Movies are a welcome escape for me. When the lights come down and the
big screen lights up in front of me, I am transported to an artificial
place that provides a respite from the reality of it all. Have you ever
noticed the one thing that is certain from one movie theater to the
next? No matter where the movie has taken you, when they turn on the
lights, everybody's still in the same seat they were in when the lights
went off. This state of suspended animation keeps us in our places and
keeps us quiet. It's unreal!
For the Eduardo and Lola Lopez family, as well as millions of other
undocumented Hispanics residing in the U.S., their position in our
society remains in a state of Hispanimation: Each night Eduardo
dutifully turns out the lights after tucking in his family of six
daughters and one son for the night. As he lies down next to Lola,
Eduardo drifts off to sleep and dreams of the day when this country
will awaken to our responsibility to bestow the dignity, liberty and
equality his family has earned by residing in Santa Ana, CA over the
past twelve years. As the morning dawns, Eduardo's dreams are
interrupted again. He rises from his bed to see four daughters sleeping
in one bunk bed and two daughters and his son sharing the other. Lola
rolls onto her side on the mattress they share on the floor. Eduardo
closes his eyes for a moment to wipe away the tears with the back of
his right hand. Nothing's changed. Everybody is in the same
position they were in when the lights went off. It's real!
A New Vocabulary
One thing's for certain: This is the reality of living the continuing
nightmare for millions of undocumented Hispanic immigrants in the U.S.
Needless to say, the public policy pundits become quite animated over
this issue. The "revision" of U.S. immigration policy by the Bush
administration has effectively kept everybody in the same seat. I am
convinced that politicians use terms that most people cannot understand
for the purposes of a) pretending to understand things they really
don't have a clue about b) if I can't spell a word you are using to
describe a situation, I am going to believe you know better than I what
the heck is going on. Politicians are empowered by this. Joe and Sally
Citizen become bystanders. c) This creates a scenario whereby people
like me become unwittingly excluded from the dialogue altogether,
thereby elevating the possibility that we will leave it up to public
policy professionals to figure it out for us.
My point is our focus on doing the right thing is obfuscated by the
vocabulary that populates U.S. public policy debates regarding
immigration reform. Consider a few of the following terms presently in
use; "geopolitical tilt, national security considerations, political
capital, constituency, multi-national economic integration, systematic
policy integration considerations, socio-economic equanimity analysis,
supply-side labor dynamics, equanimity, international cooperation,
multi-national strategic geo-political encumbrances and, of course, a
coalition of the willing." Do you really know what these terms
mean? If so, in regard to the implications for resolving the present
deficiencies in U.S. immigration policy, can you tell me how we can
balance our national security concerns with the geo-political economic
instability we might create for the Mexican government? Of course you
can't! Guess what? Nobody can. This debate just keeps going round and
round and everybody stays in the same seat. It's all part of
Hispanimation: the dialogue is entertaining and maintains your position
as an uninvolved bystander; a spectator...just like at the movies.
The problem with all this is that Eduardo, Lola and their family are
not characters in a movie. They can't afford to even go to a movie. We
need a new vocabulary to inject into this debate that we common folks
can understand. Can you spell Eduardo? Can you pronounce Lola? Can you
imagine waking up every morning as determined, heartbroken and hopeful
that somehow, someway you can earn enough money today to feed your
family tonight? Now imagine that you cannot talk about your plight for
fear of being detained and deported back to a country that your
children cannot even remember departing? You see, what we are talking
about here are human beings whose present status and future as
legitimate, honorable citizens of this nation remains suspended in mid
air. It's time to remove our heads from the cloud cover provided by the
useless vocabulary of the public policy pundits, and substitute some
meaningful language that captures the essence of the issues, and allows
us to identify who's who in the debate. Stay with me. I'm about to turn
the lights on. Let me spell it out for you.
From a purely historical standpoint, the plight of undocumented
Hispanic immigrants residing in the U.S. can be accurately
characterized with the term Hispurgatory: A moment in U.S. history when
approximately 10% of the "undocumented" U.S. population is caught in a
state of legal limbo. Their standard of living is typically well below
the official poverty level. Their daily existence is one of endurance
and survival. They are motivated by the hope that their service to this
country as upstanding, creative, contributing, law abiding residents
will be rewarded someday by legitimate, official acceptance by the
government of the Promised Land. The country they departed was, at
least, economically oppressive. If the prospects for a better life for
their families in their country of origin was without hope, then, that
is hell. They were led by hope to our borders. Our gates are open
and unlocked. Hope led them here. Hope keeps them here. They hope that
we will awaken from our self-righteous indignation and accept them
formally into this Promised Land. Until then, they remain among us in
In August 2004, for Eduardo and Lola, their city, Santa Ana, CA has
just been ranked the #1 Toughest City in the U.S. to make ends meet.
They can't afford to move. If they did, or miss their rent payment,
there are people lined up to inhabit the squalor they call home. They
remain in the same seat.
Eduardo is forty eight-years old. After sundown, you can find him
scavenging dumpsters behind his apartment looking for cans, bottles and
cardboard that he can take to a local recycler. He had a stroke last
year brought on by untreated diabetes that raged out of control. He has
numbness on his left side preventing him from the ordinary course
mobility and stamina most of us take for granted. He cannot afford
ongoing medical care. It's not unusual for him to be without insulin at
certain times of the month. He goes without insulin so his family can
eat. These are some of the cruel realities of Hispanimation.
