As Arizona prepares to begin a new chapter in their epic human rights movement, a look back down the road we've traveled reveals many things about our community. I believe there is a profound education for every American in our journey; the people we are, the community we've become.
In the final analysis, things won't change much for our community. That's because SB1070 doesn't represent the beginning of our time of injustice here in AZ. It is only the continuance of things which have already come to pass. Arizona is already dealing with an unrelenting progression of anti-immigrant sentiment institutionalized by the state. First there was the "English Only" mandate in schools across the state. Then came the laws that denied access to drivers licenses, then to health care and social services. There have even been laws designed to discourage Mexican immigrants from starting their own businesses, and that's just the story of the Arizona State Legislature.
There is another story that could be told about the practical experience of people on the street. In this story, we would talk about how this spirit of intolerance in the legislature was transmitted to the streets. It manifested in the workplace when business owners refused to even consider a brown person for a job due to intimidation and pressure by hate-mongers. It manifested in the line at the grocery store, or the bank, when almost overnight, it came to be that speaking Spanish on your cellphone was enough to draw suspicious stares and racist remarks like 'dis is America , speak English' from the people standing in line next to you. Arizona in 2012 came to resemble Mississippi in 1955 more than decent people would be comfortable with-- checkpoints on the street, stopping people to ask them for documents. Roundups at the edge of 'hispanic' neighborhoods.
Even if we remove SB1070 from the equation, what remains is Arizona's litany of proposed bills and efforts directed at limiting the quality of life a migrant can have here in Arizona by restricting access to the very things that we all need to be productive, healthy, and functioning members of society. One thing is for sure, the SB1070 that returns to AZ will be confronted by a people very different from the people we were when it left for Washington D.C.
The authors of SB1070 hoped to make the life of a migrant so unpleasant that it would cause a mass self-deportation movement. Instead it has caused the people to become inspired, informed and involved. Not only are we not leaving, were fighting! Yes our community has suffered, but today we are a more organized, more informed and more engaged community. Student DREAMers have confronted the fears that they used to live with everyday, and now they are Undocumented and Unafraid. Artists, business owners, and entire families have found their voices in this cause and come forward to send a message to traditional politics. Senate, House of Representatives, County Sheriff, Supervisors, and School Boards around the state have had fresh new faces introduced to their respective races.
I'm positive that many years further down this same road, history will note this one thing above all others: A new kind of citizen was forged during our time in this crucible of hatred. This citizen bears the countenance reminiscent of our revolutionary ancestors. This citizen is vigilant, righteous and powerful. He is a citizen who will never again forget the wages of apathy. He will always remember that justice is something that is not given. It is not passively received as a gift from another. Justice must be fought for. Justice must be won. It must be protected by vigilance and it must be maintained by action. In him, the American Dream is manifest.
Arizona, and the people who live here have been changed forever.
Viva Ramirez, Voto Latino Field Representative in Phoenix, AZ