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Jessica Hoppe

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Hispanic Students of Alabama Fight the Power! Here's How

Posted: 05/09/2012 1:41 pm

It is clear to see that Republican Sen. Scott Beason will do whatever it takes to eradicate illegal immigration from Alabama. Even if it means, as stated by Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, having "diminished access to and quality of education for many of Alabama's Hispanic children."

New state statute H.B. 56 requires schools to collect information on the immigration status of public school enrollees and their families. While the information obtained (incriminating or not) will not block the student from enrolling in public school, the intimidation and subsequent bullying is causing irreparable damage on the Latino youth of Alabama.

The U.S. Department of Justice has come to the aid of these students by filing suit, warning Alabama that the controversial immigration law has "increased hostility, bullying and lasting" effects. As reported by Huffington Post Education following the implementation of the statute "widespread reports surfaced of Hispanic students vanishing from Alabama public schools" in addition to an epidemic level of bullying. In fact, Alabama's Education Department spokesperson Malissa Valde-Hubert told POLITICO that 1,374 Hispanic students were absent from public schools on May 2, out of a total 33,182 K-12 students across the state.

Needless to say after reading this article and the subsequent comments below I had a visceral reaction. Not just because I'm a Hispanic woman but because I was a Hispanic kid once growing up in a place where I was different.

The proud daughter of two Hispanic immigrants I grew up in a small, affluent, predominantly white town in New Jersey. My mother specifically chose it for the school system knowing education would be the key to her daughters' success. In order to afford living there we rented an old schoolhouse set on extensive property where my father worked on the farm on Sundays in addition to his strenuous full-time job as a tree surgeon for Morris County.

I became acquainted with the harsh reality of racial prejudice at an early age. My father the only Hispanic worker on his team suffered physical and verbal abuse at the hands of his co-workers daily. I can recall one winter night in particular when my father came home blood still gushing from his ear after having snowballs, hardened into ice from the cold, hurled at him so powerfully he lost partial hearing in his left ear. My father, a "legal" hardworking immigrant did not falter or miss one day of work although he knew well what each day would bring. We sent letters of complaint, spoke to superintendents, mayors until finally my father filed suit against the county resulting in the termination of the two main assailants and their superior.

With the example of my father's bravery I became a warrior for racial equality although it wasn't until Middle School that I began to feel the pangs of racial prejudice. During this time an influx of Hispanic immigrants surged into the four tiny towns that made up my school district and suddenly terms like "spic," "wet back" and "dirty Mexican" became commonplace. The spoiled children of financiers, doctors and lawyers made criticizing strangers for the work they did, cars they drove and most especially their immigration status a delightful pastime. They resented the invaders -- the same people who cared for their children, made their pizza, mowed their lawns -- for even dreaming to stay after their work was done.

Perhaps my peers were so free with their insults in my presence because they didn't consider me one of "them." But I knew. I saw myself in the eyes of the workers toiling in my boyfriend's backyard or working for cash at the local car wash. I was one generation from that kind of struggle. I understood the reality was my family wasn't any different. We were just the first to arrive, stealth mode, quietly enough to not disrupt the status quo.

But that quickly changed during High School. Anyone who made the slightest off collar comment definitely received a tongue-lashing from me. Class debates became platforms for promoting change and trying to inspire a shred of empathy into the minds of the entitled. It did not win me friends. The students gossiped about my so-called "ghetto" behavior, saying my only shot at college was Affirmative Action. Soon my boyfriend's father, a prominent doctor in town, banned me from their home telling his son he didn't want "ethnic grandchildren."

I'm telling you, the Hispanic students of Alabama, my story so that you will know you are alone. No, I didn't grown up in Alabama and there was no such law implemented at the time of my youth but the same fear abounded inciting hate and bigotry. And when it came to my family's door we stood up. We fought. We spoke up no matter what anyone said. And that is what you must do now. Fight the power students of Alabama! Con garras!

Read below for a few tips on how to handle the kind of bullying you're up against. And to get involved follow me on Twitter @ BamaTinosUnidos to pledge your commitment to education. Tweet me your pledge, experiences, issues, questions and let's show your state you won't be intimidated.

Stand Tall

The first bit of advice I will give you is the MOST important because it will empower you: Do NOT let anyone call you "illegal." You are a child and as such entitled to protection. You have not committed any crime by coming to this country with your caretaker and thus cannot be held responsible. In this country every child is REQUIRED by law to go to school. If anything you're abiding by the law by going.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, " A man can't ride you unless your back is bent." So straighten your back, stand tall and march into your school each day. I know it hurts to be bullied but there is greater pain in forfeiting your rights.
Get Smart

As much time as you spend texting, Facebooking ect. spend as much time investigating immigration laws, rights and rumors. I know you at least have access to a computer at school. If you do this you'll find that most ignorant insults people try to hurl at you are completely unfounded.

"You Don't Pay Taxes!"

Realistically most illegal immigrants are paid cash and or use social security numbers that are not their own. Therefore paying state, federal and social security taxes without hope of any refund or the possibility of collecting Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare. And since many live below the poverty level, if they were ALLOWED to file a tax return they would surely receive all taxes paid into the system back and qualify for such aid.

Not to mention there is such a thing as sales tax, which no person is exempt from. This is not to say that I condone these practices but dispelling such myths is a powerful weapon against ignorance.

"You steal our jobs!"
The fact of the matter is that most American industries such as agriculture are dependent on the willingness of immigrants to perform menial labor for paltry wages. One Alabama farm owner on the brink of shut down told local news, "We did everything we could to replace them. No one wants the job. That's the misconception."


Family First

The bullying you are suffering causes feelings of isolation, loneliness and perhaps even resentment towards your family. Do not allow that. Whatever your personal experience is chances are your parent(s) went to great lengths to give you this opportunity and it is your job to take it to the next generation. "Mejorar la rasa," como dice mi tia. The way to do that is by getting an education. There is not progress without education.

Likewise, do not allow the fear your family lives under to effect you. Take the lead and get informed. Fear will only hold you back. Sites like Cuentame are a great resource for you and your family to learn about new policies, statutes, rights and local initiatives.

Habla!

Did you know the Unites States of American has no official language? In Maine, French and English are de facto the official languages, and in New Mexico, Spanish and English are de facto the official languages, though in neither state are they enshrined. And in Louisiana, French and English are the recognized languages, but also not official.

Bottom line: Learn English because this is your greatest weapon of defense. But the fact is you have the right to speak any language you want, wherever you want. I live in New York city where the language I hear least is English. And this is a good thing!

Si Se Puede!

During college my sister and I joined a protest for the fair treatment of the Hispanic sanitation workers of our university. We marched the entire city of Boston chanting, "Si se puede!" I have never felt so proud. I encourage you to do the same.

Find out where the local peaceful protests are being held. Attend local forums to find out about the consequences of these statutes and help spread the word. Start a pledge at your local school. Invite your fellow students, teachers, neighbors to join us @ BamaTinosUnidos and make a commitment to the your education.

Always remember you are the living embodiment of the American dream. Make us proud!

 

Follow Jessica Hoppe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hoppeisDOPE

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