By Marcelino Quiñónez
It's often said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. This country has definitely seen its share of a repeated behavior. For the greater part of the last 50 years, anytime injustice has been committed against a minority, the people who identify with that group have done one of two things: boycotted a product or marched in the streets. Many of us grew up reading about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, who called on both boycotts and marches to advance their respective causes. Both men reached iconic statures, and for that reason, their calls to action from the 1960s were repeated many times over with little success. The time to flatter is long gone; it's time to have our voices heard through voting.
In April 2010, Arizona passed the now infamous law SB 1070, which gave any state police officer the right to request proof of citizenship from anyone they stopped. Canadian immigrants were not alarmed. Latin American immigrants and Latin American-looking citizens born in this country were. Senator Russell Pearce from Mesa, Arizona was the architect of the law and vigorously worked the legislative hallways to ensure he had enough support for his law; in the end, he did. Weeks after the law was passed, confusion and a sense of fear was felt in the streets of Phoenix. Many local activists and community leaders either called for the boycott of beer products from St. Louis or marched the streets of Phoenix. It was at one of these marches that I realized we were still playing by the old tactics of the 1960s. We were still imitating.
In 2006, I remember reading about the massive pro-immigrant marches: The Sleeping Giant is Awake. I took this idea and played with it in my head for years. In May 2010, after the passage of SB 1070, I asked Phoenix community leader, Carlos Garcia, if I could speak at one of his rallies. He agreed, and I instantly referred back to the "sleeping giant" analogy. I took the microphone and addressed the crowd in Spanish outside the Arizona State Capital:
"I know there's lots of energy here today, but as a community we must do one thing: We must take this energy and power we feel here at the capital to our jobs, our homes and students, we must take this energy to our schools. It doesn't matter how many marches we make if we don't vote. In 2006, we were the sleeping giant and we've learned a few things since waking up. We've learned the marches of the future should not take place in the streets, but in high school and college graduation lines. We've learned speeches shouldn't be made on stages like these, but in homes between parents and children. We've learned it doesn't matter how much noise we make on television or at people who disagree with us if we don't vote and they do."
The sleeping giant has indeed learned, at least in Arizona. In November of 2011, 19 months after SB 1070 was signed, Russell Pearce became the first State Senate President ever to be recalled in the history of the United States. Countless individuals, including my little sister, took to the streets to collect signatures, handout information packets or help people register to vote in order to defeat the architect of the most anti-immigrant law passed at the time. Russell Pearce had three times the amount of money as his challenger, Jerry Lewis, and was 16-0 prior to his recall election, but in the end, none of that mattered. Russell Pearce lost and the giant once again learned a valuable lesson: it has a strong and powerful voice and the only way it'll be heard is if it makes a march to the polling places. The days of flattery are over. The Latino community now knows that because of their voting numbers, we must take to the polls.
Marcelino Quiñónez is a Phoenix based artist specializing in Performance. He is currently working on his MFA at Arizona State University and has appeared in several professional productions. His blog, The Arts Revolution, will examine the influence of the arts on the political world.