By Jackie Bueno
Immigration is a topic that I am very passionate about given my personal connections to it. Both of my parents were immigrants to the U.S. My Mom and her family escaped Nicaragua during the 1980’s when a violent civil war erupted led by the Sandinista National Liberal Front. Meanwhile my Dad and parts of his family came to the U.S. from the Philippines during the late 1970’s.
My Mom was very open about sharing her experience as an immigrant with me. Leaving Nicaragua was hard for her and my grandparents because they went from living a very comfortable middle class lifestyle to initially living a lower class lifestyle in the U.S.
My Grandma from Nicaragua who used to be a stay at home mother was forced to become a maid, cleaning the homes of the wealthy in San Francisco’s Marina District, whereas my Grandpa from Nicaragua, who was a successful Chemical Engineer who owned his own business in Nicaragua, was forced to take on any job he could because time and time again, U.S. employers told him his Engineering degree from Nicaragua was not equivalent to the education in the U.S.
Eventually, it would then be my fate that my parents would find each other, get married, and have my sister and me.
As immigrants, they really stressed sacrificing their money and overall lives for my sister and me to give us the best education possible, putting us in the best private schools in our area even though money was tight, so that one day we could attain the life they and my grandparents never could have.
Seeing how hard my parents have worked to attain their financial success in America, despite having a substantial amount of obstacles outside of their own control, is one of the main reasons why I think divisive rhetoric against immigrants needs to end.
While I was so used to positive discussions around immigration in my house, I’ll never forget the first time I attended a forum on illegal immigrants at my high school where this wasn’t the case. I remember feeling impressed my school took the initiative to have this forum for students at such a young age to expose them to this kind of dialogue, but my feelings quickly changed once it began.
I remember hearing girls whisper to each other as they heard the story of a woman who immigrated from Mexico and still had not attained citizenship after 25 years say in the most condescending tone, “Why doesn’t she just go back to her country?”
I even heard another peer say, despite one of her parents being an immigrant from Mexico, that immigrants are just lazy and need to work harder.
I was appalled by what they said, and mostly, I felt unsafe. Subconsciously I felt these people were attacking my family, people that felt they had no choice but to leave unsafe conditions in their homelands. I thought to myself only if these people at my high school were born in these countries would they know how it feels like to leave everything you have behind.
What’s scary though is that the same apathy towards immigrants that most of the people in my high school had is the same apathy shared by staunch Republicans in politics today. Donald Trump recently asked “Why Are We Still Having People from Shithole Countries, like Haiti and El Salvador, move to the U.S.?” Trump also announced on January 8 that nearly 200,000 Salvadorians must leave.
The rhetoric used by our own U.S. President is not only divisive but highly disrespectful to the damage the U.S. has put these countries through historically, which play a huge role in why the populations of these countries needed and still need to immigrate to the U.S. in the first place.
For example, U.S. businesses since the mid 1900’s entered countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador and forced indigenous populations off their lands to create plantations that would eventually profit the hands of U.S. businessmen and not the countries that housed the capital to create their profit in the first place. Today these countries are still not given sufficient reparations by the U.S. for the economic and social damage they’ve done.
Instead of having restorative conversations to better understand the reasons why immigrants move, people in positions of power such as our own President choose to publicly ostracize these individuals facing dire living conditions in their homelands such as extreme poverty, disease, and violence who decide to come here in order to escape those conditions.
While I understand individuals are entitled to their own opinions, the use of restorative language and discussions need to be prioritized in times where undocumented students and U.S. immigrants are facing hateful speech from their own President.
We must stop looking at immigrants as subhuman but rather individuals that are just trying to take the initiative upon themselves to ensure they and their families have opportunities for a better life.
Jackie Bueno is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Sociology. For further inquiries or if you would like to be featured, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Darren Hauck from NBC News
To learn more about the history between countries often targeted by President Trump and the U.S., see these links: