A court day in the life of an immigrant

Before today, I have never been in a courtroom where the defendant appeared in chains and jail uniform. The fact that this individual was an undocumented immigrant who has not committed any real crime made a strong impression on me. Julio was taken to jail because of driving under the influence. Successively, it was determined that he had been previously deported and thus had a 10-year ban of re-entry into the country. Julio did return. His family back in Guatemala—a wife, two kids and his mother—relied on him to make a living. That’s why Julio had come to the United States in the first place in 2007. He was only 20 back then. At that age, many of his peers who are privileged enough to go to college in America get routinely drunk and behind the wheel. They do it because they are careless; they do it because they think they are invincible. In other words, they do it because they are young and stupid. Sometimes, they end up paying for their mistakes. A guy, White, I knew ended up killing someone. He spent one year in jail and then was left to deal with his guilt for the rest of his life. In many cases, young White kids get away with DUIs… And it’s not just about the youth. Have you ever got behind the wheel after having had a couple of beers? Most of us, whether we admit it publicly or not, have. My husband, who is also White, was recently stopped by a police officer near Tuscaloosa because he was speeding (doing 83 on a 65). We were driving back to Montgomery after a football game. My husband was never tested, and he was actually let go without even a ticket. He would have probably got a DUI if the officer had tested him. They were probably after people who were hammered, he said. He called himself lucky.

Looking at Julio in chains, I thought about the many injustices that people of color are subjected to in this country. Where does racial profiling begins? Where does it end? The Trayvon Martin case had the entire nation pondered these questions. It has had me reflect on the issue and its subtleties. Would my husband have received the same treatment if his last name had been Martinez or Mendoza? Ten days prior, I had been stopped myself for speeding on I-65. Even though there was no one else on the road (no one I had put in danger, say), the officer gave me a ticket. Incidentally, I was driving with two Mexican friends and a kid to an immigrant march in Birmingham. Incidentally, I have an accent as well. He didn’t let me off. Perhaps being a silent passenger in a driver’s seat ‘whitened’ me. Driving with Brown friends and verbally interacting with a police officer somehow highlighted my own difference.
I paid a $224 ticket to Chilton County. After all, I was doing 83 on a 70. I didn’t have any ground to contest the ticket. I was guilty of speeding. Yet, I debated until the last minute whether to go to court or not. I did want to tell the judge that charging someone for speeding less than 15 miles over the limit such amount is a total rip-off: it is, because in Chilton County for speeding 25 mph over the limit the ticket is only 20 bucks more ($244), and 10 more ($234) if you’re driving the wrong way. C’mon!

I didn’t know Julio before this morning. I went to the Montgomery federal courthouse in support of someone I was told was an ACIJ leader in the Dothan community.
On Nov. 15, Julio made a mistake. To celebrate the end of school—he had just gotten an accounting degree online—he had a beer or two. As someone who is not accustomed to drinking, he tested positive. Julio is 26, works two jobs—he waits tables and singlehandedly cleans a movie theatre—, and volunteers with a variety of community-based organizations. Based on the many people that have testified in front of the judge today, he’s definitely a role model for the youngest, an inspiration for the DREAMers in Dothan. Someone who is not afraid to speak up; someone who has empowered younger kids.
ACIJ executive director Ingrid Chapman put it best in her testimony: If we keep Julio in jail, someone who is a much needed interpreter for the Guatemalans who often don’t speak Spanish but only their indigenous languages, someone who teaches Spanish and about life in Guatemala to underprivileged Black kids, someone who has been an important liaison, pivotal for starting a dialogue among Latin@, African American and White churches, lastly, someone who does not routinely drink, but is a responsible, trustworthy member of the community who is here to work and provide for his family back home, “if we put in jail someone like him, what kind of message are we sending back to the Dothan community?”
Julio’s story is not exceptional. It is an immigrant’s story. It is an American story.
Judge Moorer didn’t rule on the case today. He had to decide whether Julio poses a threat to the community and is at risk of flight before his trial. After thanking the numerous witnesses and supporters in attendance, the judge uncommonly said that he needed more time. He needed to review similar cases brought up by both the defense attorney (Nicole Ramos) and the U.S. attorney office (Todd Brown).
The judge seemed sincerely moved by the many people who had taken time off from work and/or travelled hours to be supportive of Julio. Julio was privileged too today, perhaps for the first time in his life, as he was publicly recognized for all he does for others. He had the rare privilege to listen to his eulogy while alive. I wish him to have the necessary peace of mind while he is waiting for his sentence. But judging from his serene demeanor while in court, I think he already has. Good luck.

