government should not be putting barriers in their way. Freedom to Marry is proud to be supporting the Familia es Familia campaign to lift up Hispanic voices and stories as together we make the case for ending the exclusion from marriage.”

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s Nonprofit Newswire, July 11, 2012.

Ignoring the Asian Vote

The Latino vote gets a great deal of attention during presidential campaigns—and understandably so. Latino voters in key states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico may well decide whether President Obama gets to stay through 2016 or Governor Romney takes over come January 2013.

But analysts, experts, strategists, and other talking heads are largely ignoring the Asian vote. Again, understandably so. Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) make up only 4.8 percent of the U.S. population, a mere pittance of 14.7 million people compared with the 50.5 million Latinos. Moreover, AAPIs are not exactly known for their attendance come election time. Their share of the electorate hovers around the 2 percent mark.

In an extremely tight election however, every vote does count and the invisible Asian voter can make as much of a difference as her Latino neighbor. In highly contested Nevada and Virginia, AAPIs make up 7.8 percent and 5.6 percent of the population respectively.

Asian Americans are poised to be a force to be reckoned with in the near future. AAPIs are the fastest growing racial group, multiplying by 45.6 percent in the past decade, far outpacing the total U.S. population, which only grew by 9.7 percent. Their numbers have risen by at least 30 percent in all states, except in Hawaii where they are already the undisputed majority. Politicians should take note that the AAPI population grew by 116 percent in Nevada and by well over 80 percent in Arizona and North Carolina. Projections show that by mid-century, over 9 percent of the population will be of Asian Pacific Island descent.

As Don T. Nakashini, director emeritus of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, writes in the 2011-12 National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac: As voters, donors, public policy advocates, and elected officials, “Asian Pacific Americans seek to no longer remain as spectators to the parade of politics, or as vulnerable victims of partisan power struggles. Instead they are striving to become more organized, more visible, and more effective as participants and leaders in order to advance—as well as protect—their individual and group interests, and to contribute to our nation’s democratic processes and institutions.”

It just might be worth both parties’ time to pay Asian voters some heed.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog, April 24, 2012.

Can State Immigration Laws Be Rolled Back?

Opponents of Alabama law HB 56

Opponents of Alabama law HB 56.

Alabama passed one of the most severe and stringent immigration laws in the nation last June. It requires public schools to check students’ immigration status, mandates that immigrants carry papers at all times, criminalizes granting rides or renting to undocumented immigrants, prohibits courts from enforcing contracts with those immigrants, and makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to transact business with the government. HB 56 also instructs law enforcement officials to demand papers from anyone they stop and suspect to be in the country illegally.

The bill has spurred lawsuits from religious leaders, the Obama administration, and civil rights organizations. The latest courtroom development Friday had the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issuing an injunctionwhich temporarily blocks parts of HB 56.

So public school teachers and administrators do not have to check their wards’ immigration status and immigrants will not be charged for walking without sufficient identification—for now. Police officers can still ask for documentation, courts are still barred from enforcing contracts made with unauthorized immigrants, and these immigrants can be charged with a felony for doing business with the state.

Michael Innis-Jiménez, a University of Alabama professor and expert on Latino and Labor issues, believes that the remaining provisions are problematic. He said people “can get profiled and pulled over for almost anything.”

He is troubled most by the contracts provision. “Any contract between an undocumented immigrant and anyone else is automatically void and unenforceable. If you sign a rental agreement it is void. If you sign a loan agreement, a mortgage, a title loan, or an employee contract, they are all void and unenforceable,” he said.

Since the law bars any public office from conducting business with undocumented immigrants, it will be difficult for them to get basic services. “This means immigrants can’t get tags for their cars. Some local governments are also interpreting this as a prohibition to hook up water, sewer, or electricity service for immigrants,” said  Innis-Jiménez.

What can be done to counter Alabama’s immigration law other than going to court?

Some immigrant advocates have called for boycotts. A consortium of Spanish-language radio stations instigated a one-day protest last Wednesday to prove that Latinos are crucial to Alabama’s economy.  A Facebook pagecalled on Latinos to unite and “bring Alabama economy down (sic).” Reports indicate the one-day protest led some poultry plants and businesses to close but only had minimal economic impact.

Even if opponents of HB 56 are able to muster a protracted boycott of the state, it is highly unlikely that the law will be knocked down completely. Despite concerted action against Arizona’s controversial immigration law which cost the state its reputation and hundreds of millions in lost revenue, the law still stands, albeit with a partial injunction, as it winds its way to the Supreme Court.

Its also unclear if boycotts have staying power. The National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy group, called off the nationwide protest last month and Arizona was recently chosen by NFL owners to host Super Bowl XLIX.

Innis-Jiménez thinks Alabama’s harsh law will be seriously challenged only when non-immigrant Alabamans feel burdened by HB 56. They are the ones, not the small number of Latinos in Alabama, who can pressure elected officials to change course and possibly even repeal the law.

