Sunday, January 13, 2013

Erika Andiola and Richard Blanco: "in the middle of a story"

by Amelia M.L. Montes (

On Wednesday of last week, Richard Blanco, a Cuban American poet was, as the New York Times described it, “plucked from obscurity” by the President of the United States. President Obama is choosing to “put him on display before the entire world” as the 2013 inaugural poet on January 21st.  It was a welcome and happy moment—to see a friend and fellow Latino, an out gay man, an immigrant, elevated to a national level. 

Richard Blanco's family fled Cuba, and emigrated to Spain where he was born. Soon after Richard's birth, they fled to Miami, Florida where he was raised and educated.  Richard holds a B.S. degree from Florida International University in Civil Engineering and he also has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.  

City of a Hundred Fires by Richard Blanco

“His contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a path forward for future generations of writers,” President Obama said on Wednesday.  “Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity.” 

Richard’s poetry lives in loss and desire, a yearning to record memories and the constant surprise of living, surviving in a world which is often so tenuous.  These are universal themes and, more specifically, familiar stories of the immigrant making meaning of multiple worlds, diverse experiences. At the end of his poem, “Of Consequence, Inconsequently,” he writes: 

I’d like to believe I’ve willed every detail
of my life, but I’m a consequence, a drop
of rain, a seed fallen by chance, here

in the middle of a story I don’t know,
having to finish it and call it my own. 
     --from Looking for The Gulf Motel

. . . a seed fallen by chance is everyone's story in addition to the immigrant story and it is up to the parent(s), the community, the society, the country, to help that individual develop a passionate curiosity for knowledge and meaning, to assist the individual to develop the story they wish to create and live: their unique story.  Richard is an example of someone who has received the necessary nurturing to flourish and then contribute.  Unfortunately, not everyone is receiving such vital support.   

Just two days after Richard’s announcement, Erika Andiola was caught “in the middle of a story” that thousands of undocumented immigrants in this country experience every day.  Erika watched immigration authorities, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), take her mother away. Below are two pictures from her posting on YouTube and Facebook as she worked toward making contact to let others know what had happened to her family.  


Richard Blanco often has poems about growing up with his mother, his grandmother.  Think about your own mother or family member you were most closest to as a child.  Think about strange men coming to your house, handcuffing the individual you were most closest to and seeing strangers pulling her/him away from you.  You may never see her/him again.  What kind of a country does this?  We have heard these stories from places like El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala (los desaparecidos), places where in the middle of the night or day, a family member is taken and never seen again.  And we have condemned such activities when we see them happening in other countries.  Yet, last Thursday, I kept receiving desperate tweets Erika was sending out from her home in Arizona, seeing her face as you see her here.  

Who is Erika Andiola?  You may not have heard about her because she is not receiving the coverage that Richard Blanco has been receiving, yet, she is known in Arizona and among activist groups who are working to support The Dream Act as well as other immigration legislation.  Erika Andiola is a long-time activist of immigrant rights who has worked tirelessly as a DREAMer.  She has been a prominent voice in the struggle and was a Psychology major at Arizona State University.  She is one of many who have been spared from deportation when President Obama signed a reprieve last summer for DREAMers.  Now friends and DREAMers have been saying that because of her activism, because she is outspoken, ICE has come for her family members.
Erika Andiola speaking at The Capitol for Immigrant Rights
Erika described in her tweets how ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) showed up at her home undercover.  They knocked on the door and requested to talk with Erika’s mother, María.  It was not until María was at the door, that they took out their handcuffs and arrested her.  They also arrested and hauled away her older brother. 

Erika Andiola at Dream Act Coalition meeting
Erika tweeted:  “We need to stop separating families.  This is real. This is so real.  This is not just happening to me, this is happening to families everywhere.” 

Elise Foley from the Huffington Post wrote:  “ICE’s move was somewhat surprising given the relative safety of many high-profile undocumented immigrants.  As Dreamers in particular have “come out” en masse as undocumented, many have been spared by ICE . . . But that doesn’t mean deportations have stopped, or that outspoken undocumented immigrants and their families are exempt from deportation.  The Obama administration broke its record for deportations this year, removing 409, 849 immigrants from the country.” (Click here for full article and Erika's YouTube posting)

Because of Erika’s tweets, Facebook posts, etc., the news spread fast and coalition groups mounted a huge outcry, contacting legislators, and The White House. 

