Monday, October 05, 2009

In Defense of the Undocumented

Guest essay by Álvaro Huerta

As the son of Mexican immigrants, in the current climate of hyper-xenophobia in the U.S., I often ask myself: Where’s our Ghandi who will stage a prolonged hunger strike for the humanity of undocumented workers? Where’s our Martin Luther King with the magnificent oratory skills capable of moving a country in the right direction for those who toil in our agricultural fields, front yards, homes and kitchens?

These perilous times seem to bring out the worst in many Americans. In the heat of the healthcare debate, for example, conservatives have found their favorite piñata to hit when they no longer have an argument to derail universal healthcare. While the Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina made a fool of himself by shouting “You Lie!” in the middle of President Obama’s eloquent speech in a joint session of Congress, most of the attention surrounding Wilson’s outburst centered on issues of civility and respect for the office of the president.

While Democrats and average Americans have the right to be outraged at Wilson and fellow Republicans for disrespecting Obama by yelling at him like a drunken heckler in a comedy club and continuously calling him a racist, socialist and fascist, I’ve heard virtually nothing in defense of immigrants. Republicans and those blind followers who attend town hall meetings to rant and rave about the government “killing granny,” about Obama implementing a “socialist-type” healthcare system and, now, picking on immigrants should be ashamed of themselves.

What about the estimated 47 million Americans in this country without health insurance who run a higher risk of getting life threatening diseases and resorting to bankruptcy when they can’t afford their medical bills? How does the saying go?: “If a heart attack doesn’t kill you, the medical bill will.” Where are these same Americans who rant and rave at the town hall meeting when the insurance companies “kill granny” because she lost her medical benefits due to a pre-existing medical condition? And what about those countless immigrants who care for elderly Americans yet they themselves lack healthcare during their golden years?

This is not the time for Obama and the Democrats to reach across the political aisle to get Republicans on board with universal healthcare when conservatives have repeatedly rejected the notion that healthcare should be a right enjoyed by everyone in this country. It seems that the Republicans are perfectly content with the free market, despite the fact that those who benefit from the market care mostly about market shares and profit margins at the expense of those who have been left to suffer without access to affordable healthcare.

And this is diffidently not the time for Obama and the Democrats to get the Republicans on board when it comes to issues of immigration vis-à-vis healthcare issues. If we are to believe the written words of the late Senator Ted Kennedy that access to healthcare is above all a moral issue, then why should it matter if someone lacks legal status in this country? Aren’t immigrants, with or without legal documents, also human? Don’t they have a right to live a healthy life too, especially since Americans benefit tremendously from the sweat and labor of undocumented immigrants in this country? Are immigrants truly free riders, to use an economist’s terminology, if they put into the system more than they receive? Immigrants, for example, can’t file for tax returns or receive Social Security benefits, yet they pay into the system through their labor and purchase power.

Let’s stop with the hypocrisy! Immigrants have historically contributed to making this nation the most powerful and affluent country in the world. From building the railroads to the freeways, from making the bricks to the buildings, from growing our food to serving it, from raising the children of the affluent classes to cleaning their homes, immigrants continue to perform the most dangerous and stigmatized jobs in this country. And what do they get in return?: “You lie!”

It’s time for both Democrats and Republicans, along with average Americans, to acknowledge, appreciate and incorporate the over 12 million undocumented workers in this country into the mainstream system so that los de abajo (those on the bottom) can also enjoy the fruits of their labor with a sense of dignity and respect that they’ve earned.

[Álvaro Huerta is a Ph.D. student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley, and is a Visiting Scholar at UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. Huerta was recently profiled in UCLA Magazine. Photo credit: Ed Carreón.]

◙ HEAD COUNT, POR FAVOR: Forgive me for tooting my own horn (as they say), but as I recently noted, my new short story collection, Anywhere But L.A. (Bilingual Press), will be released October 31. The book will be "launched" on November 13, 2009, 8:00 p.m., by The New Short Fiction Series (produced by Sally Shore with actors reading selections) at the Beverly Hills Public Library, 444 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. Performance begins at 8:00 p.m. Box Office opens at 7:30 p.m. Admission: $10.00. The the kind folks behind the reading series are attempting to get a head count so if you believe you can make it to this event, I’d be delighted (and forever grateful) if you dropped me a line at Some kind words about my new book:

"Like the cities they describe, the stories in Anywhere But L.A. shift and slide and refuse to be pinned down. Daniel Olivas is an exciting writer, whose prose rings with humor, insight, and power." -- Daniel Alarcón, author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight

"In this collection of short stories, Olivas gives us a vivid and honest portrait of modern Latinos as they search for their place in the world. Funny yet touching, these skillfully rendered characters remind us of our own vulnerability. Individually, the stories are punchy and sharp; collectively, the stories create a colorful mural of a thriving Latino community." -- Kathleen de Azevedo, author of Samba Dreamers

