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By Jesus Cortez
After more than twenty years of living in Anaheim and experiencing segregation in schools, police harassment and poverty, the nation has finally seen the reality most of us have been voicing, but had gone ignored. As an undocumented immigrant, the threat of the police doubles, once we take under consideration the fact that the police has worked with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for years and has deported people whose only crime was working to survive and take care of their families. Additionally, those of us who grew up in neighborhoods that do not resemble any of the images sold to the public by Disney know a little too much about police surveillance. The recent events and reaction of the people to police brutality and the murder of unarmed men of color have shocked many “Latino leaders” and Latinos who seem more interested in not “looking bad”—but not those of us who have grown up here, we were not surprised at all.
Many of us proudly call ourselves Anaheimers (someone from Anaheim); but, we do not call ourselves “Americans” as many of my undocumented brothers and sisters do. For me, as for the Anaheimers I know, some who were actually born in the U.S, our identity is attached to an Anaheim that we have made ours, an Anaheim that does not resemble the farce that people see in the media, an Anaheim that those in City Hall have ignored for years. Our identities are attached to places such as Bella Vista Street, Pacific Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, not the land of fairy tales. Having said this, how can I call myself “American,” if I know the America being offered has nothing to do with my identity? If being American means trusting the police will keep me safe, I am not and will never feel American; if being American means I will be accepted by society and will never be racially profiled or harassed by the police, I will never feel American; and, if being American means that I will only focus on my individual success, then I hope I never become an American.
Growing up in a situation of constant uncertainty, I have realized that I must voice my opinion and speak what I believe is true, because after all, I doubt I will ever “pass” or “fit in;” and after all, what do I have to lose? So as I hear news about deferred action and the excitement it is creating in many undocumented youth, I am critical of myself and my feelings for no longer qualifying and what is to become of those who receive deferred action. Will my undocumented brothers and sisters (whom I love wholeheartedly) feel like they have “made it” and no longer challenge unjust laws for fear of losing their deferred action? Will the “radical Dreamers” become passive? Will the focus continue to be immigration reform and Dream Act or will undocumented people now focus on issues such as police brutality, poverty, imprisonment and other issues that affect the undocumented community as well.
Will those who already feel “American” continue to fight with those who do not qualify or feel even more “American?” My Anaheim identity, an identity that grew from the violent environment created by a system that oppresses and creates poverty and violence, has taught me to question. My Anaheim identity was also born from the love of my neighbors, the support of my community, and the everyday struggle many go through, has taught me to have hope. But as I have seen the violence of the system with their armored vehicles and camouflaged police officers in downtown Anaheim to “protect” the city from people protesting police brutality, I wonder if we are truly Undocumented and Unafraid, or are we just trying to get papers. Do we want to feel “American” or do we want to change the reality we live in so that we can live as human beings in a world where papers are not needed and our children do not have to fear the police? And how bad do we want to be “American?” I am reminded of a phrase I heard from a friend, he said, “How can I feel American, if I get pulled over by the police and tell him I feel American, will he let me go? No, he’ll probably arrest me and call ICE on me.”
As for me, I am an Anaheimer from Bella Vista Street and all the other neighborhoods I grew up in, where there is poverty, crime, violence and police surveillance, but where I learned to lose my fears and I learned to have hope, but most importantly where I learned to fight against what I felt was wrong. We must continue our commitment with all of our community, and challenge a system that creates poverty, a poverty that creates violence and crime, for which we are later punished with imprisonment or death.