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


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


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.


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


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.”


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.”


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


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.”


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