More Smoke on Immigration Bill from NumbersUSA

If you happened to catch glimpses of the Senate Judiciary Committee executive business meetings on S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, you might have noticed a disturbing unwillingness to compromise from Sen. Sessions (R-AL), in particular, but also, thought to a lesser degree, from Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Michael Lee (R-UT), and finally John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), both of whom have a large Latino constituency.

In support of the Gang of Hate—as the abovementioned all-white-men team has been nicknamed—and its obstructionist stance comes NumbersUSA; the conservative organization, founded and spearheaded by Roy Beck, advocates for lower immigration and has been harshly critical of the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on April 17. Now that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on Wednesday, NumbersUSA’s attempts to kill the proposal have resorted to a known conservative strategy: twisting statistics and polls.
Still, it’s hard to get used to such manipulation. I was rather shocked to read this morning on the organization’s website a short article penned by Jeremy Beck, Director of the Media Standards Project of NumbersUSA. The interpretation of The WashingtonPost/ABC Poll that has circulated in the last few hours is called into questions. According to Roy Beck’s, I assume, son, The Washington Post got it all wrong. Most Americans do not back a path to citizenship as reported by Balz and Cohen.
Rather, a mere 18 percent (!) would support Gang of Eight’s proposal that includes a path to citizenship.
Now I believe any poll should be taken with a grain of salt, but when numbers are distorted by an organization whose very name points to the importance of figures, well, such paradoxes need to be exposed.

Below are the poll questions that The Washington Post primarily used to spotlight that the majority of Americans does support a path to citizenship.

Q: Would you support or oppose a program giving undocumented immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements?

58% Strongly/Somewhat Support
38% Strongly/Somewhat Oppose
4% No Opinion

Q: Which of these would you prefer – (to have Congress enact stricter border control now), (to have Congress enact a path to legal status now), to do both now, or not to do either?

Enact a path to legal status now and put off stricter border control
No opinion

The Washington Post – ABC News Poll

Jeremy Beck preferred to focus on the latter item by relating it as follow on the NumbersUSA website.

Q: Which of these would you prefer?
34%: Enact stricter border control now and put off path to legal status;
18%: Enact a path to legal status now and put off stricter border control; (highlighted)
33%: Both
11%: Neither
4%: Don’t know

From this item, the author extrapolates not that 51 percent of Registered Voters supports a path to legal status and only 34 percent do not, but points to the number of people who actually don’t agree with stricter border control. In other words, Jeremy Beck points to the obvious and widely known. Many Americans believe in the importance of strengthening the border to further prevent waves of illegal immigration. That is why such measure is in the bill, and no one in the Gang of Eight who wants this bill to pass is dreaming of taking that off the table.
Reality is, the border has never been more secure—apprehensions have been at the lowest number since 1970 according to the Southern Border Communities Coalition—and a more progressive approach to immigration reform would not emphasize such issue. However, mainstream consensus around this perceived reality (the border is not secure yet, and Border patrols need more funds) forces sound politicians to give up on striving to assess that one fact at this in the name of advancing a reform that would benefit immigrants as well as the U.S. economy.
Jeremy Beck’s position (beware: not necessarily the NumbersUSA’s position as a disclaimer warns readers of the website) discovers nothing and attempts to discredit a poll and create an alternative reality in which, apparently, Americans would prefer to keep exploiting foreign labor and scapegoat undocumented immigrants rather than actually help U.S. workers by getting eleven millions people out of the shadows and thus putting them in the position to finally live, freely, their own version of the American dream.

Tale of Two DREAMers – video

Hey all!
Here’s the link to the multimedia project that students Morghan Prude, Chad Underwood, Katie Lockwood, and I put together on behalf of the Alabama Coalition of Immigrant Justice. The video was also the final project said students produced in a course I taught this Spring, Advanced Media Writing: Multimedia Storytelling.

The video features Melvin, 17, from Guatemala, and Mariana, 18, from Mexico, two DREAMers that now live in Alex City, Ala. This is a snapshot of their difficulties, aspirations, dreams, and much more as they embark in their adventure trip to Washington D.C and live to the fullest for a day.