He gave the example of Alabama’s business and agricultural communities, which for the most part remained silent while the legislators were crafting the legislation. These interests are only now becoming vocal opponents, as they see their bottom lines getting slashed by the law which has scared Latino laborers—authorized and unauthorized—out of the state.

Ordinary citizens are also starting to be inconvenienced. In the most populous county in the state, residents are suffering longer than usual queues at courthouses due to HB 56 and budget cuts. Budget shortfalls have resulted in the closing of courthouses, just at a time when many more residents must flock to them, required to verify residency to buy or renew their driver’s licenses or car tags.

Alabama’s experience is not unique. Other states, like Arizona and Georgia, that passed harsh immigration laws inadvertently inflicted externalities upon their non-immigrant residents.

Innis-Jiménez predicts that eventually, non-immigrants in Alabama will witness the negative fallout of this law. A decrease in the number of public school students for instance, will lead to decreased federal funding. Multinational corporations that value diversity and employ immigrants will think twice before setting shop in states like Alabama.

Change will occur in Alabama, “not out of concern for human rights, but out of inconvenience,”  said Innis-Jiménez.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 20, 2011 and WNYC’s It’s A Free Country, “New Allies in Battle Against Controversial Alabama Law.”

U.S. Senate Apologizes for Discriminating Against Chinese Immigrants

October 7, 2011; Source: Silicon Valley Mercury News | America, no doubt, is a nation of immigrants; but it has not always been welcoming to people who seek a better life in this “land of opportunity.”

In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law. The first exclusionary U.S. immigration law made it impossible for Chinese migrants to enter the country and for those already in the United States, life insufferable.

Chinese immigrants had been lured to the West Coast in the 19th century by economic opportunities such as the Gold Rush then the Transcontinental Railroad.  High unemployment and declining wages, however, led to the scapegoating of the Chinese community and the enactment of a series of policies, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which targeted and marginalized one particular ethnic community.

The U.S. Senate, pressed by the Organization of Chinese Americans and other civil rights advocacy groups, has now apologized to the Chinese American community, well over a century later. The bipartisan resolution also expresses regrets for the draconian immigration law and the racial violence that erupted in San Francisco and cities around the country during that time. The bill acknowledges the persecution and detention of Chinese immigrants at the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Sen. Scott Brown, one of the bill’s sponsors, wrote, “This resolution cannot undo the hurt caused by past discrimination against Chinese immigrants, but it is important that we acknowledge the wrongs that were committed many years ago.”

“It’s a welcome step forward that really highlights how our country is able to acknowledge a moral obligation to living up to our ideals,” said Eddie Wong, director of the nonprofit Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. “This whole idea of expressing regret, and acknowledging it was a wrongful act of racial discrimination, is an important thing.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a co-sponsor, wrote, “I hope this resolution will serve to enlighten those who may not be aware of this regrettable chapter in our history.”

This can also draw a cautionary tale as state immigration laws are passed which disproportionately affects the lives of Latinos, immigrants and native-born alike. Although state immigration laws are being enacted out of federal inaction on immigration, these policies, like the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, marginalize one racial group, this time Latinos.

Will we apologize to another immigrant group yet again?

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 9, 2011.

Alabama’s Immigration Law Fails Our Future

A classroom in Birmingham, AL
A classroom in Birmingham, AL. (Photo: Terry McCombs/flickr)

Last Friday, close to 2,000 Latino students in Alabama didn’t show up at school. That is roughly five percent of the Latino children in the school system. Their parents kept their children away out of fear – twenty-four hours earlier, Alabama had begun asking students for papers.

The state passed what is arguably the harshest immigration law in the nation in June but its implementation was delayed until a federal judge ruled on lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, national civil rights groups, and church leaders. Last Wednesday, the judge, Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, upheld several parts of the statute, including the one that prompted parents to keep their children at home and some to even leave the state.

This law mandates that public schools check birth certificates when a child enrolls for the first time. If a birth certificate is not presented, parents or guardians have up to 30 days to submit other documentation or sign an affidavit about the citizenship or immigration status of the student. Otherwise, the children are counted as undocumented.

The law does not require school officials to submit names of undocumented students to immigration authorities, but the fear among immigrant families in the state—many are a mix of individuals with and without papers—is understandable. The law’s passage indicates that the loud anti-immigrant rhetoric in Alabama has been codified.

Such laws, and the reaction to them, will keep many children of immigrants – native and foreign-born alike – from their constitutional right to an education. This will have serious implications not only for their future but for our nation’s future.

Children of immigrants are the fastest growing segment of our population. They account for nearly the entire growth in the country’s child population during the past two decades. As of 2010, one in four children in the U.S. is part of an immigrant family–the majority Latino.

The number of Latino children in our public schools has been steadily increasing. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that at the turn of the century, 16 percent of all children in the school system were Latino. A decade later, 22 percent of all students are Latino. The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics projects that by mid-century, four out of ten children will be Latino, up from two out of ten today.

