Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Artifact Five: Immigration and DREAMers

About a year and a half ago, I went to a screening of a documentary about the DREAM Act. This documentary short is called The Dream is NowIt tells the stories of four young adults that immigrated to the U.S. to get an education and an occupation, but are stopped because they are undocumented. The film shares the hardships these individuals, along with others, went though to procure a green card or citizenship. But over-all the mission of the DREAM Act is to "fix the broken immigration system".

The DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors) started in 2001 and has been shot down many times by congress. Until recently, a step was finally taken, in June, 2013 the senate voted 68-32 for an immigration reform. The House of Representatives still needs to vote in favor of the reform for things to really take off. The Dream Is Now campaign is the organization that is trying to get people involved and fight for the undocumented youth of America.

This artifact reminded me of Reyna's journey to her dream in The Distance Between Us. Once she was in the U.S., Reyna got her permanent resident card, graduated high school and started to take classes at Pasadena City College. Reyna had a huge desire to accomplish her goals, but the situation she was in was standing in her way. Reyna's mentor/old teacher, Diana introduced Reyna into the world of Latino Literature and urged her to attend to a better school and become a writer. Reyna then transferred from PCC to the University of California, Santa Cruz. When she graduated, Reyna worked as an ESL teacher in Los Angeles. She then returned to school in 2008 to get her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Now she is the award winning author if three books. Reyna accomplished her goals and was able to carry out her dream. In Reyna's situation it wasn't legality that stood in her way, it was her broken home. But either way you put it, Reyna is still a DREAMer and an advocate for other DREAMers.

Alejandro, Jose, Ola, and Erika
As I said earlier, The Dream Is Now follows four young adults who have dreams of their own. Ola, wants to attend the University of Michican's Medical School to become a surgical oncologist and eventually help low-income women get the treatment they need for cancer. Alejandro is a perfect candidate for the Marines. Erika is a smart young woman who is fighting for the DREAM Act and her mother's status in America. And Jose has a degree in mechanical engineering. These, as well as many other immigrants, have so much to contribute to this country. But they can't, Ola is at risk for deportation, Alejandro can't be a Marine because he's not a citizen, Erika has been arrested and punished for standing up for something she believes in, and Jose can't do anything with his degree because of is current status. These amazing talents are being wasted when they would benefit the economy if put to use!


Please watch The Dream Is Now here:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Artifact Four: Immigration and Acculturation

When moving to a new country, you're moving into a new culture, and to fit in as best as possible you want to abide by that new culture. Things start to get hard when you feel like you've left your culture of oirigin behind. Do you identify yourself by your new home or your old one? No one wants to be an outsider, we all want to feel included and important. This is especially difficult for children, weather they're parents are immigrants of they are.

For imigrants to "fit in" in a new place they feel as of they must acculturate. Acculturation is "cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture" (Miriam Webster Dictionary). In Reyna's situation there were large amounts of cultural differences and barriers. For instance the most basic, language, Reyna came to the United States knowing no English. In school she had to be separated from the rest of the class to learn the basics of English while the rest of the class, those who could speak English, were getting ahead. Another example of acculturation in Reyna's situation would be how the Grande family participated in American holidays; Christmas and Halloween. They stopped celebrating traditional Mexican holidays to move a few steps toward being Americans. One more example of the Grande family acculturating, is Mago asking to be called Maggie in school, she said it would be easier to fit in with a name people had heard of. These are all sacrifices the Grande family had to take to try to blend in culturally.

I found a short article written by a Chinese-Canadian, Mary Chan, who feels out of touch with her heritage and culture and recognizes herself as niether Canadian nor Chinese. She immigrated to Canada with her family when she was one year old, and since then became Canadian. Mary said she feels a little ashamed that she doesn't know much about her heritage and what it means to be Chinese. Mary said she hated the tension she felt between her "traditional upbringing at home" and the "overwhelming Western culture we are exposed to every day". Mary Chan says she doesn't think she will ever get over the feeling of "otherness", but at the same time she doesn't want to ignore her past.

My Opa didn't want his family to become American in fear of them losing their cultural identity and becoming the Mundane. Even to this day my Oma, who has lived in the U.S. most of her life, says she won't become a citizen because she doesn't want to let go of her Dutch culture. Oma always said she felt as if she always had one foot in each country, belonging to both and none at the same time. She would go back to the Netherlands to visit but feel out of sorts and changed. She felt the same way when she was in the U.S. at times, in one town my Oma lived in people would look at her and talk about her because she wasn't Polish or Catholic. No one wants to go through that. No one wants to be ostracized. This is why I think immigration should be easier and immigrants should be accepted and embraced everywhere in America.
My mother and her brother in Dutch costumes

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Artifact Three: Immigration and Legalization

Being an illegal immigrant is really scary and hard to do in the U.S., there are so many laws and preventatives that cause these immigrants to be discovered and deported. No immigrant wants to live their whole life in "the shadows" as Reyna's father liked to call it. Immigrants without papers have to find jobs that pays under-the-table, with no social security number required, and every legitimate job in the U.S. requires a social security number. They have to be very careful when driving because if they're pulled over and don't have an ID, they will be in trouble with the law. It's extremely tedious get an education passed high school if you don't have at least a permanent resident card. Of course there are many more situations an immigrant has to avoid, but if they were citizens, they wouldn't have to live in fear.

