Maybe it’s time. Finally. Every forty years or so, people want change. Some are reconsidering the mid-points of their lives, some are contemplating the legitimacy of their adulthood, and many are simply exhausted of a failing system. Now, with economic disparity on an aggressive rise, comes one of the largest, and potentially most significant movements since the institutional ending of American slavery: the immigration movement.
Forty years after the mass social-consciousness movements, this nascent movement can benefit from knowing its American history, specifically the LGB’t’ movement. What elements of the LGB’t’ movement can help structure the evolving immigration movement? What elements must be avoided?
Claiming ourselves as a subject. While it’s difficult in these times of deportation terrorism, immigrants have to come out of the shadows and say, “I want change.” Gay folks weren’t invented in the Castro. We have always been here. We just became visible through a collective movement.
This is happening now, with marches in Washington and around the country for immigration reform, but compared to the actual number of immigrants and allies in the U.S, the effort has much room to grow.We need a march that will make the entire world aware of our place in the American fabric. In LGB’t’ history, the series of demonstrations in California during the Harvey Milk period come to mind; they highlight that entire cities could be shut down peacefully, and that identity politics can be very effective if organized ambitiously.
Refine a grassroots operation. There really is no substitute for door-to-door and activist grass-roots politics. At the micro-level, immigrant activists should be knocking on doors and telling their communities that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. Like-minded citizens should work towards ending the social stigmas towards our undocumented communities and advocate for their inclusion socially and politically. Many of the local “Equality” groups across the country have been refining their strategy by helping out with registration drives and testifying at local House and Senate hearings. In the recent same-sex marriage battle in New Hampshire, hundreds of people swamped the legislature, all representing their local task forces or community group.
Identify Allies. There is something strikingly beautiful about helping someone, and we underestimate that constantly. Heterosexuals have been very influential in LBG’t’ movements. There are plenty of people who do not identify as immigrants or Latinos who are interested in immigration reform, and a whole lot who do not want to see their friends, families, partners or co-workers discriminated against.
These people need to be empowered and included in the macro-level goals of the movement.
It can potentially result in a message that says, “America wants just immigration reform”, which is more valuable than, “ Latinos want immigration reform”. This is most effective today. Although I have my reservations about same-sex marriage, recent Human Rights Campaign ads feature testimonials by straight allies like Michael Bloomberg coming out in support of same-sex marriage.
With success, comes new challenges. In the cadre of lessons, there are also cautionary tales and pitfall to avoid.
Twisted hierarchies. Towards the mid-90s, the main-stream LBG’t’ movement clearly favored the white-gay-male experience, leaving behind much needed advocacy for LGB’t’ people-of-color and certainly leaving behind the Trans community. Even today, there is a reason for the ordering, “LGBT” and a reason why I always keep the “t” lowercase, considering that still, even among progressives, Transgenderism is a disorder and bisexuality a confusion. All Americans and all immigrants are in this battle together. There can be no differentiation between documented Latinos and undocumented Latinos, American citizens and undocumented Americans. Our broken immigration system is a problem that affects us all.
Classism. In some ways the “documented” “undocumented” distinction, especially among Latinos, is more a distinction of class than anything else. Latinos needs to remain aware of the big picture of poverty that burdens recently displaced families, undocumented individuals, and students excluded from education. We cannot, like the LBG ‘t’ movement often does, overly highlight “the young Latino who could”, as the majority can’t — that’s the problem.
Finally, live your life. It was difficult for me to be thirteen and think about activism while I just wanted to understand my sexuality, as I now identify as a gay man. Many LGB ‘t” people fall victims to morphing politics with their sexuality or gender identity to an extreme. So go. Knock on doors, call your legislator, organize a march, demand your rights, but go home at night and love your friends and families. In the end, that is what will have the most impact, the fact that we too are Americans.