New Citizen Sends Message to the President
Some polls believe 23-year-old Matilde Gabriela Sanchez
is the embodiment of who, or what, is causing all the problems in the United States.
Sanchez, whose mom died at childbirth, committed her first criminal act at age two–when she was brought to this country by an aunt who raised her.
Many American politicians derogatorily refer to Sanchez as an illegal alien–a criminal–a person who steals jobs and leeches off the government.
According to Pat Buchanan, she is the person responsible for corrupting both the culture and morals of the nation.
While living in East Los Angeles in constant fear of the migra, she had the unmitigated gall to defraud the government–by attending school. Kindergarten that is.
Had it not been for the 1982 Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court case, Sanchez would not have been able to complete her elementary school education. The court ruled that children cannot be denied an education as a result of actions by their parents.
Sanchez is actually no longer an undocumented immigrant, although to some pols, she will always be the alien they helped to demonize. That she recently was graduated from the prestigious Wellesley College in Massachussetts does not make her any less a criminal in their eyes.
As a result of the 1986 immigration law, she received amnesty. Just a couple of weeks ago she became a U.S. citizen–and a learned and angry new voter.
So the first thing on her agenda is not to go to Disneyland, but rather to send a message to the President and Hillary Clinton: “Please stop destroying immigrant children’s lives.”
Sanchez believes the Clintons have not been forceful in using their moral persuasion to halt the war and lies against immigrants.
Sanchez gets angry every time politicians portray undocumented immigrants as criminals or freeloaders. She also gets angry when these same politicians claim the president has been lenient on immigrants, because that is far from reality.
She views all the legislative attacks against both documented and undocumented immigrants as an affront to all Mexicans and all Latinos. She is especially upset that the president signed the recent welfare bill–which denies welfare to legal immigrants and at California Gov. Pete Wilson for his crusade against immigrants, especially his latest executive order which would deny state benefits to the undocumented. She’s also mad at officials in Congress who are seeking to legislatively overturn the Plyler decision, and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees birthright citizenship. (Incidentally, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole opposes Plyler, whereas Jack Kemp in the past has strongly supported the decision.
However, upon accepting the Republican VP nod, Kemp has now reversed himself.)
“All those who migrate know there’s a risk in coming to the United States,” says Sanchez. “But no one comes for welfare. Everyone comes to work.”
Sanchez has never known any undocumented immigrant who has received any form of government assistance, including emergency services. As a child, Sanchez broke her clavicle. But such was the ethic of her family–of not relying on the taxpayer or the government–that, rather than going to a clinic in the U.S., she was treated in Tijuana, Mexico, 120 miles away.
“We didn’t have insurance. We didn’t have a regular doctor or dentist. We always lived in fear. We never took welfare . . . and we had the need,” she says.
Sanchez says that her family was no different from other families who lived in the shadows. “The vast majority of immigrants are working [two or three jobs] to make ends meet. They know they have no rights, but they pass their dreams on to their children.”
Sanchez is passionate about her beliefs. Engrained in her mind is the idea of finding a job that will allow her to give back to her community, particularly to immigrants. She says that politicians have no idea what damage they do, particularly to children, when they scapegoat Mexicans and Latinos. She says she grew up ashamed of being Mexican until she took a Chicano literature class in high school that “finally opened up my eyes.
That’s why I want to speak with Hillary, because she wrote a book about children.”
Incidentally, upon becoming a citizen, at the behest of immigration officers, Sanchez dropped her last name and is now legally Matilde Gabriela.
She was told by an immigration official that now that she had become a citizen, she was entitled to change her name–without having to pay the customary $300 price tag. She was disturbed by the pressure–it seemed almost a rite of passage–to change her name. “I felt like my umbilical chord was being cut.” In a sense, Gabriela is now a woman without a last name.
What happened to her is a not-so-subtle form of “Americanization”–when, as a result of xenophobic pressures to leave the past behind, Miguel becomes “Mike” and Lorena becomes “Lorraine.” But Gabriela doesn’t feel any more “American.” She always has been so and her indigenous connection to the Americas goes back thousands of years.
Despite politicians falling over each other in their attempts to blame the undocumented immigrant for every one of our problems, Gabriela is living proof that amnesty was a good idea and that perhaps amnesty should once again be extended to another generation. We can guarantee that she will never be on welfare.
Fear Grips the Nation
After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X was blasted by the American public for saying that it was a case of “the chickens coming home to roost.”
Today, as the United States seems to be gripped by terrorism and the fear of terrorism, one might argue that it too appears to be the work of chickens. Nevertheless, the TWA disaster and the deadly Olympics bombing has put the entire country on edge.
