I don't mean to be Captain Obvious over here, but Republicans and Democrats continue to butt heads on the topic of immigration. This post isn't so much about the politicians and their lies, and make no mistake; they all lie. However, they have to be acknowledged as they are major players in this debate. Nevertheless, this post is for us to discuss the word "illegal," and what it means to latinos. Illegal, a word that I decided to stop using even while I was a registered Republican. Note that the GOP's views on immigration, is among one of the many reasons I could no longer be affiliated with this party. What was I thinking?
Until a few years ago, I used the term "illegal alien" as easily as I'd say my own name. It was very simple, if they were in the country, and they didn't have permission to be here, then they were here illegally. The term illegal immigrant, or illegal alien made perfect sense to me. It wasn't a derogatory term; it was just the factual depiction of their immigrant status.
My first exposure to the "I" word movement came some years ago via a young twitter activist whose name I cannot remember. She read a post that I wrote complaining about illegal aliens, and she took issue with my message. Several times she told me, "check your privilege." She then proceeded to tell me that people who are here without documentation are human beings. I completely agreed with her, but she said that the way I was writing about them was as if they were less than human. Naturally, I defended myself and tried to explain my stance.
Once again, the young lady said, "Check your privilege!" What the hell was she talking about? Unapologetic? Unafraid? I stated, "You better stop tweeting about your illegal status before your butt gets deported over it." I didn't recall ever once referring to, or speaking about immigrants as if they were animals, or less than human. This young woman irritated me and put me on the defensive. I know perfectly well that America is made up of immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants. The U.S. is a melting pot, even the so-called founding fathers were immigrants. I'm not anti-immigrant; I'm just for the rule of law.
As a courtesy to my readers, I decided to update the post and replace the word illegal with undocumented. However, at the time I did it only to appease the community. I guess I was behaving like a true politician then. I still didn't see what the big deal was about this word. I just perceived this as a politically-correct guilt trip.
The young lady eventually dropped out of our discussion, but one person remained from the thread, and to this day we are twitter friends. I remember when my views slowly started changing on this issue. I think it was around 2012, after a train ride with a Mexican buddy. We were talking about life, and he started to tell me about his circumstances, his struggle, and his legal status. I was touched by his story, and I shared this revelation with my new twitter friend. She was very happy to see that my eyes were being opened!
Later, another friend shared her touching and troubling stories from Central America with me. She told me why they flee, and she told me about the babies at the detention centers. My heart was broken; I felt so sad and upset with myself for speaking against these folks. Then a day laborer sat to speak with me for sometime, and his story also touched me very much. Since I had those conversations, I have not used the word "illegal," unless I'm making a point while defending them. Even so, I wasn't entirely convinced that the "I" word situation wasn't some politically correct driven agenda.
During a discussion with Julio Ricardo Varela, the head Latino Rebel provided me with a link to an article by Charlie Garcia on Fox News Latino. I read the piece with an open mind, and as I read the article, I began to feel anger for the victims and our people. The reasons that undocumented people want to get rid of this word started to make sense to me, I began to understand it better. I realized that some of the facts that Charlie mentioned struck a chord with me. Whenever I wrote or spoke, as I used the words "illegal immigrant," I actually did feel a sense of entitlement. Remember early on I stated that the young activist told me, "check your privilege." I finally got it! I was guilty of the very things she had mentioned before. However, my pride and privilege didn't allow me to see this. It took some time, but it eventually made sense.
I am grateful to Julito and Charlie for teaching me about this topic. I found it very eye opening. Since then, I have taken a strong stance in favor of undocumented immigrants. I have attended Dreamer Town Halls, and advocate for them on my talk show, which happens to run on a right-wing radio station. They don't agree with my views on this topic. However, I always speak my mind, and I hope that my words can make an impact on some of these opponents. The same way I learned, I hope I can help them learn.
I have seen and experienced the "I" word being used in a clearly derogatory way! Most recently, it came in the form of an insult directing me to "cross my illegal butt over the border, and back into Puerto Rico." The statement came accompanied by the picture of a swastika. Being the wise person that I am, I asked the person why they were sending me a symbol of Hindu worship? I further questioned how they expect me to walk over the border into a Caribbean Island which is not landlocked with the United States? He didn't like my questions and blocked me on twitter. I like to think I beat him into submission with logic and reasoning.
I have searched through my thousands of tweets trying to find the conversation with that young lady, but to no avail. I'd like to thank her for starting me on this path. She started a process that forced me to reflect on my own feelings, and ultimately led to my change of stance in respect to the use of the "I" word. That's how I dropped the "I" word.
How do you feel about this?