Running from La Migra Even Though I Have Papers: My Post-Election Activism

(All student names have been changed). 

If you think your workplace was depressing the day after the election, imagine having to explain Trump’s election to a group of children. That task awaited me on November 9.

I started off by substituting in a sixth grade English class. Though the teacher had left them a packet to complete independently, I decided to invent a lesson based on the reading, which was Pablo Neruda’s “Ode To My Socks.” As we worked through the poem, I promised the students that they could read the text in Spanish in the last five minutes of class if they worked well. In both classes, the students recited the Spanish text with glee. Though it was a small gesture, it felt like a wonderful “fuck you” to encourage a group of Latinx schoolchildren to orate a poem written by a Chilean Communist.

I finally saw my group of seventh graders in the afternoon, when we all went out for recess. We had let them know that we would discuss the election after recess, and they seemed less joyful than usual. In particular, I noticed my colleague Samantha comforting a nervous boy named Carlos on a bench. As I approached them, Samantha explained that Carlos was distressed because his mother said they would have to go back to El Salvador.

We tried to explain to Carlos that his mother might have not been serious, and sometimes adults say things that they don’t mean when they are upset. Carlos’ voice was high and fragile as he asked, “But what’s going to happen to us kids?”

Samantha capably let him know that many teachers work to keep him safe, and asked Carlos to name who helped him feel safe at school. I left to take care of some recess crisis (rowdy dodgeball game, frisbee in a tree), and returned to find Samantha in tears.

“Are you okay? What happened?” I asked her.

“Well, Carlos was able to list all of the people who help him here at school,” she responded. “But then he asked, ‘What happens when the teachers are not safe?'”

***

Carlos’ statement struck me to the core because it was the most empathetic thing I’d heard all day. But, I eventually had to weigh the facts of the situation and conclude that I am in fact quite safe.

I came to this conclusion after a day of processing the election with my students. As they came back sweaty and breathless from recess, we arranged an activity to help them process their feelings about the election. The students circulated the room writing on four big pieces of paper, responding to questions such as “How do you feel right now?” “What are your questions?” “What are your hopes for the future?” and “What should we do next?”

My students showed more vulnerability that day than I’d ever seen from them. Their statements were heartwrenching:

Will my family get separated?

Will I have to go back to Mexico?

What happens if half of our class is deported?

I feel very sad and depressed.

We need to elect people based on their actions, not based on who they are.

As much as I wanted to, I could not reassure my students that their families would not be separated. I and the other teachers in the room let them know that mass deportations were not likely to happen in the state of Massachusetts. But, I was somewhat powerless to assuage their fears, and I felt that it would be disingenuous to do so. How could I assure them that they would never come home from school to find that their parents had been deported? How could I promise that they would never be stopped unfairly by police? How could I say that hate crimes in their neighborhood, state, and country would not increase?

I could only express to them that my feelings mirrored theirs in many ways. I don’t remember when I threw objectivity out the window in my teaching, but any veneer of indifference that I might have had was effectively banished that day. It would be such a lie, as the daughter of a woman who once worried about her own immigration status, as a Latina, and a person who has supported a friend through an immigration journey, to say that everything would be okay. I let my students know that I felt very disappointed that a person who spoke about women, Latinx, immigrants, Muslims, and disabled people in very offensive ways won the election. My students did not need an adult figure to tell them that “democracy had run its course” or “we should give Trump a chance.” Instead, they desperately needed to know that I was on their side.

However, there is a wide gulf between being on their side and being in their shoes, and I think that it is important for all people to remember this divide as we process our feelings after the election. This is the truth: my life is not at risk in a Trump presidency.

Here is what might happen to me in the next four years:

-I may lose affordable healthcare.

-I may lose the right to a safe and speedy abortion. 

-Birth control may become very expensive.

-The earth may continue to warm, affecting my quality of life.

Here is what will NOT happen to me, but might happen to my students and other people of color:

-I will not be shot with impunity by police due to systemic racism.

-I will not be deported.

-I will not be attacked in public due to my perceived ethnicity.

-As a cisgender person, I will not be attacked in public due to my perceived gender identity. 

-I will not be asked to register as a Muslim. 

-I will not be evicted from a home.

-I will not be affected by changing welfare policies. 

We need to remember whose lives are really at stake in a Trump presidency. It’s not my life. If you are a white or white-passing liberal, it’s not yours either. We need to continue (or in some cases, start) to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the menacing systems that did not start with Trump, and that will not die when he leaves office.

****

In fact, I found my rallying cry for my post-election activism right where our story begins: on the playground. While we were outside earlier that day, I noticed one of my students fastened the hood of her sweatshirt tightly over her face, so only her round green eyes were visible. As she jogged past me, I asked, “Clara, are you cold?”

“No!” She chirped. “I’m running from la migra even though I have papers!”

Familia, this is the world we live in: running from la migra is now a playground game. Oddly enough, I realized how Clara’s statement could describe the new focus of my activism. I have always worked to educate myself about the experience of diverse peoples, donated to progressive causes, and done my best to combat injustice in my workplaces. My previous posts speak to my work as an ally. I want to emphasize that my activism has not started simply due to Trump’s election.

However, now that we have a president-elect who won due to his anti-immigrant stance, immigrants’ rights are more endangered than ever before. Though I have the incredible privilege of birthright citizenship, and my mother was nationalized years ago, I need to actively engage in thwarting la migra in their never-ending quest to separate families and crush dreams. Let’s face it: deporting most undocumented people does not make this country any safer. ICE does not work to “secure the border.” ICE works to enforce white nationalism.

I do not adopt this statement with the intention of appropriating the experience of undocumented folks. I am not actively running from la migra. I do not know what it is like to exhale in relief every time you return home from school to find your family is still there, or to cross your fingers that you never end up in a hospital only to be deported, or labor under the intense anxiety that your DACA privileges may be revoked.

Instead, I want to continue to align myself with people who are fighting to protect immigrants’ rights. I have started to do so in my own school by preparing a student presentation on knowing your rights. I have also donated to immigrant rights causes.

I hope you will join me, even if you have papers, in fighting la migra.

If you would like to support immigrant rights, you can donate to: 

LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens)

MALDEF (Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund)

MIRA Coalition (Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition)

Loveisrespect.org (A site that helps undocumented people who face intimate partner violence)

Familia: Trans and Queer Liberation Movement (run by MALDEF, focusing on trans and queer POC)

National Immigration Law Center (NILC)

Border Angels

And many more that you can find out about through a wonderful thing called Google. 

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