In Washington it's hard to see the comprehensive immigration reform forest when critics and supporters alike are laser-focused on the proverbial tree. But then you speak with, let's call him "Real Person," like I did when I was at the Apple Store editing a video for the New Americano Award I received at South by Southwest (SXSW).
Reality check is an understatement.
"Real Person" heard my feelings about the work that is yet to be accomplished, on issues such as immigration reform, education, and the economy after the election. That's when Latino voters cast ballots in historic numbers, forming the key part of President Obama's winning coalition. This moment was the beginning of what I identify as the rise of an Hispanic political class that is redefining American politics:
- One Mami at a time if you consider that Latinas and moms are leading this demographic trend;
- One student at a time if you take into account that nearly 25 percentof all elementary public school children today are Hispanic;
- And one tweet at a time because Latinos match or surpass other groups' mobile device and social media usage.
All politics are local.
For a majority of Latinos, immigration reform is personal, even for those whose legal status is resolved or was never in question.
Why? Enter: "Real Person" who confided that he is the only member of his family born in the U.S. Everyday, siblings, cousins, father, and mother remind him "how easy he has it" or "how lucky he is."
They are indeed correct. U.S. citizenship is more than a birthright, it's a blessing that allows those with it to realize our personal promise and social contributions. But between birthright and blessing is division, one that runs as deep as family ties, as illustrated by "Real Person."
"Mixed status" makes its difficult to parse "us" and "them" -- the 300 million U.S. citizens and legal residents and the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants -- because whole neighborhoods, churches, schools, workplaces, college campuses, and families are made up of people with varying immigration statuses. Our roots are tangled. To separate them would rip the roots apart, with the damage likely causing harm to the whole tree.
Separation of families -- real and the looming threat -- is what emboldened the community to turn up the heat on the president in the summer of 2012 when deportations hit record numbers. It's what drove Hispanic voters to the polls in historic numbers to deny the "self deportation" candidate the White House.
November's election results will likely be bested in the future due to the Latino community's growth -- 50,000 Hispanics turn the voting age of 18 each month. With this number comes the responsibility of national and local participation because our ballot is often times magnified by the voices of loved ones like "Real Person's" who can't directly participate. For many, civic duty becomes personal obligation to shape the issues that affect our communities and families, such as our current budget battles or immigration reform, with our vote.
The Latino community and its leaders' ability to rally support, discipline a diverse community, and negotiate -- when to hang tough and when to cede ground on, for example, the path to citizenship-matches the high stakes of passing immigration reform at a turning point when our accelerated demographic and electoral growth is making the so-called Hispanic agenda impossible to differentiate from the American one.
This is a test of our newfound power -- was 2012 a fluke to be repeated every four years or have we acquired a staying presence that can shape our future?