Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hunger Strike in Brea for Immigration Reform

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of The Daily Titan, the student newspaper at Cal State Fullerton, where I teach.  I was startled to read this headline: "Activists Stage Hunger Strike to Draw Congressman's Attention to Immigration Reform."  The article describes an immigration reform rally on Birch Street in Brea, outside the offices of local Congressman Ed Royce, to urge him to change his views on immigration reform.  Royce, a staunch conservative Republican who has been in office for over 20 years, has often been an opponent of immigration reform, specifically a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

I saw, in this article, a teaching moment for my English 103 students, who are currently reading Fullerton's One Book, One City, One College selection The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar.  This novel examines the very issue of immigration in Orange County.  This morning, in class, I shared the Daily Titan article with my students and asked them to write in response to this prompt:

What connections do you see between the Brea Hunger Strike and the themes and ideas of The Barbarian Nurseries?

As usual, I did the writing activity too.  Here's what I wrote:

The main character of The Barbarian Nurseries, Araceli, is an undocumented immigrant living and working in Orange County.  She is presented in the novel not as a stereotype or caricature, but as a fully fleshed-out human being with dreams, passions, relationships, a family.  She is not a criminal or a statistic.  She is a creative and intelligent artist who was compelled by circumstances to give up her dreams and seek employment in the United States.  

Unfortunately, the life she leads in California is one of confinement, isolation, and very little social mobility.  She is a maid for a wealthy family in Laguna Beach.  She is, in many ways, a prisoner or a slave of sorts.  She is paid $250 a week, plus room and board.  As the famous song by Los Tigres Del Norte, "La Jaola de Oro" proclaims:

Oh what's the money worth
If I'm like a prisoner in this great nation?
When I remember, I cry.
Even though the cage is golden,
It still remains a prison.

That popular ballad sums up Araceli's plight, and the plight of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States.  The Daily Titan article gives a compelling argument for immigration reform, and a path to citizenship for these millions of workers.  Jessica Bravo, one of the participants in the rally, has witnessed first-hand the tragic consequences of current U.S. immigration policy.  A few months ago, her uncle was deported, leaving behind his wife and two children.  

"You're literally tearing apart a family," Bravo said, "My aunt has to work two jobs to be able to pay (for her children), her kids are struggling in school because it's difficult when your mom is not really there for you all the time."

The Rally in Brea, like the novel The Barbarian Nurseries, is attempting to put a human face on an issue that too often becomes an abstract political debate.  For me, when I think of "undocumented immigrants" I do not think of menacing cultural stereotypes, I think of my friends who are undocumented--real human beings with loves, dreams, and families.  Whatever your view on U.S. immigration policy, we, as a society, cannot allow this issue to be abstract.  It's not abstract for Jessica Bravo and her family.  It's not abstract for the millions of undocumented immigrants who live in constant fear of deportation.  This is an issue that affects real, flesh and blood human beings.

Carmen Ramirez, 36, kisses her 2-year-old son Aldo during a press conference held by fellow immigration reform supporters and organizers outside of Congressman Ed Royce’s office Monday morning. (Mariah Carrillo / Daily Titan)

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