You are on page 1of 11

WE COUNT!

“Si se puede!”
Steven Donahue immerses himself in the immigrant
Communities of South Florida on May Day, 2007 and the Immigrant
Experience in Homestead, Florida and draws some pointed conclusions
about the debate over immigration to America.

Final May 5, 2007


Language Magazine
Words: 1736

Figure 1 We Count! May Day Rally

Krome Avenue

There is no Statue of Liberty with open arms at One


Krome Avenue for the tempest-driven newcomers to America,
but a sole yellow diamond sign that reads, rather
symbolically— Rough Road Ahead.

Krome Avenue lay in the fruited plains between Miami


and the Everglades in Homestead, Florida. That agricultural

1
cornucopia would wither without Mexican and Guatemalan
migrant workers, who indeed are a long way from home, and
pay a personal price in their harvesting abroad. However,
even after surviving the wrath of Hurricane Andrew a decade
ago, an anti-immigration storm pelting undocumented workers
is now knelling the bitterest of tolls.

Mexican and Haitian men walk Krome streets in the hot


Florida sun, shrouding eye contact with anyone who looks
Anglo, for fear of being carded for “papers”. Palm-lined
Krome Avenue is decorated with immigration lawyers, Mexican
Restaurants (actually, the best in Florida), non-profit
organizations for migrant workers, and money transfer
places: which keep Haiti and Mexico financially afloat. In
fact, remittances to immigrants’ homelands constitute three
percent of Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product, and a whopping
23 percent for the world’s first black republic--Haiti.

There are normally two sound patterns to the


Flagstaff-paved streets of Old Homestead’s Krome Avenue. In
the early and late hours, one hears the soothing cooing of
bountiful flocks of doves perched on iridescent
Bougainvilleas. Then these tattooed-sounds are replaced by
the urgent slap of rubber tires humming to and from the
fields, packed with migrant workers.

May 1, 2007 echoed a different traffic pattern. Ford


pickup trucks, emblazoned with Mexican flags, and more
humble vehicles bearing the Haitian flag began to coalesce,
summoned by the church bells pealing at 7:00 p.m., after

2
the burning sun completed its arc from Atlantic to the Gulf
of Mexico: dusk signaling work in the fields done.

The main hall of the Cornerstone Ministries, whose


motto is “The Church where Love abides”( 1 Corinthians B),
quickly overflowed with a darkish blur of men, women, and
children, intent on advocating fair immigration practices.
And also dovetailing with the coast-to-coast events held on
May Day. This is ground zero for immigration reform in
Homestead: We Count!—the headquarters for an action group
encompassing all immigrant ethnicities.

The meeting is convened cattycorner to Krome Avenue,


home of the infamous Krome Detention Center for all
refugees caught entering or being here without documents.
Krome Avenue, with an Abu Gharb-like reputation, is even
more infamous for rendering apartheid-like treatment of
Cuban and Haitian detainees. Under the Cuban Repatriation
Act, when a Cuban touches American soil it is a touchdown
to citizenship and benefits. For the vast majority of
Haitians (and Mexicans and Central Americans) it is a
touchback as they are often (unceremoniously) banished
home. Former US Senator Bill Graham (D-Florida) tried to
remedy this disparate treatment for years, to no avail.

3
Have Corazon

Figure 2 Trilingual Translation

Two speakers, simultaneously translating between


Spanish and Haitian Creole and occasionally English, began
rousing the multilingual crowd. The one shouted in Spanish,
“What do we want?” and the crowd shouted back the same word
mouthed in different accents “Legalization!” When do we
want it? Replies shouted in unison: ”Ahora. Maintenant.”
Now.

The We Count! hall was more than just a single day


rally, but part of an interconnected community of trade
unions, action groups, and immigrant advocacy centers
pushing for equal treatment for newcomers to the United

4
States. The aim of the gathering was to provide information
and focus on arresting the motion of the dreadful crackdown
on undocumented workers.

Figure 3 Huddled Masses Yearning to be Free

Pamphlets were available explaining how to handle


demands for papers or knocks on the door by immigration
officers. Detailed scenarios for having emergency plans for
aliens in trouble created by CASA de Maryland, Detention
Watch Network, and the National Immigration Project of the
National Lawyer’s Guild were passed out in Spanish, French,
and Haitian Creole.

The ironies and Catch-22’s of the immigrant situation


did not escape discussion. Without citizenship rights,

5
particularly voting, there is little political pressure
from this massive demographic. Still, they feel that by
appealing to America’s heart and sense of justice this act
will wear away the hardened legislative stones.

And there are stone hurdles and walls aplenty for


undocumented immigrants. Heartless stones that wrench
families apart when a breadwinner is deported. Biased
stones that create a nervous subclass of undocumented
workers. Callous stones frequently exploited by hiring
firms. Ignorant stones that make it hard for immigrant
children to step into college. Slippery stones that make
the once reachable American Dream a frustratingly
impossible one. Cornerstones, default with lame-brained
legislators, of this Republic who establish an official
subclass of near-citizens.

