EDITOR’S NOTE: Rodolfo F. Acuña has given anyone permission to repost the following essay he wrote in response to CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette’s recent columns about the DREAMers. For more about Prof. Acuña, you can visit his bio. He is not affiliated with LatinoRebels.com. This post is on several other sites as well. We are reposting here because we felt that his message offers a strong counterpoint to Navarrette’s column. Here is the post:
I usually ignore people who take cheap shots in order to make themselves look intelligent. However, Ruben Navarrette’s column titled, “If I offended demanding DREAMers, I’m not sorry” crossed the line. My gut reaction was who gives a dump? But I guess I do.
Navarrette begins his column in his usual self-congratulatory way: “Even for someone who has written more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years, sometimes the words come out wrong.”
I have known Ruben for those two decades, and my impression is that he is always trying to impress you. The first words that came out of his mouth when we first met were that he had graduated from Harvard as if that somehow qualified him as an expert.
At 25 Ruben wrote an autobiography A Darker A Shade of Crimson. It was about telling us he was from Harvard.
The Amazon promo says that Navarrette spent “his turbulent years as a Mexican-American undergraduate at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities.” According the piece, the autobiography was Navarrette’s “declaration of independence, spurning the labels `people of color’ (offensive) and ‘Hispanic’ (too general), preferring ‘minority’ and ‘Latino.’” (Four years before that, he had been a Chicano).
In A Darker A Shade of Crimson, Ruben brags how he confronted bigotry. Ruben pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. Ruben was a self-made boy, got straight A’s, a valedictorian, and his efforts alone got him into Harvard. Affirmative action and the sacrifices of others had nothing to do with it.
I could not believe that this was the same chubby kid that I met a couple of years before who tried to impress me with how Chicano he was — high fives and all. Ruben was Mr. Aztlán.
The tone of Navarrette’s article offended my sense of history, and no one should mess with Chicana/o history.
I know that I am getting old. And my memory is not what it used to be. However, I remember witnessing firsthand students, educators and organizations pressuring Ivy League universities to admit highly qualified minorities. Even Michelle Obama, an excellent student, was reputed to have taken part in a sit-in at Harvard in 1988.
However, Ruben thinks he is exceptional, and the sacrifices of others had nothing to do with his admission. He was a boy genius from Sanger, California.
Perhaps at one time Ruben could be forgiven for his historical myopia. He was once a young man who wanted to make it. He had a dream of being someone. Of being called Mr. Harvard. But last month he completely blew any credibility he once had.
Navarrette preached, “I know just what a lot of those so-called DREAMers deserve to get for Christmas: a scolding. There are good and bad actors in every movement and the bad ones — if not kept in check — can drag the good ones down with them.”
He continues, “Having declared their intention to better themselves, some in the DREAMer movement now insist that they’re entitled to better treatment than run-of-the-mill illegal immigrants. You know, like the hardworking and humble folks who cut your lawn, clean your house or care for your kids. In fact, the DREAMers seem to suggest they’re due a reward for good behavior.”
Then he gets nasty, “Gee, kids, can we get you anything else? Maybe free massages the next time you stage a sit-in? These kids want it all… While they probably don’t realize it, their public tantrums are turning people against them and hurting the chances for a broader immigration reform package.”
Some might call this a cheap shot.
This man who says he has written “more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years,” offers no solution while playing to the xenophobes. Indeed, other than he went to Harvard, what has he accomplished?
Most recent research shows that people deprived of entering the dream phase of sleep “exhibit symptoms of irritability and anxiety.” Their brains stop growing. This is what has apparently happened to Ruben.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” Speech. Like all visionaries Dr. King wanted a more perfect society. The reverend spoke of the gap between the American dream and the American-lived reality and how white supremacists violated the dream. The reaction of his fellow Dreamers was “Now.”
The response to Dr. King was not all positive. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) expanded their COINTELPRO operation against the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and targeted King specifically as a public enemy of the United States. Some accused Dr. King of provoking enmity between the races.