After last year’s Oklahoma City bombing, politicians immediately blamed foreign terrorists and demanded that we close our borders. Once we knew the culprits were not foreigners, Congress moved boldly and decisively and calle for hearings–not on the threat posed by militias, but on the government’s role in the Waco tragedy and the siege at Ruby Ridge.
Meanwhile, the president’s response was the anti-terrorism bill whose toughest stipulation was to eliminate the “suspension of deportation” provision of our nation’s immigration laws. This provision allows undocumented immigrants to become or make legal their immigration status, if they’ve been in the country for seven years or longer. It has nothing to do with terrorism, yet eliminating it sounds tough. John Wayne would be proud–blame it on the bandidos.
The president actually wanted tougher measures, but they would have been at the expense of individual freedoms, such as allowing for the expanded use of wiretaps and weakening the Miranda Rule, which requires that suspects be rea their rights. Ironically, staunch conservatives in Congress–who generally oppose civil rights–should be credited for leading the fight (both last year and this year) against the provisions in the bill that would have eroded everyone’s rights. This is especially surprising, considering it is civil rights leaders who have traditionally been targeted for harassment, not right-wing fanatics.
Perhaps the reason politicians immediately suspect foreign terrorists is because, throughout the Cold War, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. armed and traine proxy irregular forces with highly sophisticated weaponry. So, there is a genuine fear that, given their market value, weapons are now in the hands of other terrorists, many of whom may now clandestinely live here and have begu to aim their weapons at U.S. targets.
While we appear to be in the throes of a siege, the media’s attention to the nationality of terrorists is at best diversionary and inflammatory. It allows us to continue to ignore a festering domestic militia problem and, at worst, gives us a false sense of security. Thus, it validates our society’s penchant for dividing everything into good vs. evil, white vs. black, and native vs. foreigners.
As we know, the world is not black and white. Yet the script we’ve been handed by most politicians and the national media would have us believe that everything neatly conforms to their simplistic view.
According to this perspective, Middle Easterners are terrorists, and clampin down on the U.S./Mexico border will somehow stop them. All this translates to more money for the U.S. Border Patrol, more walls, and even senseless demands to use the military against civilians.
Yet nary a word on home-grown terrorists who are engaged in a self-proclaime white rebellion. Many of them are disgruntled ex-military and ex-law enforcement types–some of whom have actually fought as mercenaries on foreign soil and who believe that America has now become enemy, or foreign, soil.
We can only imagine the response of the U.S. government if the militias were black or brown guerrillas, training in a similar fashion and advocating rebellion.
At minimum, Congress should convene hearings on terrorism, and specifically, investigate whether these groups pose a threat to the stability of the country.
On this subject, the politics of the Clinton administration resemble that of Mexico’s ex-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Before the guerrilla army of the Zapatistas burst onto the scene on Jan. 1, 1994, the government of Mexico knew of their existence, yet pretended it didn’t, for fear that if th world knew of it, it would adversely affect the outcome of Salinas’s pet project: NAFTA.
Similarly, the Clinton administration has been well aware of white supremacist militia groups, yet it has acted as though they are simply overgrown Boy Scouts, despite the fact that the avowed mission of many of these extremists is to overthrow a government that they see as controlled by Jews and pandering to people of color.
Why this inaction from the government?
Perhaps the Clinton administration actually fears triggering the race war that these fanatics are preparing for. More than likely, Clinton’s inaction towards militias is designed to protect his right flank. And his overreaction, which would strip individual freedoms, rather than actually combating terrorism, is no doubt designed to keep his pet project alive: His reelection.
Zapatistas Inspire Grassroots Leadership Worldwide
A fundamental change in political leadership is taking root not only in the United States, but in the entire world, says Maria Jimenez*, one of the nation’s most respected human rights activists.
In political circles it is known as the development of a third force, or the rise of independent political leadership–not right, not left, but indigenous.
Jimenez, a representative of the Houston office of the American Friends Service Committee, a civil rights organization, just returned from both the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico, and the site of numerous protests outside a political jungle called the GOP convention, in San Diego.
In Chiapas, the site of the intercontinental summit convened by the Zapatistas in early August, Jimenez says that, unlike the 1960s when leftists from Latin America tried to impose a European ideology on the Americas, this time, human rights activists from throughout the world came to learn from the indigenous Zapatistas.
“There is no longer one formula for resistance,” says Jimenez. Exploited communities such as the people of Chiapas are creating their own forms of defiance, fueled by hundreds of years of racial discrimination and economic exploitation, and they’re speaking for themselves. “The Zapatistas are authentic voices of the oppressed and their revolution has sparked hope worldwide.”