The multimedia project premiered at the Auburn University Montgomery exhibit “Before We Were Us We Were Them” on the history of Immigration in Alabama that opened on April 22, 2013 at AUM.

Here’s the link to the website of the exhibit:

Before We Were Us We Were Them

Before We Were Us, We Were Them: Immigration and Alabama

This student-curated exhibition presents a visual history of immigration in Alabama and features contemporary photographs and interviews, as well as historical photographs and documents borrowed from the Library of Congress, the Alabama Department of Archives and History, and the Cullman County Museum.
The exhibition will be on display in Goodwyn Gallery from April 22 – 26, 2013. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4 pm.Invitation - Postcard

We Got on the Bus! – Dispatches from the ACIJ trip to D.C.

(From the left) Melvin Orozco, Mariana Blanco, Silvia Giagnoni, Jose' Cuicahua-Perez and Helen Rivas pose for a photo in front of the Capitol in Washington D.C. on April 10, 2103. (From the left) Melvin Orozco, Mariana Blanco, Silvia Giagnoni, Jose’ Cuicahua-Perez and Helen Rivas pose for a photo in front of the Capitol in Washington D.C. on April 10, 2103. Photo by Tony Blanco Zarate
[/caption]ACIJ members pose in front of the Alabama flag they made for the march at the end of the rally in front of the Capitol in Washington D.C. on April 10, 2013. ACIJ members pose in front of the Alabama flag they made for the march at the end of the rally in front of the Capitol in Washington D.C. on April 10, 2013.[/caption]

Luis Israel Reyes Mayagoitia addresses the ACIJ participants to the trip to the D.C. on April 11, 2013.

Luis Israel Reyes Mayagoitia addresses the ACIJ participants to the trip to the D.C. on April 11, 2013.

“Oh no, I’m not going to bed now.” After sixteen hours on the bus, an afternoon at the rally and an evening wandering around the Capitol Mall, after the mere three hours of sleep at La Quinta Hotel the night before, after a never-ending journey to Washington that took the riders twenty-one hours from Montgomery to the hotel right outside D.C., Israel said he had no intention of going to bed.
“I would just have dreams about the rally and Washington and wouldn’t be able to rest,” he professed. Instead, Israel told me as we were arriving in Montgomery around 2 on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, a storm system threateningly approaching central Alabama, he was going to hang out with his mother and cousins and neighbors at the trailer park where he lives on Troy Highway and tell them all about D.C. and the rally. And the great people he met. It was time to share, not to sleep.
Four busses left Alabama on Thursday early in the morning to join the thousands of people that from all over the country were rallying at the Capitol to demand a just immigration reform. The busses departed from Decatur, Birmingham and Montgomery.
I mostly rode on the latter. As we were approaching home on Thursday, people walked to the front of the bus and shared their reflections on the trip. None of them said anything negative about the organization (there was surely room for improvement…), nor complained about the too many unnecessary hours on the road. The brown people of Alabama understood what it meant to organize a trip for more than 200 people with few resources, understood that the leaders of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice had worked until exhaustion to prepare for this important trip to D.C. Most of the people, it’s worth reminding, have withstood much worse: crossing the desert, being held at gunpoint, or just being on their feet at work for 12-14 hours; they are used to exhausting experiences. They are resilient people: they are immigrants. And this time, they were actually going to Washington to proudly show their presence to the rest of country, to reclaim their contribution to “the greatest democracy in the world,” the land of opportunity where so many people from all around the Global South and beyond want to come to live and thrive.
They brought their kids: one, little Ashley, only a few month-old. Others, like Natividad, brought along her two little girls, fact that did to prevent her from being the captain of the Montgomery bus. Her husband, Robert, helped with the girls and supported her leading efforts.
Holding the mike tight, participants thanked the organizers, expressed gratitude and respect for their work and the opportunity to go to D.C.
Several people talked about God leading the just struggle of the immigrants; others, like Francisco “Pancho” from Opelika, talked about how he felt a profound sense of communion with the people who had come to the march. “The very fact that you are here, your presence, gives me energy,” Pancho said. “Seeing so many people from all over the States united by the same spirit at the rally… I felt that they were all my brothers and sisters…”
Others, like Victor who had left Foley at 1 in the morning with his family, whose car had broken down on I-65, talked about the ones who went on the trip as being “extraordinary.” Ordinary people say, I’d like to go, but I can’t, Victor reminded the participants.
The trip was an amazing experience for me. I think the fact that the journey was so long made it even more memorable: almost an endurance test.
And the dreamers. When the busses unloaded two hundred people at a local Hardy’s on the way, I saw folks trying to save a spot for a friend, and some, well, skipping the line. But after a while, I realized that in most cases, there was a reason for such a behavior: one teenager, for instance, was helping not just his mother ordering some food in English but another older lady “who had skipped” the line. He was protecting them, making sure they got what they ordered. Things are not always the way they looked.
The greatest inspiration for me were indeed these young people whose enthusiasm for being part of this great movement and rally and for just being in D.C., most of whom, for the first time, was overwhelming. As the rally was winding down, Mariana, 18, and her brother Tony, 16, from Dadeville, José, 18, from Pelham, and Melvin, 16, from Alex City, the indefatigable Helen Rivas from Birmingham and I set to go see the monument Martin Luther King Jr. We walked through the blooming cherry trees while mingling with the many families and individuals who were out enjoying the magic of the dusk along and around the Capitol Mall. As a good Southern girl, Mariana craved for some sweet tea, hard to find in D.C., while Tony experimented with my camera and took some very nice pictures.
We never made it to the MLK jr. monument as we were running out of time (the busses were scheduled to leave at 9), but the dreamers decided they wanted to walk a bit more and reach the Lincoln Memorial. Melvin and José ran up the stairs all the way to the Lincoln statue. “A dream has come true,” said Melvin, visibly moved.
We wandered around the Mall until dark.
It’s Saturday morning, and I have yet to be able to rest properly.
Israel was right after all. I had to share the excitement with as many people as I could or else, I would not be able to get the trip to D.C. and its people off my vivid dreams.