Dr. King was scolded in the press. Called a troublemaker, and certainly his civility was questioned. In the end, history has judged him as it will the DREAMers.
As I have often pointed out when I arrived at San Fernando Valley State College, there were barely fifty students of Mexican origin at the college. Students opened it up by demanding and often being discourteous. They were the children of “the hardworking and humble folks who cut your lawn, clean your house or care for your kids.” They dreamt of a better life, of escaping low-paying jobs much the same as Navarrette escaped Sanger.
Like Dr. King, the DREAMers have led a nonviolent struggle and practiced civil disobedience to bring attention to the injustices in our society. For the information of Ruben Navarrette, civil disobedience is an American tradition dating back to the Boston Tea Party and the abolitionist movement. Today’s DREAMers follow in the footsteps of other American Dreamers, which is probably hard for Navarrette, suffering from intellectual insomnia, to fathom.
Aside from the equitable argument that the DREAMers are entitled to a path to citizenship because they came to the United States through no fault of their own –most were minors when brought here by their parents—there are more compelling reasons. In spite of living in poor neighborhoods and often attending decaying schools, they have displayed considerable initiative and perseverance in pursuing their education and being good citizens in their community.
I argue that they came to the United States not through their own fault but because the United States has not been the best of neighbors.
Mexico has a population of 115 million people. Most of Mexican immigrants migrated to the United States because of economic reasons. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a disaster to the small subsistence farmer, driving millions off their farms. Relatively little technical aid has been given to Mexico to help build its infrastructure whereas the United States is pumping in hundreds of millions of dollars to induce the Mexican government to purse a failed War on Drugs that has devastated the country.
The Nation magazine reported “Beyond the undiplomatic opinions … the WikiLeaks cables revealed the astonishing degree to which the United States exercised its power and influence at the highest levels of the Mexican government. In some cases it appears that an essential part of the decision-making process on matters of internal security is actually designed not in Mexico City but in Washington. For Mexicans, the cables have reinforced once again that famous adage ‘Pobre Mexico: tan lejos de Dios, y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos.’ Poor Mexico: so far from God and so close to the United States.”
In the case of the DREAMers from Central America, the US wrecked the economy of those countries and spent billions tearing them up. Lately, the US has been exporting made in the US gang members to El Salvador.
One might say the migration of the DREAMers was in most cases induced.
This debate could go on forever. But for Navarrette’s information, the actions of the DREAMers that Navarrette objects to are the ones that got him into Harvard. The DREAMers never would have gotten this far if they had relied on the Ruben Navarrettes. Most of them have worked hard, gotten good grades and not gotten swallowed up in the apathy that often paralyzes the poor. They dare to dream, and refuse to take less by just existing. Perhaps Ruben should re-read A Darker Shade of Crimson and remember how it was to dream.
Fighting Exceptionilst narratives with exceptionalist narratives is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. It promotes the same underlying paradigm that is the true fire burning up our communities. I could not agree more that Navarrette and those like him, need to understand that he/they made it to where he is on the shoulders of our burried ancestors and through the blood sweat and tears of movement masses.Navarette needs to understand his self serving narrative actually hurts his community and makes them an easier target for blame and meritocracy informed explanations for brown poverty and crime. We agree on this much.