Cristina Jimenez, Managing Director of United We Dream wrote, “This action by ICE has shocked DREAMers all across the country.  Advocates across the country are expressing outrage and denouncing the detention of Erika’s mother and calling for an end to all family separations.” 

Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center wrote:  “The Andiola family is just another example of the cost of the broken system that continues to hurt millions of immigrants across the country.  We cannot keep fixing this one worker, one family member at a time.  While we wait for immigration reform, the President can act now so that millions of immigrants do not have to live in constant fear of deportation.”

Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund wrote:  “This is not an isolated incident:  this happens every day.  We salute the amazing work of DREAMers and allies who mobilized in this case, but enforcement actions like this happen outside the spotlight every day.   This is what 400,000 deportations look like . . . despite existing prosecutorial discretion policy, officers on the ground seem much more focused on filling the annual deportation quota than in following the President’s priorities. It’s ridiculous to think we’re spending billions of dollars arresting people . . .” (see article here)

Erika and her mother, María
On Friday morning, Erika’s mother and brother were released.  Erika spoke on Friday afternoon and described how ICE agents had threatened her brother.  “My brother told me that not only did ICE have profiles of my mother and brother but also of me, and they told him, ‘We know all about your sister, we know about what your sister does, and you should get away from that.’”  Erika is one of the very few, who, because she is solidly connected to activist, organizing groups, because she is known in the struggle for immigration, the outcome (for now) is a happy one.  But most do not see their family members released. 

I think of the Postville Raid in Iowa and similar ICE raids throughout the Midwest, in Colorado, and all those children waiting for parents to come home.  Imagine your family suddenly disappearing and you have no idea where they are, how to get in touch with them.  For many weeks after the Postville Raids, families in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, were literally sleeping in the cornfields, in fear.  How are we seen by other countries when they see how we treat families, with no regard for children and their well being?  And yet, our country benefits from the undocumented worker. 

Jorge Ramos
Jorge Ramos, the Mexican news anchor for Noticiero Univision and a well-known journalist,  argues that all of us (the U.S. and Mexico) are complicit in regards to the undocumented because we benefit from their labor when they are hired to take care of U.S. documented children, when they are hired to clean houses, when we eat the fruit and vegetables they harvest, when we work and live in the buildings they have helped construct.  We are all connected to those who are undocumented.  If the undocumented stopped working for a month, thousands of U.S. businesses would go bankrupt and the agriculture business would be paralyzed. After the Postville Raid in Iowa, the meat packing company ended up filing for bankruptcy (sections of this article can be found in Mr. Ramos’ 2011 book, A Country for All:  An Immigrant Manifesto).  Jorge writes (from A Country for All):

“From the outset, we can say that the simple use of force has not and will not, in and of itself, solve the immigration problem.  It is physically impossible to arrest and deport 12 million men, women, and children.  I can’t even begin to imagine how it would appear to the rest of the world:  police, immigration and customs agents, and military personnel forcibly carrying entire families off to detention centers, where they will be held indefinitely until they are eventually deported back to their countries of origin.  It would not be tolerated.  And it should not be.  This is not who we are in the United States of America” (xxi). 
When I read the ending to Richard Blanco’s poem “Of Consequence,” I think of his training and work as an engineer, constructing homes.  How many workers laying our roads, building our houses and businesses are in “the middle of a story” that leaves them so vulnerable because they are undocumented. 

On January 21st, we shall see Richard Blanco, the first Latino gay immigrant, reciting his inaugural poem.  It is truly amazing and deserves celebration.  Erika Andiola, persevered and received her Bachelor's in Psychology from Arizona State.  Now she hopes to contribute and help others as well.  Her life is just beginning.  It is necessary to keep in mind those future poets, literary giants, engineers, educators, brilliant thinkers who are children at this time and who will benefit this country in so many ways if this country will give them the opportunity.  The words on the pedestal of The Statue of Liberty are meant for all immigrants:  “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

Congratulations to Richard Blanco for his fearlessness to write his story in poetry.  Congratulations to Erika Andiola for her fearless activism and commitment to education for others as well as herself.  How lucky we are to have both of you and your families in this country at this time in history.  

La Bloga's Daniel Olivas interviewed Richard last May when Looking for The Gulf Motel had just been published.  (Click here for interview)

Additional reading:  ColorLines article:  "Release of DREAMer Erika Andiola's Family Highlights Youth Movement's Power" (CLICK HERE)

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