A project of the Center for Community Change

Teachable moments

The back of my head on the front page of El Diario

by Dennis Chin, guest blogger

Last month, I was arrested and charged with obstructing traffic and disobeying a police officer’s orders during a rally in support of just and humane immigration reform.

The following day, I saw the back of my head on the front page of El Diario…

…and so did my mother.

Yeeeah.

Let’s just say her reaction wasn’t positive.  Growing up, I was taught that it’s through hard work and following the rules that one could get ahead in life.  This is the American dream that my parents had for me when they immigrated to the United States.  And for the most part, my parents still cling to this dream.  You can imagine how much of a shock it was for my parents to know that I’d risk their American dream for my beliefs.

My parents aren’t much for facts and figures.  Nor would they fully understand an analysis of the conditions that necessitate migration.  I know this from experience.   I’ve had plenty of conversations in which I felt my parents and I were talking right past each other.

So I decided on a different, more personal approach when my mom called me and demanded an explanation.

This is the gist of what I told her:

This is why I did it.  I did it because I have a vision of the world in which I want to live: I want to live in a world in which everybody’s human rights are respected, no matter what; I want to live in a world in which everybody has full access to justice, opportunity and a life of dignity; I want to live in a world in which everybody has the ability to care for their families, however they define them.  Our immigration laws don’t reflect this world.  Our immigration laws are broken and we need to fix them.  It’s personal to me because I understand how the policies and institutions that affect our lives can make it hard for me and people like me to exist.  Speaking up against injustice is a matter of survival to me and it’s in speaking up for myself and in solidarity with others that I can heal the hurt I have felt and still feel as a person who is queer and a person of color.  My decision to risk arrest wasn’t rash.  It was intentional.  And it’s nothing compared to the struggle of people who everyday worry if they’ll be deported to a country they’ve never known or if their family will be torn apart or if they’ll be detained based on the color of their skin.  That’s not a world in which I want to live.

I realize now how much more of an impact I made by offering my mother a deeply personal vision of change rather than the usual arguments.  I say this because she didn’t sigh like she usually does after I run my mouth.  I feel she actually gave my thoughts the weight they deserve.

I share this today because it’s the day of my arraignment and it’s also the day when SB 1070 goes into effect.  Already rallies and vigils have been happening across the country in protest of Arizona’s new law.  But despite these actions, there still exists a huge narrative divide in the immigration debate.  And in the aftermath of my conversation with my mother, I wonder if we’re doing enough to present a vision of change that’s accessible and inspiring to a wider range of people, not just to the converted.

I also share this today because I want to open up possibilities for more teachable moments among my friends and fellow movement builders. We need brave conversations that challenge the mainstream narrative of immigration – a narrative that often buries real stories of immigrants under a cloud of fear, scapegoats them and throws them under the bus.  We need brave conversations that offer a clear alternative vision of what our world should look like and how immigration fits into that world so that we can expand the possibilities of what reform can be.

We need these conversations now more than ever.

PS — Both charges against me were dismissed.  Yay!  Oh, and my mother is still angry with me, although she’s more on board with immigration reform now than she was before.

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