I have a blue passport. I never really questioned this until I saw green and red passports amongst family members. Some passports identify you as a citizen of another country. Others suggest that you are resident of the US and not a citizen. And then there are others who do not have any passports at all. In my family, we had all types.
Our conversations were sometimes dominated by issues of immigration. We discussed who was next to get the blue passport, who should obtain dual citizenship as Ecuadorian Americans, and who was trying to get to this country by any means necessary. Some of us often wondered why some individuals want to leave their country so desperately. All I knew then was that family members left their homes and what they are familiar with because the US was the land of hope and their mother land had no more hope to offer. Their motherlands nurtured them as much as a homeless parent can to his or her children. Surviving on the bare minimum, some have the will and the strength to leave their countries. The majority stay. But a few leave risking everything including their own lives. And I was privy to those stories.
Some wonder why our mother lands or home countries are not doing enough to keep these few who decide to leave. Some forget that these countries were raped, pillaged, overturned by more economically dominant countries – The United States, Spain, England. Many want us to forget this colonial and imperialist past and make us believe that the structures left behind just magically appeared.
Such is the case with Postville, Iowa. Here is the story of a small town that comprised of over 3600 residents whose economic base was centered on a kosher meat-packing plant. Postville attracted a large population of Guatemalan citizens to work in the plant. The community of Postville became a small microcosm of first and second generation immigrant culture from Europe and Central America. Part of this immigrant culture consisted of people who were undocumented citizens. Along with this status come a number of issues that are part of this immigrant culture: fear of deportation, economic, sexual, and physical abuse from employers, bullying from peers, and mistrust of authority figures to name a few. These immigrants come with one purpose: to work and feed their families here in the US and back in their homes. US politicians have a different set of values and reaction toward the undocumented immigrant population. In the name of these values, the George Bush administration orchestrated the largest mass detention and deportation of undocumented citizens of Postville, Iowa in 2008. This was the focus of the film “abUSed: The Postville Raid” by Luis Argueta.
When Roberto Lovato described our current anti-immigrant climate as the Era of Juan Crow – he was not kidding. This film exemplifies the Juan Crowism, legal racial discrimination, that currently exists today in the US. Argueta demonstrates the way undocumented citizens of Postville were treated during this mass raid of the plant. Makeshift temporary detention centers were set up and ready made convictions were given out to 389 undocumented immigrants who went in one day to work and left that night to sign over their American lives and families away. Deportation was in their fate. Mass deportation unlike we have ever witnessed in this country will permanently stain our history in the ways US politicians and the federal government treat people we consider an “other”.
Men were chained together, women were sexually and physically abused, children were left alone. Mothers denied having any children for fear that their children may get picked up by ICE. This isn’t reminiscent of Juan Crow. Now this is reminiscent of slavery. Families torn apart. Children taken out of schools. Fathers detained.
When people found out that a raid was possible, they started knocking on people’s doors warning them of what they were told would happen. But it was too late. Close to 400 undocumented citizens were detained, held up, abused, coerced into pleading guilty for a number of crimes, arrested then deported. Some women were given GPS ankle bracelets. Dog tagging. Except in this country we treat animals better than we do Brown undocumented immigrants.
One has to wonder why George Bush’s administration chose a kosher meat packing plant and not a larger corporation like Tyson or Purdue. One has to wonder about the message they were trying to send to everyone in the US – did they think we were going to look at this act as heroic? One has to wonder when the next raid will occur – and what we can do about it when we get a call that a raid is going to happen. Like Harriet Tubman and her Underground Railroad, we have to figure out ways to warn our people of this potential harm to themselves, their families, and the communities at large. And then we have to get together and demand for greater attention to this issue, a humane approach to handling issues of immigration.
Some people when watching the film exclaimed “What is our society coming to?” But this is where the US has been – and we are returning to a past that has marred our history forever, its relics permanently staining our educational, political, and social structures. Is this the culture of the US? Is this what we have to offer?
Today, Postville’s population dwindled down to about half since 2008. About 1800 people now, the town will forever be remembered for the Raid, children left motherless and fatherless, educators deeply affected by the roles they had to assume forever after, church administrators who were called to duty and house many scared individuals, and a community that is working hard to make sure that their residents feel safe. But who can feel safe in such a harsh anti-immigrant climate?
I left the film feeling disappointed and overwhelmed. All this supposed power that a blue passport and all my education are supposed to have – and I had no idea how to start invoking the spirit of Harriet Tubman. What kind of Underground Railroad needs to be constructed to aid our people today? Is protest enough? What about states like Arizona and Florida who continue to work against Brown people?
I am a native New Yorker, born of Ecuadorian immigrants. I was born and raised in this country. I was taught to love this country because my father and mother taught me to love this country. But this country is exhibiting wicked behavior. This country is reverting back to days of slavery and Jim Crow. We are forgetting that history repeats itself because we have not learned the lesson.
Thus with my blue passport and all this education, my first defense is to testify and provide witness to this destructive behavior the US is engaging toward our most vulnerable population. So I begin to write. Write and share. Share and plan. Plan and execute. So stay tuned. You may be getting a call soon.