Actions are Illegal, Never People is a TEDx talk by an immigrant from the Philippines named Jose Antonio Vargas, sharing his story as well as speaking out for others like him. He sends an important message of understanding towards immigrants who seek citizenship as well as squashing common stereotypes and misconceptions. I have to say this is the most brilliant TED talk I have watched, it's filled with humor and complete truth and I'm pretty sure I could watch it to the point of memorizing it. In the talk Jose shared the top questions he is asked: "So you're not Mexican?"; "Why don't you just make yourself legal"; "Do you think your so special that you can break any law you want?"; and "What part of illegal, don't you understand?" To each of these questions Jose answers with honesty, explanation and supports his answers with proof.

When Reyna first came to El Otro Lado, illegally, she was told to keep very quiet about her situation, her father told her it was all to easy to be deported back to Mexico and ruin the potential life they had here. Reyna's family went through the process of procuring a green card, in the memoir Reyna explains how her father spent a fortune on applying for their green cards. The average cost for a immigration lawyer is between five thousand and seventy-five hundred, thats for one person. For a whole family, fees are usually a large amount more, closer to fifteen thousand. Immigrants are more likely to become broke before they reach citizenship or permanent residence. Reyna's family applied for green cards though her step mother, Mila, a citizen. Reyna and her family got their permanent resident cards through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, 2.9 million other immigrants took a part in this too. From the time the Grande children arrived in the U.S. to when they got their green cards was a year, compared to others this was really short. The average time it takes to gain a green card is about four years, the whole time applicants have no idea what stage the process is in, or if it's still being processed at all. 

The boat my mother took to the U.S.
My mother had to go though a similar process when she immigrated from the Netherlands to the Untied States when she was two. My Opa's (grandfather) job with a tobacco company gave him a choice between Brazil, South Africa, and America. My Oma (grandmother) would not live in South Africa or Brazil, the U.S. seemed like the best option. They settled down in Connecticut, wanting to be close to my Opa's brother's family in Canada. Unlike most immigrants, Reyna and Jose included, my mother's family was lucky enough to gain permanent resident cards from my Opa's company before they took the boat over here. But the road din't stop there, on the day President Obama was first inaugurated in January of 2009, my mom applied for U.S. citizenship. It wasn't until September of '09 when everything went though and my mom became the first and only in her family to gain citizenship.

My mother's green card picture.
The other day my mom was telling me about something she heard on NPR, a sort of permit allowing immigrants to stay in America for two years. I looked it up, and found that in June of 2012 the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was passed, allowing individuals who came to the United States as children can apply to gain a two year permit to live in the U.S.. Think permanent residency card (green card) but more like a temporary residency card. This is a great opportunity for immigrants but it has some drawbacks. If one of these individuals wanted to get a four-year college education, they couldn't because DACA only covers two years.  You have to have come to the U.S. before the age of sixteen. It is relatively pretty expensive and you might not qualify. Also, DACA has been active for two years and still many immigrants are not applying because they won't put their names on anything in fear of being deported. But in the grand scheme of things, this is a step toward an immigration reform.
After knowing how hard it is to become a legal citizen, even just a permanent resident, I am extremely grateful to have been born in the United States. It's very humbling, reading these articles as well as The Distance Between Us. I appreciate the situation I'm in, and I've learned not to take anything for granted.


The TEDx talk by Jose Antonio Vargas:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Artifact Two: Causes for Immigration

People in poorer or lesser developed countries today often envy life in the United States and try to come here. The goal being, to have a better life, to get an education, to send money home to support their families, or any combination there of. I wanted to start off by exploring why it is people leave their country for another, specifically the United States.

When looking for reasons for migration, I found an article for kids, or rather students, explaining migration and why people migrate. I found that this page from BBC's Bitesize is one of the best explanations of migration because it is pretty straight to the point and easy to understand. There are a myriad of reason why people migrate, but this informative article has the perfect textbook answers to our question of why people leave their country for another.

It's all about push and pull factors, what's pushing people out of their country and what's pulling them to our's. For example, some push factors might be: lack of resources in home country, large amounts of crime, poverty, war, as well as environmental factors such as drought or flooding. These are all things that in a way "push" people out of their home land. This also has to do with refugees and asylum seekers. Pull factors are what draw people to a certain country, it's what appeals. The most common pull factors are: a safer place to live/ low crime rate, more employment, stable politics, more wealth, better resources/services, and less environmental disasters. (Basically the opposite.)