Any American sitting amidst the throng in that hot and


humble hall in Homestead, Florida and feeling the fervor
and romance with America, seeing a man with field-toughened
hands caress an American flag scrolled on his knees,
hearing the hopeful chimes of children in parent’s tow—
would never be the first to cast a stone of harm. Americans
deeply admire the men and women of the armed forces who
defend our freedoms everyday. Why can we equally not admire
and admit these teeming masses to work in, to fight for and
build up America?

The room burst forth with the chant “Si se puede!”


(Yes, we can!) Then Rochenel Marc, the Haitian speaker,
wearing a black T-shirt with “Florida Immigration
Coalition” printed upon it began playing an incredibly

6
poignant and courageous DVD with people (some in the
audience) going on the record about their immigration
experiences.

The tropical and body-heated room began to hush. On


the back wall was an immense quotation from Matthew asking:
“When did you see a stranger and invite him in?” In the
front, a thin wood cross, adorned with a hand-wrought crown
of thorns and draped in solemn purple vestments stood as a
metaphor of these immigrants’ suffering.

The Immigrant Experience

Rochenel Marc, the head of We Count!, rolled the film.


The credits on the film began: We Count! Presents, “The
Immigrant Experience in Homestead, Florida.” The DVD-film
is a topically centered series of vignettes about the
authentic local news in Homestead. Brave men and women,
here in the United States without documents, make riveting
points.

• A woman with an apron in her spotless kitchen

says, “The fact is we work. The people of this

country need us, and we need them.”

• A young student complains, “The teachers do not

pay attention to us because we speak Spanish.”

7
• A tow-haired, sun-wizened person remarks,

“Enough with the slavery. We are losing members

of our community everyday. People get taken

from their homes at four or five in the

morning.”

• Another notes of language barriers, “The

driver’s license test is in English. There are

people here from Guatemala who cannot read and

write even in Spanish.”

• Finally, a man declares, “We are citizens of

this city. All immigrants work. I want them to

admit that we are people.”

For all the enthusiasm of the We Count! rally, the work


of immigrants continued unabated the next day. From
Salinas, California to Homestead, before the sun rose and
the pre-dawn dew burned off, the fields were full of
silhouettes bent over to pick the vegetables that America
eats. Grueling work, few Americans could or would do. As
Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) has quipped, “Even if we
offered Americans $50 an hour to do this work, few would
take it, and those that did would not last.”

8
Rough Road
Immigration to the United States is the single most
important national issue of our era. Yet, from Homestead,
Florida to Farmers Ranch, Texas to Marshalltown, Iowa there
are moves afoot to have local police be enforcers of
federal immigration laws, and even have property owners
verify documentation status before renting. Instead of the
Statue of Liberty or Welcome Wagons, cruel posses are
formed to hunt down America’s poorest and most vulnerable.

The major television channels focused upon the


numbers: how many marchers came out last May Day compared
to this year’s immigrant gatherings across the country?
Most commentators thought of the Congressional bills as
being a sort of nested Kabuki Theater, and did not expect
major legislation on immigration reform under the
democrats, who now control both houses of Congress.

Fox’s Neil Caputo pontificated, “I regard today’s May


Day marches as suspicious,” because of links to left-wing
causes. Pat Buchanan saturated the airways with venom
against undocumented immigrants. Follow-ups skewed reports
that focused on a minor altercation in Los Angeles, but
repeated enough to bring home the Nixonian-point: these
protestors are un-American and do not follow the rule of
law.

In fact, there seemed little nuance or heart in the


television reportage or butting among the talking heads.
Commonsense knowledge of this country informs us that

9
however many millions of undocumented workers we have here—
they are working—and are already part of America. On May 2,
Geraldo Rivera and Sean Hannity debated by over-shouting
one another. However, as to the fundamentals, there is no
debate because undocumented foreigners want documents too.

Only In America
The new immigration flow is here to stay. It is part
of a worldwide phenomenon of 200 million migrants working
away from home. Still, only in America, do we have the
opportunity, and immigrants have the chance to jump into
the melting pot. America has always brought in new blood,
in most cases because “There ain’t no mountain high
enough,” nor border wall towering enough to stop the human
flow to greener pastures of hope, freedom, and opportunity.
It is the heart, sinew, and marrow of the America promise,
and inconceivably un-American that politicians would
deliberately create an underclass, unprotected by the
fundamental rights we all thrive upon.

Perhaps, the editorial cartoon hanging in the We Count!


office spoofs the immigration debate up best. In the
cartoon, Native American Indians are building a massive log
wall to keep the Pilgrims out of Plymouth Rock and telling
them to “apply for the proper documents.”

10
CONTACTS:

We Count!
Roshenel Marc
Email: bethymarc@yahoo.com
(305) 247-2202 Office
(305) 281-9518 Cell

[#end#-Final]

11