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by Bill Dahl


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 Hispurgatory.

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 foreigners."

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."

The 'Latinocomprende'

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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