Migration push and pull factors
An image from the BBC page showing the Push and Pull factor.

To tie this to the memoir The Distance Between Us, I'm looking at the push and pull for the individuals in this story. Reyna's father immigrated to the U.S. to find employment and make money so he could build a nice house back in Mexico. Reyna's mother immigrated, also, to find work and send money home. The push factors in this situation are: low employment and low income. The pull factors are: higher employment and higher income. Later when Reyna immigrates herself, the push factor is low income and the pull factors are higher income, better education and opportunity for success. In Reyna's instance, there is more pull than push. The concept is quite easy to grasp.

To talk about the origin of immigration in this country... the United States of America is a nation built by immigrants. Our country was founded by Europeans seeking a better life somewhere else. They usurped territories from the Native Americans, and from there created a nation. A place that is thought to be "The Land of Opportunity", where the grass is always greener, and a place where everyone is happy. If the reasons for this immigration have the same push and pull factors for today, then why do we have so many laws against immigration? I realize that there are some downsides, issues of security, the drug cartel and others. But more often than not people immigrate to this county for these innocent push and pull factors. What I don't understand is how this country can be so hypocritical when it comes to immigration, it's a compliment to have people wanting to live here, in such a great place. That's just my thinking. :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Introduction and Artifact One: Immigration and Distant Families


This summer I was assigned a memoir about immigration from Mexico to the United States. The book, The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande is about the author's experience with immigration and the journey across the border that she eventually takes. Along with reading this book I will be collecting five artifacts that have to do with immigration, and reflecting upon them and the memoir. 

Artifact One

What people often do not realize is that immigration puts a hole in people's lives and it can tear families apart. To immigrants this is all worth the life they will have in the United States, as well as other countries. I recently came across an article in the opinion pages of the New York Times about the often over-looked toll that immigration takes on a family.

The Heartache of an Immigrant Family re-tells the story of a mother, Lourdes Pineda, immigrating to the United States from Honduras in 1989. The single mother left her kids to make money in the U.S., to give them money for food and school tuition. One heartbreaking thing is that Lourdes' job in America was to care for another family's children, she became close to these kids while supporting her own, one thousand miles away. Lourdes' kids, Enrique (5 years old) and his sister, not named (7 years old), were split apart between their grandmothers. Enrique was constantly bouncing from relative to relative until one day he decided to go after his mother, whom he hadn't heard from in a long time. Enrique, himself ended up leaving his infant daughter until he brought her back with him, years later. This story seems all too familiar to Reyna Grande's own story of a broken family.

The memoir The Distance Between Us is the epitome of a family torn apart, it's right there in the title. The book starts of in status quo, it's 1980 in Mexico and Reyna's father has been in El Otro Lado, the other side, for two years. All too soon Reyna and her older siblings, Mago and Carlos, were saying goodbye to their mother who was summoned by her husband. From square one, the Grande - Rodriguez family was separated, just like Pineda family. Two and half years later when Reyna's mother returned, Mago hated her, she had broken her promise of coming back after a year and on top of that had comeback with her new baby, Betty. When the Grande children crossed the border to join their father, they were distant. Carlos, Mago, and Reyna were estranged from their father, Betty grew up never knowing her him, the last time she saw him she was three years old. When Enrique came to America from Honduras he found his mother in a federal detention center, he barely recognized his parent either. Also, 47,000 child immigrants crossed the border this year, and are flooding detention centers in the United States. If that isn't a terrible was to break up families, I don't know what is.

I personally know a woman who had to do the same thing as Reyna's and Enrique's mothers. Sabitri left Bhutan in 1999 leaving her five year old daughter and her ten year old son with distant relatives. Sabitri had had her children young and wanted to come to America to send money back and eventually bring her children with her. She came on a three month travel Visa and started to work as a nanny -- exactly like Lourdes. Sabitri did this for ten years until she procured her green card and left to retrieve her children. Bringing her children to the U.S. took five years, Sabitri said it was the hardest thing she's done on her own. When Sabitri settled her children in New England with her, they showed no gratitude, and are not close to their mother. Sabitri says the she feels more connected to the children she'd nurtured for ten years, children that are not her own.

I never understood why Sabitri's children resented her. I always thought, your mother did amazing things to give you the life you have now, why are you so ungrateful?, what I didn't understand was how abandoned they must have felt, and the distance from their mother they must feel now. I never thought this feeling could outweigh everything these people have now, what their mothers have done for them. I never had my father, but at least I still have my mother, I live in "The Land of Opportunity" don't I? I can never fully understand the hardships these families went through, but I can try.