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Jaime Gonzalez: Immigrants still fighting for basic rights


Column by Jaime Gonzalez
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My parents are Americans. They are citizens of this great country, which they are proud to call home. They are also immigrants.

My father immigrated to this country from Mexico in 1972 when he was 18 years old. At the time he wanted little more than to provide for his growing family. My mother, then pregnant with my oldest brother, had come over a few months earlier.

Before crossing the border my dad was told to squeeze into the spare tire compartment of a station wagon as they drove through customs in Tijuana. For over an hour he prayed and thought of his young wife while trying not to inhale too much of the exhaust that was seeping in from the tail pipe.

That night he slept in a country where dreams come true; a country where people from all over the world are literally risking death just to live here.

The next day my father went to work at a plant nursery earning $1.35 an hour. He worked there for five years. In 1977 he started working for General Motors where he drove cars off the assembly line. It was a turning point in his life: my dad didn’t have to hide in the spare tire compartment anymore.

We all seek definition. As a first generation American born to Mexican immigrants I remember reciting the pledge of allegiance every day before class. It gave me the clarity of something I could depend on. The words came out of me like a song, and its rhythm seemed to synchronize itself with my heartbeat. I was taught to base the rest of the day on the simplicity of the pledge. Often I would focus on the passage “liberty and justice for all.” At the time it just did not occur to me that even though anyone could cry out their allegiance to this country some people would simply never be heard.

Countless communities across the U.S. are filled with people who have no say. In Shelbyville, the community I belong to, we are repeatedly reminded of the plight of immigrant families who have no confidence in a system they feel has little use for them.

We are constantly receiving reports of honor students being told they cannot continue their higher education because they do not have a social security number. Victims of crime have come to me and said they are afraid to file a report after they have been robbed simply because they fear legal status scrutiny by police. We have spoken to children who say they become worried when their parents are late coming home because they believe their mother or father have been detained by immigration authorities.

This madness must be brought to an end.

In order to bring a logical and rational solution to our immigration crisis the people must first be heard. The need for reform is clear and more urgent than ever before. It makes little sense to teach children “liberty and justice for all” when this sacred passage is treated like a mere platitude.

Both my mother and father pledged their allegiance to this country, and in 2008 they stated their presence by voting in their first presidential election. They earned this right through their loyalty and devotion to the country they call home. My parents were overwhelmed by emotion as they came to understand the noble power of having a voice when so many immigrants live in constant fear. Millions of people now living in this country, no matter how loyal or devoted, are shut out before ever being heard.

In 2010, on the 21st of March, we will rise to speak for those who are still searching for a voice. We will travel from all over this great nation to gather in Washington D.C., and we will march in the pursuit of a stronger nation for us all. More importantly, however, we will stand together in devotion to the dignity of humanity itself. When the leaders of this nation wake up on that Sunday morning and see us there, tens of thousands of Americans, we will remind them that change takes courage. For we are sons, we are daughters, we are brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, we are students, we are teachers, we are engineers, we are builders, we are civilians, we are soldiers, we are dreamers, we are human, we are here; and, we are marching for America.

Jaime Gonzalez is a community leader from Shelbyville, Tenn., and a graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University.



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