Upcoming Talk at Fundraiser of Gainesville’s Civic Media Center -March 22

Hi all!
I’ve been invited to speak at the annual fundraiser event “Springboard” of the Gainesville’s Civic Media Center on Friday March 22. Support this awesome place of cultural learning if you live in the area.

Talk Title: “The Coalition of Immokalee Workers: Grassroots Politics in the Age of Corporate Media”
Where: Prairie Creek Lodge in the Panes Prairie Preserve State Park- Gainesville, Fla.
When: 6 p.m. Friday, March 22

YDS Conference in NYC – Feb. 17, 2013

Hey all!
I will be speaking on immigrants’ rights at the Young Democratic Socialists Conference in New York City next weekend.
Here are the details:

YDS Conference
St. Francis College at 180 Remsen St., Brooklyn Heights, NY 11221
Sunday February 17
12:00pm-12:50pm Workshop Block D
Immigrant Worker Struggles in America–Silvia Giagnoni & Audrey Sasson

Sicily like 1950s Alabama?

A city official in the Sicilian province of Trapani thought it’d be a good idea to have separate buses for whites (read, Italians) and blacks (read, African). Instead of increasing the number of buses on an apparently overcrowded route, city councilman Andrea Vassallo thought even better: why not separate them? And why not have the police escort those buses carrying black people?
To add insult to injury, said buses have been crowded with African immigrants because in the vicinity of the bus route (near Salinagrande) there’s a center for asylum seekers. “Trapani come l’Alabama degli anni 60” (Trapani like 1960s Alabama) reads the headline of an Italian newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano. Vassallo has been highly criticized for his proposal and defended himself by saying ha was just trying to fix a problem. Obviously, he had been misunderstood: it must have been the wording of the press release, which Vassallo wrote himself, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano. He apologized: “I am inexperienced,” Vassallo said. “I have been in politics for only six months.”
The attempt to separate people by the color of their skin is even more sadly ironic in a place like Sicily. The title of a good critical anthology on Italian America edited by Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno comes to mind: Are Italians White? Well, to Andrea Vassallo “white” obviously includes what in the States is known as “brown,” to say the least, and has everything to do with belonging. Africans, even asylum seekers, don’t belong to Trapani, or Sicily, or Italy. They are violent people; they need to be escorted.
A baby who is born on Italian soil, receives his schooling in Italy, and even acquires the Italian dialect or regional variety of the place where he/she grows up, is not an Italian. In Italy, citizenship is attributed according to the so called jus sanguinis (right of the blood)– in the United States there’s the so called jus solis (right of the soil), which has been recently challenged by nativists (see the ongoing birthright controversy). So it shouldn’t come so much as a surprise that bizarre and racist solutions like the one proposed by the city official are not perceived as bizarre or racist by many. Vassallo himself doesn’t see himself as a racist. Most Italians don’t either. But prejudices abound, and if Vassallo hadn’t been called out and reminded of the sad history of the U.S. South, I’m sure that the idea of having a separate public transportation system would have sounded reasonable to many who are now privately grumbling.

