“How Is Your Voice Today?” Speaking Out Against Injustice in Kansas, Arizona, and Texas

How is your voice today?

I’m asking because it’s the most valuable thing we Latinos have. Yes, I think that your car, clothes, house, even your latest pairs of amazing celebrity-endorsed shoes are expensive, but it’s not as valuable as your voice, your thoughts, your experiences being young, Latino, and with the world at your feet.

See, this is the age of rebeldía, to act with purpose and to speak with conviction. Where we were once proud to be invisible, we are now proud to be in the light, even after being vilified in the eyes of those who seek to not understand us. Our voice is what cuts through the outrageous villainy.

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Here’s an example: More than 50 members of the Sunflower Community Action, a Kansas-wide, non-profit, grassroots organization, traveled from places such as Wichita to Topeka, the state capital, to voice their concerns about two bills that would impact them. Kansas’ Senate Bill 140 is the clone of Arizona’s SB1070, in the fact that it deputizes local and state law enforcement to determine the immigration status of anyone they detain if they suspect they are here illegally. Another bill seeks to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Obviously, Latinos in Kansas needed to say something. These laws are less than fair, they are aimed at a segment of the population who live in the shadows and aren’t used to using their voices. These laws seek to take advantage of one group while praying on the unfounded fears of another.

The group caught the Gov. Sam Brownback during a lunch run and talked to him in the middle of the capital building. All 50 surrounded him to ask questions and give testimony. It went something like this.

“Do we have your support in our efforts in stopping anti-immigrant legislation in the state of Kansas,” a SCA group member said.

“I don’t speak in hypothetical bills,” Governor Brownback said as he wiped his mouth from his lunch “What I try to do is work it out privately as much as possible. That’s why I’m hedging on you. There’s a better way to work in this state, it’s just… people like to get along.”

These bills are not hypothetical and near are the people they will impact. These bills are in committees going through the same process as other bills. Calling these bills hypothetical in any context is an insult to every citizen in Kansas, including the more than 300,000 Latinos who live there.

Yes, that’s only 10 percent of the population but it only took 10 percent to seat a president.

Gov. Brownback’s suggestion that working privately is the “better way to work” in Kansas especially on “hypothetical bills” unveils a larger problem. That while this part of the population, which not only works in factories across the agricultural state but attends and graduates from it colleges and universities, is simply a figment of demographers’ imaginations. They are invisible. I guess the 57.7 percent growth in Latino enrollment, what looks to be a future workforce for the state, is invisible too?

So, what gives this hypothetical population with hypothetical bills against it the right to do something like this – to use their voice in this manner? The fact they breathe air. The fact they are more American than that apple pie they keep talking about. The fact that they exercise the rights a majority of Americans take for granted. Simply, this is a democracy and this governmental experiment only works and grows stronger when we challenge it by exercising the one thing that can’t be taken away –our voice.

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Tony “Librotraficante” Diaz knows what’s that like, too. Nearly a year to the date of the first Librotraficante caravan to Tuscon, Az to smuggle Latino books back into the city’s school district, a US district court in ruled that it was constitutional for school districts to limit certain race-related curriculum.

What’s worse, a similar action is being considered in Texas for colleges and universities. TEXAS! Where Latino history and state history are so intertwined that everyone says the name Sam Houston with an accent.

What’s the harm in learning about Sandra Cisneros and Ana Castillo? What’s the harm of learning about our ancestors or any disenfranchised group learning about their history or culture?

Without history or culture there is no voice and without voice there is no change. If there is no change, then there is no life. That’s how we’ve remained invisible, hypothetical, and voiceless.

“This is like living through Operation Wetback once again,” Diaz told me through email about the decision. “However we will not let our brothers and sisters suffer through this alone. We renew our commitment to our familia in Arizona and we call on the entire Librotraficante Movement from all across the country, from all walks of life to accelerate their actions to ring in the new Enlightenment. The suffering of our people will not be on vain.”

So, I ask again. How is your voice today? Is it clear, sin pelos en la lengua? Is it focused and ready? We need you. Kansas needs you. Arizona needs you. Texas needs you. What happens in these state today will happen in yours tomorrow.

This is the age of rebeldía, mi gente and our voices are our most powerful tool. There’s nothing hypothetical about that.

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icessIcess Fernandez Rojas is a fiction writer, blogger, and freelance writer who loves a good story, it doesn’t matter if its fiction or non fiction. She’s been blogging since 2002 and earned her MFA in creative writing ten years later. She’s also a college English instructor.  You can follow her on Twitter (@writin2insanity) or read more about her on her blog, Writing To Insanity.

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