On the flip side when in Defense of DREAMers (a category we should expand to mean all migrant people) we lift up their supposed exceptional qualities that allowed them to avoid being “swallowed up by the apathy that often paralyzes the poor” we come dangerously close to agreeing with Navarrette’s fundamental framework. Apathy is not swallowing up the poor! Structural racism and sytemic inequality is TRYING to swallow up the poor, but they resist and it’s aparent everywhere we look from the fields to the construction sites, from the office buildings at night to the DREAM graduations. Navarrette didn’t pull himself up by the bootstraps we acknowledge that, AND neither do our best students in the migrant community pull themsleves up by magic bootstraps. They too stand on the shoulders of Day laborer dads, domestic worker moms, migrant worker backs and movement struggles. Like Navarrette, they too had access to support structures and identities that the vast majority of their communities don’t. And acknowledging that does not deny their hardwork and perseverance. Clearly Navarrette is much more privileged than Undocumented Students in Academia but that doesnt’ mean we stop looking at the layers of privilege within the Migrant community and turn the Migrant reality into some sort of uniform experience. It’s not a coincidence that when I meet a DREAMer group the number of folks who became undocumented through expired Visas is much larger than when I hollar at Jornaleros, farm workers and Domestic workers. It’s not a coincidence that my dad who is Ecuadorian became undocumented when his Visa expired after flying here on a plane, where as most of the low-income migrant youth of color predominantly from Mexico and Central America whom I work with in Oakland’s public High Schools, almost all come from families that crossed the border with a coyete never having had acces to legal entry and a flight into GringoLandia. We are staring at a layered racist structure not exceptional individuals and others swallowed up by apathy. Levels of privilege and levels of Trauma, that’s the true distinction I see when I am presented with migrant youth who end up in Harvard versus those who end up in Juvi. Do all migrants struggle against great odds and persevere? Of course, on a daily basis! Weather that struggle is in academia, the fields, the office buildings after dark or the corner in front of Home Depot – hard work, perseverence and initiative are the migrant experience rule -not the exception!
The choice of deploying the supposed innocence of youth who did not choose to come here is also dangerous. It implies that those who did choose to come here are somehow on a morally lower ground. Even if we dutyfully name NAFTA and other push pull forces we do disservice to that structural critique when we deploy the good immigrant bad immigrant dichotomy that is attached to that DREAMer claim of innocence.
Que Vivan todos los DREAMers!
“Structural racism and sytemic inequality is TRYING to swallow up the poor, but they resist and it’s aparent everywhere we look from the fields to the construction sites, from the office buildings at night to the DREAM graduations.” you are a poet. I really like the picture you paint…all migrant workers are Dreamers, maybe Navarette would like to think that the “humble” ones are do busy putting their heads down and doing the manual labor stuff to dream – but he really missed a huge part of being an oppressed peoples – FREEDOM OF THE MIND always proceeds any kind of physical freedom.
@peaceforsale we agree with you that @Pablo Paredes is spot on and we are honored that he chose to write his words on our site. He does amazing work with youth and reflects the reality more than Navarrette and Acuña do.
Many older feminist say the same things to young mothers that prefer to combine raining kids and working in creative ways – because we can. The glass ceiling was broken by those before us no doubt. But just cause we don’t act “appreciative” and do things the same way doesn’t mean we are wrong. Times are a changin Navarette – sorry that ur offended that dreamers are more empowered than their parents. That’s how things progress. No need to keep your head down. Perhaps he should think about WHY this is happening not just who and how.
Many older feminist say the same things to young mothers that prefer to combine raising kids and working in creative ways – because we can. The glass ceiling was broken by those before us, no doubt. But just cause we don’t act “appreciative” and do things the same way doesn’t mean we are wrong. Times are a changin Navarette – sorry that ur offended that dreamers are more empowered than their parents. That’s how things progress. No need to keep your head down. Perhaps he should think about WHY this is happening not just who and how.
@peaceforsale Somehow I suspect that “older feminist” could be easily replaced with phrase “white middle-class feminist.” I’ve always appreciated the education in gender studies that I received, but once I stopped to digest the racial and social class elements of it, it becomes a little more difficult to preach. I’m not saying that it’s not a huge struggle or that there is purity in the way we link to our cultural roots (and I am speaking as one that lives in a multilingual/multicultural household). What the feminist you refer to and what Navarette is doing is allowing mainstream white America to define the standards of success and measure success and progress as the ability to live up to these standards.
@DignityPeace Yes you have spoken truth!
[…] for everyone else (including their parents). For many people, DREAMers are viewed as heroes, aligned with Martin Luther King and others as the potential vanguard of the civil rights revolution for Latinos. And I think these […]