Ever since graduating from Pomona College in 2008, I have proudly declared my connection to the college. When people compare their colleges and mascots, I am happy to say I am a sagehen, our odd yet loveable mascot, and even have a sagehen stuffed animal in my office. When Pomona announced their revised policies towards undocumented students, I was even more proud. My alma matter was one of the growing number of higher education institutions that was tackling immigration issues and doing the socially just thing -- accepting and funding undocumented students. However, over the past few years, I have become increasingly ashamed of my connections to Pomona College as they resisted unionization efforts by the dinning hall employees and fired seventeen undocumented workers.
I have received letters, emails, and phone calls from both sides trying to convince me which is right or wrong. Pomona has erupted in controversy; a lot more controversy than when they announced their new policy regarding funding undocumented students. Pomona used to turn a blind eye when it came to undocumented students and undocumented workers. But now, they have adopted opposing policies: support undocumented students and turn their backs on undocumented workers who have dedicated years of service. Why?
I think part of the answer lies in the bifurcation of the immigrant rights movement. Two movements are happening simultaneously: the undocumented student/DREAM Act movement and the undocumented worker movement. There is growing social support for undocumented students because of their youth, educational pursuits, and investment in meritocracy. However, undocumented workers are still being cast aside by employers, as Pomona has shown us; yet, the workers have something going for them -- a large and diverse community of supporters.
I have been to my fair share of DREAM Act protests, and while this movement is widely supported, these protests are largely attended by undocumented students, and sometimes citizen student allies. But last Friday I went to a protest at Pomona College and was amazed at the diversity of the attendees. As we marched through campus, chanting, I watched the people around me. There was a group of Latina union members marching in front of me chanting in Spanish. Behind me a group of undocumented students, playing guitars and singing. Next to me some of my closest friends and fellow alumni. As the line of protesters snaked around and marched in opposite directions next to each other, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I watched multiple-generations march together- a grandmother shuffled along side her forty-something children. Her daughter pulled the old lady's oxygen tank and held the hand of a five-year-old child; a teenager trailed behind them. A group of day-laborers walked by bearing a sign with the name of their worker's center. At the end of the march, we were met by mariachi in their trajes, priests, rabbis, and professors. As we "dined in the streets", my friends and I shared a table with two high school juniors who had come together; they had no direct connection to the college or the fired workers.
What draws this community together? Why hasn't the undocumented student community been able to draw such a large and diverse group of supporters to events? While these are complicated questions, I believe that part of the answer lies in the social support given to the different parts of the undocumented community. Students are congratulated and workers are attacked. As a result, workers become more highly stigmatized and people are prompted to show them their support. And herein lies an organizing opportunity. While oppression is awful, it can bring people together. Being attacked solidifies an individual's identity and resolve; it builds and strengthens communities. Now, we just need to harness this power to pass pro-immigrant policies at all levels -- schools, cities, states, and the federal immigration policy.
I hope that one day I will able to be proud of Pomona again (and in some ways I am, since they didn't shut down the protest, like UC campuses have done with other protests). But hopefully the administration will be more willing to challenge immigration laws -- not just ones that affect students, but one's that target adults and workers as well. But even if nothing changes, Pomona's stance on the issue has helped push the movement forward. So, thank you Pomona. Thank you for bringing us together and for showing us how complacency can create diverging policies that have the potential to divide communities.