Copyrighted material


by Sandip Roy

on immigrant civil rights movement

(PNS) -- If you don't understand what "¡Si, se puede!" means, you might feel a little left out of the immigrant-rights movement. Standing on a street corner in San Francisco's Mission district at an immigration rally, I felt I was a little lost in translation.

Gone were the days when politicians said the obligatory "Thank you for inviting me" in Spanish before switching (with palpable relief) to English. Instead, here the English was perfunctory, almost a gesture of political correctness rather than necessity. One line of English summed up three minutes of impassioned Spanish, which my taqueria-level Espanol completely missed. And the crowd's response to the English was quite muted compared to the full-throated roar that accompanied the fiery Spanish speeches. I felt like the gringo, the one not in on the joke. Except that the gringos had signs that said earnestly, "We are all Immigrants except for the Native Americans." But when they walked down the street they too chanted, "¡Si, se puede!"

The immigration movement is being conducted in Spanish. For English, press 2.

That's not to say immigration reform is being ignored by other communities. Many Asian-American organizations have been active in the movement. I just got a letter signed by some 17 South Asian groups from New York to Los Angeles calling for immigration reform that respects the civil rights of immigrants.

That's the organizational response. But at the march in San Francisco I didn't see the Chinese grandmother with her shopping bag. I didn't see the young Bangladeshi restaurant worker. Where are the editorials in Indian-American papers?

Yet 1 million Asian Americans (that's 1 in 14) are undocumented. If the government cracks down on businesses hiring the undocumented, little hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurants and Korean dry cleaners will be affected. If House Bill HR4437 becomes law, Asians coming from countries like Vietnam that don't allow repatriation of deportees might be turned back from U.S. shores by Homeland Security.

We need to move beyond the Mexican flags and the undocumented vs. illegal semantics or we risk missing out on the movement that in the end will affect all of us -- whether we are here on F-1, H-1B, green card, or without papers.

We could complain that this movement needs to be a little less Spanish, reaching out more to all immigrants. Or we could be like the young Palestinian man I met on Mission Street as the marchers passed by his cell-phone store. "Come, brother," he beckoned me. "I give you a deal on cell phones. Special promotion for immigrants on immigrant-rights day." He seized the moment. We could do that too. Yes, we can. ¡Si, se puede!

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Albion Monitor   May 2, 2006   (

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