Sign the petition! This Thanksgiving weekend show your support to the farm workers

Hi all!
It’s been a while since I took the time to write on this blog. BUT this is important, and the time is more than ripe. The time to change the food retailers’ mentality and modus operandi is now.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has posted a quite inspiring video on its website to properly celebrate Thanksgiving and to remind Publix customers that the Florida-based food retailer has not signed the agreement with the CIW. Publix has yet to join the other major food-buying corporations who decided to side with the farm workers and to be participants in the process of developing a more just food industry.
It’s time for Publix to stop propagating lies around the reasons for refusing to sign an agreement that aims to improve the wages of the ones who pick the produce we put on our tables.
During these times of giving thanks, when sharing food with family and friends, send your thoughts to the produce pickers of the world whose hard, backbreaking work is way too often forgotten and made invisible. All most people see is a cheap, shiny tomato attractively displayed in the produce section of your local store of a multi-billion dollar corporation. So the CIW reminder to Publix and its customers couldn’t be more timely.
Most significantly, the CIW struggle for just pay and working conditions is worth it. It works. Change is happening in the fields. The fear of unpunished repercussions for workers who rise up for their fundamental human rights is vanishing. After several years of failed but enduring attempts, the CIW has recently been able to bring farmers to the table. They, too, have come around and understood that an important solution to the many problems of the agricultural industry can only come from a concerted effort to dignify the work of the ones who actually pick the produce. Solutions must be radical, and they start with human dignity, not with profit.
Still, there is much more to be done.
Women are still routinely harassed in the fields. Still too many cases go unreported.
The latest modern slavery operation was brought to the open in September 2010. The CIW work has been crucial in unveiling the nine cases of forced labor and violent physical and psychological abuse. And yet again, the artificially-low cost of U.S. produce is the core issue when it comes to preventing modern day slavery and sweatshops conditions in the fields. And we need to turn to the “demand side” of the market to find the origin of such a problem. The big buyers have been, therefore, tainted with what most thought to be a horrible practice of the past, at least on U.S. soil.
There is more work to do and this why I invite you all to watch the video below and reflect on what it means to be fair to others. A way to thank farm workers is to give our indispensable support to the courageous, resilient workers of Immokalee, Florida. I do.

Publix: Come to the table and join the Fair Food Program!


The Politics Left out by the Party Conventions

Sept. 4, 2012–This past week was a pretty eventful one for the small but committed activist community of Montgomery; yet, most residents were distracted by the noisier, televised and twittered ad nauseam Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. (just like they are now further entertained by the Democratic one in Charlotte, N.C.). This is what Politics has come to in the era of socially mediated, pseudo-participation: a circus that is striving to keep bored viewers constantly entertained but not necessarily engaged.
In our “City of Dreams,” however, sparks of resistance have appeared. Resistance to the idea of a society that wants spectators and not actors of change, an idea that damages us all.
Last Wednesday, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity stopped in Montgomery to call attention to alternative solutions to the War on Drugs. The Caravan, comprised of 120 people, 40 of which have been directly affected by the War, was welcome by the local NAACP chapter and the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice at the Fresh Anointing House of Worship. The Caravan traveled throughout Mexico, where last year it collected the stories of the victims and the many desaparecidos of this useless war. The travelers are now visiting different communities in the Unites States and bringing their powerful, heartbreaking testimony, and a message of peace full of grief and anger. They are angry at Mexico’s corrupted government and police. They want peace and justice to be made for the loved ones they lost, too often innocent victims of a war waged as much against the drug cartels as against Mexico’s own people. But the weapons used to fight this war come primarily from the U.S.; the drugs feed the largest market in the world: the American one. Their largest consumers: White America. That is also why they are now.
The militarization of this fight has to stop: that’s the Caravan’s message and the one of its leader and initiator, Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, who lost his 24-year-old son, one of the 60,000 casualities (the estimate is conservative) of this senseless war. In San Antonio, Texas, the travelers bought an AK 47 (with no need to show an ID, as they pointed out to me in disbelief): they are now leaving pieces of it behind as they travel from city to city on their way to Washington, D.C. The goal of the Caravan is to reach ordinary U.S. citizens in their call for binational solutions centered around the victims of drugs. There are 500,000 people today in the United States behind bars because of a drug law violation. Most of them are poor men of color. Most of them are victims of this war. The “tough on crime” approach to justice has not worked out here either, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous has said. Civil rights advocate and author of The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander has pointed out that this war has “little to do with general concern with drug addiction or drug abuse and nearly everything to do with racial politics.” The president of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Neill Franklyn, who has been traveling with the Caravan, called the War on Drugs “the worst, most devasting social policy since slavery.”

