For a few years now, I have been very active in the immigrant activist movement.
I’ve never written about my personal feelings about it for professional reasons. It would look really bad if some of the people I work with see what I’m about to admit below. They would think I hate being around them. I’ve only written about my story because it’s relatable despite my race. I’ve hidden some of my feelings about the people around me, but I have to let it out somewhere.
The organization I work with is known as one of the largest and most influential student immigrant groups in my state. Some of our members have spoke at Albany, some have been to the White House through our connections and/or direction. We’ve made noise, we’ve been seen. and we’ve been heard.
But to some, it might be odd to see me, a Black person, always surrounded by the largest immigrant population. People of Latin descent.
I take leadership positions organizing a good number of immigrants, but none of them are as dark as I. They speak Spanish and Portuguese freely around me, and I only know English. I talk to refugees and immigrants that just came to the U.S., but if they don’t know English then I am no more a comforting sight than the white man next to me.
I have not faced overt racism (which would honestly be comical seeing where they came to), and I can’t judge accurately if some of them avoid me because of my ethnicity. I mean, we are trying to create safe spaces for immigrants when we organize get togethers, retreats and mingling events. But “safe” for them is speaking another language, surrounded by people of the same ethnicity. And this ethnicity is usually of Latin persuasion.
There are of course, a few African or Caribbean focused groups out there, but they aren’t making as much noise as the Latin groups. Also, when I just started being involved in advocacy I tried to avoid anybody that would be considered Black as to not self-segregate. My rational was that the last thing you would want to do in an environment that calls for unity is to segregate yourself.
Can unification and segregation exist at the same time? Would it make sense?
I’m still not sure. But I am over the sentiment. I want to see more Black people in the movement because representation matters, and that means I have to be visible to them. I should be going out of my way to greet them, make them feel welcome, even shoot a knowing eye when someone does or says something even borderline ignorant. My mission should be to reel them in as best I can because there heart is in the right place. They want to stand up for immigrants, but when you can’t connect with the people around you the motivation evaporates quickly.
Right now, realistically, my motivation is entirely personal. Being an organizer forces me to do social things that I wouldn’t do regularly. I would be an absolute hermit if I didn’t have to organize things, or try to schmooze people. And I’m improving on all fronts. I can do small talk better. I can now not embarrass myself doing oral presentations. I know what it takes to conduct an event. It’s like medicine; tastes bad but helps on the inside. This doesn’t mean I am not for immigration reform, but my added effort is because of this personal impetus.
Though I will say, them Black groups get lit.