Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Meeting Cesar Chavez

I was sitting in the student Union at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, when I ran into another Panelist, a guy named Joe, who is a filmmaker for a state agency. He used to be one of my Board members. We were both showing films that we had created for our respective agencies. Mine was a Digital Storytelling Project.

We talked lazily about politics and then I told him about meeting Cesar Chavez back in the 1970s. I heard him speak in a tiny rural church in Southeast Austin where he gave an impassioned plea for the rights of farmworkers. There were about 100 people attending. His speech was powerful, eloquent and sincere. He talked about the need for dignity and basic human rights.

I remember going up to the front of the church and shaking his hand.and speaking to him. He was warm and had a way of seeing each person who was before him. He was both humble and charismatic. I was a student at the University of Texas at the time and an activist against the Viet Nam War. My boyfriend and I were tear-gassed in demonstrations that bleak year so many times that we actually lined the short gravel driveway of our rundown rental home in East Austin with the small black round spent tear gas canisters the national guard had shot at us. It kept the grass from growing into the driveway.

Which led Joe and I to the subject of immigration issues. Now Joe's father and mother walked across the Rio Grande back in the 1940s to enter the US. I asked him what he thought about all of the immigration rallies held in the past week or so.

He told me that his parents were migrant workers when they first came to this country. He said his childhood was one of poverty. He was raised by relatives because his parents travelled around so much and they wanted him to have a stable life. When I mentioned that I had been blogging a little about immigration, he stared at me.

Joe: If you write about Bush, you know they will have an FBI file on you.

Me: That's possible, but so what? There are 15 million bloggers on the internet. What are they going to do, arrest all of us who are critical of the Bushies?

Joe: I know a guy named Juan down in Cuero. The cops thought he was an illegal and they broke into his house one night and arrested him. They let him go the next day, when his girlfriend brought his Green card to the station, but he was freaked out for weeks after that.

Me: Hmm, do you think Latinos are generally fearful of the government?

Joe: Not the rich ones, but how many rich Mexicans do you know? The rest of us sure, some. The illegals, a lot. How many times you think a guy gets ripped off or is underpaid by his "employer?" You think he can report that to the cops? Or a woman is sexually assaulted. Think she will report it? They know they'll just be deported. Hell, sometimes the women get raped by the Border Patrol, or coyotes, the people who bring them across. Being illegal makes them a target for people who know that they can treat them like shit and there'll be no consequences.

Me: So what's the answer?

Joe: Give them a reason to buy into the system. They're here. Give them amnesty and end this shit of treating people like animals when they are just trying to survive. There's nothing to go back to for most of the illegals I know. Nothing.


At 5:03 AM, Anonymous LILY BRANFORD said...

Thank you for sharing this, Glenda. I have admitted to my mixed feelings many times, because I know that there is one answer that is from my head, another from the ehart. My knee jerk response is to say "amnesty everyone" but I know that there are some real significant problems. Beyond the exploitation- there are problems with emergency services and fear-based lifestyles...keeping kids and families hidden. At Aurora I told them that my views are also informed by my work with the immigrant community and the challenges we had-for example when an accident at the school left kids injured and their parents would NOT come sign papers or releases or even come to the hospital. Some did not send the kids to school at all..the climate of fear is in addition to the exploitation, violence, rape, abuse. All needs to be addressed but to blanket legalize has other challenges. Everyone would be here. Some say that that is not true- but if there were no restrictions, no illegality, no danger, no consequence it is logical to assume more would come. Some people say how so?

Because if people come here risking their lives, their bodies, their families, etc, to work- why would they not come in even larger numbers if there was an open policy?

And what about those already here? I think they perhaps should have amnesty and then- maybe they do need to think about restrictions.

In social work school I'm sure we both learned about empathy and empowerment, compassion and social safety. But when I went on to study finance- I realized that many things are not financially practical despite our desire for them. Behavior x affects behavior Y in a society. This is perhaps most evident in the immigration discussion.

At 6:15 AM, Blogger glenda said...

I understand your concerns because this is a complex issue.

My suggestion in beginning the dialogue about this is to look at it in two parts:
1. What to do with the illegals here now
2.What about those who come here illegally in the future

I have already stated that I don't have all the answers, but I am open to suggestions and comments.

However, let's be practical. There are ten million illegal immigrants here now, and they are not going away. No arm of the government is able to round them all up and place them all in detention camps to deport, and I'm not sure I'd want to live in a country with armed detention camps filled with sick and frightened people.

Our prison system is already a nightmare. We have not shown signs of having the ability to deal with any group of "law-breakers" in a healthy or effective manner. Abu Ghrain? Guantanamo Bay? I know that abuses in detention camps are already bad, want to subject people and kids to more abuse?

So why do I think that would change? When all we are doing is adding layers of trauma to poor people's lives. Because our govenment and the conservatives in power define criminalism in this instance as poverty. Think about it. The poor do not need to be locked up. The need a bootstrap to learn and become productive and find a means to support themselves and their children. All I am suggesting is that we give amnesty to those who are here, and I believe that within one generation they will give back so much more in so many ways.

At 6:57 AM, Anonymous Lily The Chickless Blogger said...

Yes- I think amnesty for those here is the only possible way to go. But then, some sort of border control?

I told you those Aurorans would come. Then my new women friends leave and blame me for their antics. I already complained to them in the hatter thread. Will they care? No. That Rhino is like my wicked blogger nemesis. He needs a boot.

At 7:37 AM, Blogger Left of Center said...