This considerable demographic shift will have major social, political, and economic implications. In less than a decade, when baby boomers reach retirement age, the current cohort of immigrant youth will comprise a large proportion of the workers, taxpayers, and voters who will bear the responsibility of supporting our aging population and maintaining America’s place in a fast-changing global order.

For this reason–among other, moral responsibilities–it is imperative that we provide quality education for Latino children and other children of immigrants to prepare them for our shared future.

Current education statistics indicate that we are not doing a good job.

The Children’s Defense Fund reports dismal information. American schools are resegregating. Seventy eight percent of Latino students are in predominantly minority schools. Eight in ten Latino public school students in grades four, eight and 12 are reading or doing math below grade level. Latino students are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs. Thirty percent of Latino high school students attend the more than 1,600 “dropout factories” across the country. Only six in ten Latinos finish high school.

Now state anti-immigration laws are making it worse for these immigrant children. And ultimately, the rest of us.

Since the nineteenth century, public schools have been integral to the social, political and economic integration of immigrants. Through public education, new Americans have been introduced to their native-born neighbors, have learned how to be responsible citizens, and have gained the education necessary to be productive members of society.

A good education can give immigrant children the foundation necessary for higher education and subsequent gainful employment. This in turn will uplift the lives of these children and their families, economically and socially.

Unfortunately, the current trends in public education, exacerbated by reactionary immigration policies like the new Alabama law, will result in an underclass of poorly educated Americans who are expected to bear the rest of us on their shoulders.

We should be encouraging immigrants and their children to attend school, not scaring them away from getting an education.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 6, 2011.

Why Latinos Are Not Into Obama

President Barack Obama Approval Ratings by Race (Gallup)

President Barack Obama Approval Ratings by Race. (via Gallup)

The president has been calling on Latinos and he’s learning that they’re just not that into him.

Gallup’s latest polls show President Obama getting his lowest monthly job rating since taking office. Only four in ten approve of his job performance. The polls also reveal a precipitous decline in his approval among Latinos, a bad omen for Mr. Obama and his party who rely heavily on the community for votes. Just last January, 60 percent of Latinos said Mr. Obama was doing a fine job. Now, less than half – 48 percent – assess his performance favorably.

This should not come as a surprise for the man who once promised si se puede!

He has not delivered on his promise to reform the immigration system and comprehensive reform was not made a legislative priority. The President could not even make headway with the DREAM Act, one of the least toxic immigration initiatives. His administration is on track to deport more unauthorized immigrants during his first term than either of George W. Bush’s two terms. The desperation on the administration’s part to prove its law enforcement bona fides to conservatives has allowed immigration opponents to frame the debate.

It’s disappointing.

The tough economic times has not done Mr. Obama any favors either. Latinos, like most of us, are hurting, but they are hurting much more. The unemployment rate among Latinos is 11.3 percent, two points higher than whites. The poverty rate for Latinos in 2010 is 26.6 percent, 15.5 points higher than the national average and 16.6 points higher than whites. The median household wealth among Latinos plummeted 60 percent from 2005 to 2009; it only fell 16 percent among white households whose household wealth is 18 times that of their Latino neighbors.

No doubt the president and his party will keep on calling, meeting with Latino leaders, promising they still can and will deliver, but how can they really convince anybody considering their track record? Anything they say rings hollow and it is too late to do anything to change minds already made.

Republicans have also been calling, but Latinos hear loud and clear the anti-immigrant rhetoric that drowns any GOP offers to the Latino community.

The bad news for the president and both parties is that many Latinos will  sit 2012 out.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 20, 2011. Reposted on WNYC It’s a Free Country, September 23, 2011.

La Raza Calls Off Boycott of Arizona

September 12, 2011; Source: The Orange County Register | In May 2010, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), America’s leading Latino civil rights and advocacy group, initiated a nationwide boycott of Arizona in protest of immigration laws advocates found discriminatory and unfair.

The action has been estimated to cost the state, which relies heavily on tourism, hundreds of millions in lost revenue from cancelled conventions and has earned the state a reputation for being hostile to Latinos, immigrants and people of color.

La Raza has now called off the boycott, much to the disappointment of local groups. NCLR reasons that the action has achieved its purpose. It claims that other states have been discouraged from enacting similar immigration laws.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reportsthat in the first half of 2011 alone, state lawmakers introduced 1,592 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants, a 16 percent increase from the same period last year. One hundred fifty one laws have been enacted and 95 resolutions adopted around law enforcement and employment issues, and to the disadvantage of immigrant individuals and families.

Arizona might have lost millions of dollars but NCLR and immigrant advocates have not been able to stem the tide of strident anti-immigration initiatives. This will be continue to be a challenge as Americans struggle with economic insecurity and fast changing demographics.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 13, 2011.