"Daniel Olivas has mastered the knack of telling intricate tales that are natural, never labored, and a genuine pleasure to read... Olivas’s impressive talent gives readers a glimpse, often uncomfortable, inside the hearts and minds of characters who are trapped, hopeful, afraid, or falling in or out of love; that glimpse drives readers to the exasperating and, ultimately, very human core of [his] excellent stories." -- Manuel Ramos, author of The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz

◙ LATINO BOOK & FAMILY FESTIVAL: Exciting things are happening as we approach the long-running Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival which will be held on October 10 and 11 at California State University, Los Angeles. The participating authors include Victor Villaseñor, Rubén Martínez, Xavier Serbia, Luis J. Rodriguez, Pat Mora, Gustavo Arellano, Yxta Maya Murray, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Reyna Grande, Conrad Romo, Daniel Olivas, Marisela Norte, Melinda Palacio, Rigoberto González, S. Ramos O’Briant, Sara Rafael Garcia, and many others. For more information such as the complete schedule of panels, directions and parking, visit here. Visit the Latino Book Examiner for additional background on the festival. I'll be there. Will you?

◙ NEW ON STORYCORPS: StoryCorps, America's largest nonprofit national oral history project, contacted La Bloga to let us know that its latest story broadcast on NPR last Friday features José Cruz telling his daughter, Grace, about living in Villa Juana, a neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, while his mother was living in New York City. You can take a listen here. StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another's lives through listening. Since 2003, tens of thousands of people from across the country have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to take home and share and is also archived for generations to come at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Millions listen to the award-winning broadcasts on public radio and the Internet. Select stories have also been published in the New York Times bestselling book, Listening Is an Act of Love. Mr. Cruz's interview is part of StoryCorps’ Historias Initiative, an initiative to record the diverse stories and life experiences of Latinos in the United States.


WHEN: Thursday, October 8, 2009, at 6 pm


BLAS FALCONER, A Question of Gravity and Light

TYEHIMBA JESS, leadbelly

HELENA MESA, Horse Dance Underwater


CURATOR AND HOST: Rigoberto González

COST: $7 admission (includes a free drink)

HOW TO GET THERE: A/C/E/F/V/B/D trains to W. 4th St. (Stop in the Village)

WHERE: 29 Cornelia St., New York City

CONTACT: 212-989-9319;


◙ TÍA CHUCHA'S CAFÉ CULTURAL IN LOTUSLAND: This Saturday, we had wonderful experience at Tía Chucha's Café Cultural doing a group reading of Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press). I moderated a panel of contributors to the anthology that included Estella González, Álvaro Huerta, Melinda Palacio, Alejandro Morales, Victorio Barragán, Conrad Romo and Luis Rodríguez. We want to thank all the good people of Tía Chucha's for setting up, promoting and holding the event. I also want to thank the patrons who showed up, asked interesting questions, and made the event a great success. I urge you to support your local independent bookstore! So, if you missed our reading, you may pick up a copy of Latinos in Lotusland at Tía Chucha's Café Cultural, 13197-A Gladstone Ave., Sylmar, CA 91342 (phone: 818-528-4511). By the way, Susana L. Gallardo, a Lecturer in Women's Studies at San Jose State University, gave a nice mention of Latinos in Lotusland in the National Catholic Reporter.

◙ That’s all for now. So, in the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!


kyledeb said...

Alvaro, we are the ones we have been waiting for. I see MLKs and Gandhis everyday in my work with unauthorized youth. There's no reason you or I can't be one, too.

Manuel Ramos said...

Daniel - another great post. I know that readers appreciate all the hard work you put into your weekly Bloga posts. I want to comment about one of your points, StoryCorps. I think this is an excellent project and I encourage our readers to support StoryCorps and Latinos in particular to wholeheartedly participate in the Historias Initiative. We often complain about losing our history, or how our history is ignored. The Historias Initiative is one way to help correct that pattern. My father and I did a StoryCorps interview about a week ago, and it was a very rewarding experience. Not only did I learn something about my father and my family's history, but I helped preserve a small portion of the past related to Mexicanos and Chicanos in the mines and fields of Colorado, from 1928 to the present. And it was painless, and fun. Listen to the podcasts - they tell quite a story. If StoryCorps is in your town or neighborhood (they set up camp for at least a month), schedule an interview and make history. You won't regret it.

Daniel A. Olivas said...

Manuel, that is a wonderful bit of advice (based on your own experience) regarding StoryCorps. I've heard some of the interviews and I am always moved. You make an excellent point about getting our stories out there.