The ignorance of Joe and Sally citizen about this issue actually
contributes to Hispanimation: keeping everybody in the same seat. What
we need are some terms that can be used to identify both the issues in
the debate, and those who espouse them. Until U.S. citizens learn to
speak the language of authentic immigration reform, the family of
Eduardo and Lola Lopez will not have a voice that the U.S. Senate and
Congress can hear and understand.
The 'Intimmigration' Proponents
On one side of the debate are the proponents of intimmigration. Their
arguments are filled with themes of legality, protectionism, blaming
the individual, fear, misplaced patriotic fervor, self-righteousness,
economic considerations and national security concerns. Their focus is
to intimidate their agenda upon others through fear laced arguments and
innuendo. The following are some terms that characterize the essence of
their position and will assist you in identifying who they are by what
they say. They are typically the loudest voices, yet are careful to
veil their arguments behind more moderate intonation in the mainstream
media. These are the voices and viewpoints of Intimmigration that you
hear most often, if you listen for them.
Latillegals - "These people are criminals by virtue of their
unauthorized border crossing. It's illegal. The entire immigration
policy debate begins and ends with this one fact. Period!"
Hispanicriminals - "These illegals are robbing us blind! Most
are disproportionately represented in gangs, drugs and alcohol abuse.
They even drive illegally without any insurance coverage. We must do
everything in our power to protect ourselves from these people."
Latimmorals - "Entering this country illegally is immoral. These
people are going to infect American society with the influences that
contribute to the ongoing moral decay of this nation."
Hispanationalsecurity - "The potential for terrorists to be
among their lot is an absolute certainty. It's just a matter of time
before they attack us. I'm scared to death of these people."
Latinomas - "Round em up and send em back where they came from!
Every last one of em. You know, the internment camps during World War
II did provide the country with a sense of comfort by virtue of the
fact that we had our arms around the situation. No more!"
Hispaniconomic - "They're taking our jobs, overwhelming the
jails, prisons, healthcare, affordable housing and social welfare
institutions that our tax dollars are supporting. This is an outrage!
No wonder this country's economic recovery is retarded."
Latinomo - "Build the damn wall! From the Pacific Ocean to the
Gulf of Mexico. It's the only way we're gonna stop the ongoing
incursion by these insurgents!"
Hispanitsyourowndamnfault - "Their lot is what they deserve."
Latinotonmywatch - "Establish a road to residency for these
people? It's not gonna happen on my watch! There isn't a politician in
the country who's dumb enough to advocate for this. What's this world
coming to anyhow?"
Hispaniconstituency - "Just imagine if we give these people the
right to vote. That will be the day when we can all pack up and move to
Canada. All hell's gonna break loose. Our nation will be overrun with
Latillerates - "These people are stupid and lazy. They're sure
to drag our economy down and further the decline of the U.S. in the
world from a competitive standpoint. There has always been an
underclass in this country that has served a purpose for the majority.
They should just accept their position in our society and be grateful
we don't round em up and send em back where they came from."
On the other side of the debate are the 'Latinocomprende's.' These are
the folks who feign ignorance, a lack of understanding, indifference,
ambivalence and apathy. They are also known as the Ambivalatinos.. The
following are some of comments you will hear from them and the
corresponding new vocabulary that might assist you in identifying who
they are by what they say.
Latinapathy - "Who cares! There are vastly more important issues to address in this country. These people can wait."
Latinoblivious - "Huh? What are you talking about?"
Latinotnow - "Every issue has it's time and place to be
resolved. Let's get the Iraq situation behind us before we tackle
issues like this?
Latinollusion - "I really can't relate to what you're talking about. Those people don't live in my neighborhood."
Latinonsense - "These people are better off now than ever before. It's all a bunch of nonsense."
Latinocommotion - "These people are harmless. Just leave the situation the way it is and everything will work itself out."
Latinonlooker - "Wow! It's really tragic. I gotta go. See ya!
Latinotmyproblem - "That's interesting. Who's gonna make the playoffs at the end of the season?"
Latinada - "I don't see any solution to all this. Somebody should figure this out. When they do, they'll let us know."
Hispanicignorance - "Golly, I never realized this was occurring in our country."
If your sensibilities have been offended by the characterizations in
this article, they should be. The vocabulary and voice of oppression
and racism are abhorrent. I am able to write an article like this
because I've heard people speak this way.
Something must change. If you have read this far in this article, I
only hope that you recognize what it is that must change. It is you, it
is me, it is us. We must change. Until we recognize the essence of the
vocabulary that inhabits the dialogue of this debate, we cannot hope to
contribute our voices to the chorus that must arise to have the hopes
of the families like the Eduardo and Lola Lopez family realized. U.S.
immigration policy won't change until the Joe and Sally Citizens of our
nation raise their voices on behalf of the millions of undocumented
immigrants residing in our country whose lives remain suspended in a
state of Hispanimation.
We are the one's who are responsible for ridding this country of what
one author has characterized as "man's inhumanity to man." It is
up to us to restore the contradiction that Hispanimation shouts to the
world and solidify the reputation of our country as "the land of the
free, the home of the brave, with liberty and justice for all.
I conclude with the words of former President Theodore Roosevelt:
"Until we put honor and duty first, and are willing to risk something
in order to achieve righteousness both for ourselves and for others, we
shall accomplish nothing; and we shall earn and deserve the contempt of
the strong nations of mankind."
The Eduardo and Lola Lopez family are deeply grateful to you. Speak up. They can't.
Bibliography & Notes
1 Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, InterVarsity Press
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