Black Montgomerians know it well. The “War on Drugs” is not this foreign, looming threat as it is too often portrayed in the mainstream media: its disastrous effects are not “about to spill into the U.S.” Its effects have been real and tangible, but too often in poor communities of color, and as such, invisible or misconstrued by the ones in power.
In Alabama, Mexicans and other immigrants without documents have been recently “invited” to self-deport themselves, to go back home. But going home now also means having to face the deadly, pervasive reality of the War on Drugs. In my interviews with Mexican immigrants living in the area, this has been a recurrent theme: it’s not just the abject poverty or the dearth of jobs that scares them; “home” is now a dangerous place.
Montgomerians have also shown good will, cooperation and openness towards their fellow Mexicans. Throughout this past week, for instance, the Church of the Ascesion offered an invaluable service to the Mexicans living in Central Alabama. The Mexican Consulate of Atlanta set up a mobile outpost at the Church and offered consular registration services to more than 1,000 Mexican nationals residing in the state. Dozens of volunteers, many of which AUM students, provided much needed assistance to a community harshly affected by the implementation of HB 56/HB 658 and received in return a short immersion experience in intercultural interaction without having to travel abroad.
Finally, last Friday a handful of local supporters of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers joined the many other allies across the Southeast over Labor Day weekend and protested in front of two Publix stores in Montgomery. Contrary to competitors Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and the major fast food chains (Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Burger King, among others), Publix has refused to acknowledge the pickers’ problem as its own. It would only cost the grocer one cent more per pound of tomatoes to become a partner of the Fair Food Program that decisively improves the working conditions and wages of the pickers and promotes social accountability in the U.S. produce chain. The protesters called for Publix to become part of the solution of the problem. The tomato pickers are the ones who have backbreaking jobs, but few rights: they are the workers we should celebrate the most on the day dedicated to labor, which here in the U.S., misleadingly falls on the first Monday of September, rather than on the symbolic anniversary of the 1886’s Haymarket massacre in Chicago, when an undetermined number of the thousands of striking workers and unionists, who had peacefully rallied to demand an eight-hour workday, and eight police officers were killed by the police gunfire after an unidentified individual had thrown a bomb in the midst. They are considered martyrs of labor and May 1, International Workers’ Day since then, is celebrated in their memory in many countries throughout the world.
Most of the Florida farmworkers, who handpick 90 percent of the tomatoes consumed in the United States during the winter, are Mexicans, many of which have been forced to leave their home and migrate to the U.S. due to the devastating effects of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. They come here to work the hardest jobs, like picking tomatoes in the blazing sun somewhere in the infinite fields around Immokalee, Fla.
They, too, are asking for dignity and justice.

The televised party conventions won’t offer solutions to the labor problem of the agricultural industry; they won’t discuss the mass incarceration and routine disenfranchisement of Black America or the underlying, strategic, original and enduring racism of the War on Drugs. They won’t reflect on the problem that illegal immigration is becoming for the consciousness and very identity of the United States by considering, for instance, the harsh daily reality faced by poor Latino communities in the South. They won’t talk about the fact that the buying power of corporate America is strangling the democratic participatory process. These topics are not politically expedient: both parties now present, in their own ways, cheerful slogans and visions of the American Dream. It’s show time. It’s time to be optimistic. But it’s also time to listen to the concerns of the Other America that is too often misrepresented, if not invisible.