By Leoncio Vásquez Santos
With the reelection of President Barack Obama, we have heard statements by senators and other politicians that this year they must do something in regard to immigration reform. Obama himself has declared that if the Senate does not move, he will present his own initiative. Nonetheless, days have transpired and we have not seen concrete advances.
We cannot sit idle and wait while the politicians engage in word play with the lives of millions of immigrants who for years have struggled for recognition of basic human rights. Now more than ever, we must actively participate to make our voices heard and unite with efforts across the country. We must pressure the federal government to make serious changes and not continue the “status quo” that we have seen in the past.
We, active members of the May 1st Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights, will go to the streets of Fresno again on May 1. We will pressure those in power to find a permanent solution to this enormous and complex situation that affects millions of persons in the United States.
Why do we continue to march year after year, despite the fact that society doesn’t seem to care? We continue to march because they want us to drop our struggle for our most basic rights. They want us to dedicate ourselves to the day-to-day routine of hard work, after which we return to our homes, tired and absorbed in television, viewing soccer games and soap operas.
Believe me, this is no coincidence, but rather a well-planned scheme on the part of powerful interests that intend to maintain the “status quo” and ensure that we continue to provide the most productivity with minimum labor cost. While they enrich themselves, we struggle each day to pay rent, utilities, food, transportation, clothes, school and the list continues. It is also no coincidence that while we try to live a decent life without causing problems, we accept jobs with horrible working conditions and low pay just to provide for our families.
But let’s start at the beginning, to see what brought us to this point, to this country which is thousands of miles from our homes. At first, we hear that it is due to “poverty,” “lack of work in our home country” and that “things are getting worse.” That is exactly the point! Those are the reasons why many of us decided to leave everything behind and seek drastic measures to survive. For us, it was not the search for the “American Dream” so widely pronounced by those who invaded these lands that were once inhabited by Native Americans. Our struggle was to risk everything in order to provide food for our families. We must ask who caused the crisis in our home countries so that the situation worsens. I can remember my grandmother Ignacia recounting how she was confronted by the same situation of extreme poverty, but they managed to stay in the home country and find other ways to survive.
Let’s examine how the cycle of immigration began. During World War II, the United States asked for cheap labor from Mexico through the Bracero Program. They would send the braceros back to Mexico, but they saw the labor force potential and the needs of the economy and allowed immigration of Mexicans to the north to continue.
Then came the implementation of globalization, with U.S. corporations doing business in any part of the world. The United Sates took advantage of its resources to exploit opportunities for market exchanges with other countries without paying taxes on the revenues. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trilateral agreement by the United States, Mexico and Canada, passed in 1994. NAFTA devastated communities that depended on the cultivation of corn. Multinational corporations that grew corn in the United States with government subsidies inundated the Mexican markets with the basic product at a low price. This movement totally eliminated the basis for life of indigenous communities that depended on corn to survive.
To continue the chaos, multinational corporations transferred operations to other countries such as México and Central America. Thus began the process of contamination of our natural resources, which we had cared for and nurtured over thousands of years, because they were the source of all life. The multinationals offered jobs with inhuman working conditions and miserable pay to produce products that were sold in the United States at exorbitant prices.
With these two maneuvers, they strangled us and we were forced to leave our places of origin so they could further exploit our sweat labor in other places. Now, those same corporations continue to exploit and completely exhaust our natural resources and the cheap labor of the few who were left behind. The practice of maintaining workers practically at the level of slavery, which famously built this country since the beginning, continues today with immigrant labor. And those of us who chose to flee the monstrosity in our home countries find ourselves in this country, at times in worse conditions, working as slaves and tolerating all types of exploitation and abuse.
These are a few of the reasons many of us do not remain silent and do not accept defeat. We continue our struggle, despite the adversities, and despite the moments where they only give us lip service. We firmly believe that sooner or later we will win and one day we will live a life of peace and tranquility with our loved ones. Or at least our children and their children will witness better living conditions for theirs. And maybe they will remember with pride that we fought and won the benefits that they enjoy.
Leoncio Vásquez Santos is the executive director of the Binational Center for Indigenous Oaxacan Development Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.