That was such a nice moment to have in your life. He was a great person, and did so much for so many. Oh, my wife is a UT grad. :)

At 8:20 AM, Blogger glenda said...

That's Ok, Lily, the Aurans are decent folk. I read their blog. They're playing nice.

See, if we just treat people like good people, they'll reciprocate.

Unless they are psychopaths, who are pretty much beyond rehabilitation. In that case,
I just usually put spyware on their site and stalk them with my internet Taserware (my own brand of software design that shocks you every time you go to your blogsite, patent pending).....and if I wasn't so ethical and nonviolent I would share the story told to me by a young man in my family of how to blow up a person's gas tank. But then, someone sure as shooting, would go and do it, and my Karmic balance would be shot to hell and back.

Left of Center
I have 3 kids at UT right now. Oy vey, and ay caramba. Tuition has gone up 40% in the last 3 years.
Bet your wife is smart. Pretty hard school to get into nowadays.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Tom Hilton said... met Cesar Chavez? Wow.

Give them a reason to buy into the system. They're here. Give them amnesty and end this shit of treating people like animals when they are just trying to survive. There's nothing to go back to for most of the illegals I know. Nothing.

I think this is absolutely right, and this understanding has to be the basis for any sound and humane policy.

At 11:00 AM, Anonymous earl bockenfeld said...

Over at Tapped, Ezra Klein summarizes an LA Times article explaining how we could go a long way toward cracking down on illegal immigration without thousands of miles of Iron Curtain-style fences or vast mobs of vigilante groups lining the borders. Instead, the single most effective policy would probably be the simplest: enforce the law that prohibits businesses from hiring illegals. This would require Republicans to pass laws that their corporate contributors don't like, and we all know what that means. Let's put up a fence instead!

I'm basically in favor of incentives to increase the costs of immigrating illegally while decreasing the cost of immigrating legally. At some point, if you can enact the right mix of policies to get the costs right, you'll reduce illegal immigration to a point we can live with.

So: crack down on employers because that's probably the the cheapest and easiest way of discouraging illegal immigration. If it's hard to get a job, you're less likely to cross the border. Provide a process whereby illegals, already here, can become legal if working, paying taxes and not committing crimes. At the same time, make it easier to immigrate legally with a reasonable path to citizenship. This makes "getting in line" more attractive. Do these things right and there just aren't very many people left who find the illegal route more attractive than coming over legally.

It also goes a long way toward solving the wage problem. There's no question that immigration from Mexico drags down wages for unskilled labor, but today it drags it down even more than it has to because illegal immigrants have no bargaining power. An increased supply of legal immigrants would still put downward pressure on wages, but not nearly as much as illegal immigrants do.

When we retire we're going to be glad we let our population grow by adding a large number of citizens whose sole motivation for coming here was to work and make money. That's the same reason my ancestors came over, after all, and that all turned out pretty well in the end.

At 11:20 AM, Blogger Stella said...

Another amazing post, and what an honor to meet Cesar Chavez. I am a native Californian and feel Chavez was one of the greatest leaders ever.

Glenda, I am well aware of the expensive tuition these days. The University of California fees DOUBLED in the last five years.

Thank you for adding my blog to your link; I'm honored.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger CTB said...

Well you baby boomers will need something!!! Kidding.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger glenda said...

Yeah, I met Cesar Chavez, and in another copletely different bent, also saw Jimmy Hendrix play right before he died, Janis joplin, who was also from Texas, she hung out in Austin a lot back then. Traveled around in my hippie van going to all the crazy concerts. Have travelled the world pretty much. Well, I was young, but, believe me, I had fun and no regrets. Still kicking up and having fun.

When I wrote this today, I almost didn't put in the part about Cesar, because it seemed almost like an afterthought to what is important to me, the message of change and hope we need.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger glenda said...


I have thought about what you are proposing myself, leaning on the companies not to hire illegals, and it looks good on paper.

Here's the problem with that, and I know it is a problem because I have talked with law enforcement across the state and ICE (or Rice or whatever they call themselves this week.)

Bottom line: There are not enough law enforcement personnel to watch the corporations or make them comply. There are more corporations who are cheating than there are investigators. (Big Surprise!)

We just had a bust this year in Austin at (an unnamed, starts with an M) large frozen food corporation. They were hiring Guatemalans for about $2 an hour and making them work 16-18 hour days. Wal-Mart has also been caught doing hiring illegals through 3rd party venders. You hear about it in the news from time to time, but they bust only a very small percentage of the offending companies.

In some parts of Texas, may I suggest that the corporations actually pay off people in some police departments not to check on them. They know it’s going on, but won’t do anything. I heard this bit from a District Attorney, by the way.

At 2:16 PM, Anonymous earl bockenfeld said...

Glenda, what you say is probably right if you're talking about local law enforcement. This has to be handled by the Feds, you've got the payroll taxes that the companies pay, and you have the worker's W2s and you have a chance to check for valid social secuirity numbers with SSA. Thats just off the top of my head. The tax data, etc could be mined like the NSA mines telephone and the internet. With a stiff penalty, the corporations would cut back drasticly if punishment was certain. Trying to fake tax and other reports, which could include what documents they examined to check for illegals, the feds have a paper trail that would/could be treated like perjury. If new paperwork would help, then mandate that it be done.

Everyone would need to get serious and work on some solution instead of making points for the next election.

At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 8:30 AM, Blogger glenda said...

Jst deleted some spam. Glenda

At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoyed a lot! » »


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