The Zapatistas maintain that the economic restructuring taking place in North America–which places an emphasis on maximizing profits using sub-minimum wages, temporary, non-unionized and replaceable workers–is also taking place globally, and is impoverishing masses throughout the world.
In Chiapas, as a result of economic exploitation by the land-owning elites and government neglect, many Mayan children die of disease and malnutrition, while in countries like the United States, the economically displaced–who are normally people of color–wind up unemployed and marginalized, and increasingly, incarcerated. Meanwhile, jobs that were normally available in the inner city are now shipped overseas.
The struggle against this global restructuring, as the Zapatistas envision it, is creating economic development alternatives that emphasize people before profits.
Jimenez says that the Zapatistas, who rebelled against the Mexican government three years ago, and are still encircled by the army, sent out the message: “The best way to help us is to resist from where you are.” In other words, people should fight their own local battles.
The Zapatistas, says Jimenez, have a special bond with Chicanos/Mexicanos living in the United States and thus met with a large contingent of them after the summit. The Zapatistas consider it a “priority relationship.” “We recognize no borders,” Comandante Tacho told the delegation. The Zapatistas recognize that Chicanos/Mexicanos in the United States live parallel lives–of exclusion and discrimination in their own homelands.
Jimenez also witnessed a leadership transformation in San Diego during the various protests of the GOP convention. The protests, which generally were ignored by the media, showed a division between the old leadership and the new, with the former stressing voter registration and citizenship, while the younger protesters exhibited an impatience with the traditional forms of accessing power–an ideology of resistance that more closely resembled that of the Zapatistas.
While she supports the efforts to increase the amount of Latino voters, she says that a political movement that only stresses the importance of voting is operating on a flawed strategy because history has shown that voting, in and of itself, is no guarantee of rights or power. As an example, notes Jimenez, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans and African Americans are all citizens, yet their votes have not earned them equality.
Among the Chicanos/Latinos protesting in San Diego, all sectors–from the mainstream National Council of La Raza to the militant Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan student organization–agreed that both political parties are shamelessly guilty of using immigrants and the Chicano/Latino community as political scapegoats.
It is that discontent that is breeding a new, independent political force, which will be on display in the nation’s capital on October 12, as hundreds of thousands of Latinos, immigrants and the poor are expected to converge at the Lincoln Memorial. Protests are also planned at the upcoming Democratic Convention.
This discontent is similar to that which fueled the Zapatistas’s rebellion, and in a sense, that which has propelled the senatorial candidacy of the virtually unknown teacher, Victor Morales, in Texas, says Jimenez.
“It’s not the established leaders who are organizing the march. It’s immigrants. It’s women, unions, students and the youth,” says Jimenez. “The same people who said Morales couldn’t win [the democratic nomination] are the same ones saying the march can’t happen.
“What we are witnessing worldwide is the transformation of [political] culture.”
* Maria Jimenez can be reached at 713-926-2799.
Garbage People/Children of the Street
Martin Trejo, 22, typically makes 20 peso a day, and on a good day, he can make up to 50 working in the landfill sorting glass from wood, and paper from plastic. Though he’s up to his knees in other people’s waste, surrounded by skinny, sick dogs, aggressive flies and flying garbage on a windy day, he’s happy with the job. He believes it is the only alternative is unemployment.
The pepenadores (the garbage people) represent a growing part of Mexico City’s population that is living in extreme poverty. Trejo, like thousands of others, not only works in the landfill. He also lives there and has built a small house out of garbage. His closet is in an old cooler, his sofa consists of two orange old bus seats of plastic, and his calendar sporting pictures of naked women is, of course, from last year. Trejo has no electricity, no water, no formal address in the Neza landfill, one of Mexico City’s seven landfills.
As a consequence of the currency devaluation in 1994, the GDP per capita dropped over 30 percent to $2,800 in 1995, the severe inequities in income distribution became even more severe, and the number of people living in extreme poverty rose.
“There is not only more inequality,” wrote professor of political science Jorge Castanada in his recent book, “The Mexican Shock.”
“There is a new inequality–and a new poverty–in the hemisphere. It is produced by the conjunction of the rush to the cities and the disappearance of the high economic growth rates in Latin America between 1949-1980. The large majority of the poor and excluded are now in the cities.”
Arturo Buenrostro is a garbage specialist and has his own NGO, called “BIO,” which fights to make the lives of the pepenadores more livable. “The average age is 50. They cook and eat out there and have all kinds of stomach diseases. Some children die before they are 10. We are fighting for them first, then for the environment,” said Buenrostro who has been garbage-stoned out of the landfills. “They don’t like us, because they think we’ll take away their jobs. But they can’t read or write, and they don’t understand what we are trying to do.”
According to Buenrostro, the solution is to privatize the whole garbage industry, so the some 25 million inhabitants pay what it cost to get rid off their 20,000 tons garbage a day. Today, the industry is run by a mafia, and the government does nothing about it, because it does not want a political uproar, said Buenrostro. “By charging people what it cost to get rid of the garbage, we would force them to think of their consumption. They’d start buying food without so much packaging, and they’d have to sort their garbage from their home.”
Yet, his visions are not visible on the Mexican horizon. With an unofficial unemployment rate in the 50 percent range, the low value of the peso for the Mexicans, and a fight for food and other basics to stay alive, there is not space for environmental considerations. So, Martin continues his job in The Lost City (another name for the landfills).
Three times a week he does get out of the garbage. Next to the landfill, CPJ Neza Ac. has a playground. Here, Martin plays football twice a week with the other pepenadores and the kids in the neighborhood, and then, once a week, there’s even a rock concert, he can attend.
Neza Ac. is a part of the coalition “Axis-Urban Courage,” that will be present at the Habitat Conference in Istanbul this June. The NGO has been labeled as one of Habitat II’s Best Practices projects. It works for young people’s rights and their well-being. CPJ Neza has playground for football and rock concerts, a workshop to produce furniture and t-shirts and a kitchen to give out free meals once a day. Here young people not only get their basic needs catered to, they get politically sensitized, and some of them are even led to a new path in life.
Mexico City’s Children of the Street
Marceo Antonio, 18, gave his puppy another hug and smiled. He had just come up from his home, a hole in the ground in the center strip of Insurgentes, one of Mexico City’ many noisy, smoggy highways. The dirt in his nostrils made him sneeze, and he coughed because of the turpentine he was sniffing. Marceo’s smile was not a happy one. He was just shy and high. “If I could chose,” he stammered, “I’d leave the street and get a job. But I don’t think it is possible.”
Marceo does not believe he has a chance to get a better life, ever, he said. He has no hopes for his future and he is not alone. In the overpopulated city, the number of street children is on the rise. Children, who live and work in the streets, do whatever they can to scrape by. Some dress up as clowns to make people pay for a laugh, other wash car windows, sell gadgets or simply beg. According to a recent survey from La Comision Economica para America Latina y el Caribe 17 percent of the youth population in the city work in the streets. That amounts to two million.
Casa Alianza, a Latin-American NGO for street kids, has reached the same conclusion. But far fewer kids actually live in the streets like Marceo. According to the latest UNICEF survey, there are 14,000 kids living in the streets. “But that number is definitely higher. Our own government has estimated that it is more like 25-30,000, and that’s the minimum,” said Jose Capellin Corrada, National Director of Casa Alianza. “We, alone, approach 1,300 new kids every year.”
Marceo’s home at the end of the hole in the ground is crammed as a cell and furnished with a couple of blankets, one pillow, and brown dust. He shares it with 10 to 12 other street kids. There’s another hole close by, and in total the group amounts to 30. Carlos, 12, lives in the same hole as Marceo. “There are not only more street kinds, because of the crisis, but they also get younger and younger. Today we get them down to eight years old,” said Omar Santiago, Casa Alianza Street Team Coordinator. “Their parents ask them to go out and find jobs, but in the streets they get trapped in gangs, start sniffing pvc or glue, or even smoke marihuana or crack, which we did not see a couple of years ago.”
All around the group’s “territory,” empty, yellow cans lie around. The turpentine-like fluid costs 5 pesos (less than a dollar) a piece.
Casa Alianza tries to convince the children to leave the streets for shelters in order to start a rehabilitation process (first shelter, then a transition house, and then a girls’ house or a boys’ house where they attend school), and finally, they can either go back to their parents, if they have any, or start living a ‘normal’ independent life.
Casa Alianza did not succeed in convincing Marceo, and now he’s 18 and too old. They did succeed with Fanny, 16 and mother of four-month-old Asucena. Fanny, pregnant after a one-night-stand with a security officer twice her age who picked her up at the bus station, has changed her mind after coming to Casa Alianza. But it is primarily because of Asucena, she said. “She gives me a meaning in life, she makes me strong, and I’ll fight for her.”
“Each year 100 of our children go back to their families,” Corrada said, responding to questions on success rates. “15 percent come back or end up in the street. Each night 150 boys and girls sleep in our houses, and they typically stay for a year, unless they have no other options.”
Carlos, 12, has been on the street for two years and is likely to soon move to a shelter. Others are just not motivated, like Alberto, 13. He’s the groups most active car window washer and can make up to 50 peso a day (almost $7). He’s got dreams, and he knows what he would do, if he won the “life” lottery. “I’ll go to California,” he said. But he did not mean the US State of California, he meant the fast-food restaurant by the same name on the other site of Insurgentes.