By Fanny García
On June 29th of this year, I took my audio recorder and hit the streets at the Families Belong Together March in New York City. Thousands of people participated in this march and at more than 700 others in cities across the United States. They marched in protest of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy against migrant families arriving at the Southern border mostly from Central America seeking asylum and refuge.
Announced on April 16th, by then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the policy was intended to intensify the criminal prosecution of people entering the United States without state sanctioned permission and documentation. Soon after however, news outlets began to report that immigrant parents were being criminally prosecuted and separated from their children. By the time President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting family separation on June 20th, nearly 3,000 children had been separated from their families.
I envisioned myself talking to twenty maybe thirty people, but I was quickly overwhelmed by the heat and humidity. At Foley Square, the sun beating down hard on my head while we waited to actually start marching was difficult. It would be two hours before the crowd started moving at a snail’s pace towards the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian walkway and then on to Cadman Plaza where a rally was scheduled with notable speakers such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, America Ferrera, Laura Dern and many others.
As I waited, I thought about the miles traversed by thousands of people who left their homelands in Central America to travel to the U.S. Some propelled by fear and others in search of the basic human right of better opportunities and a chance at a life – one devoid of the threat of violence, hunger and illness. If they traveled to get to the U.S., I could stand out in the sun, sipping intermittently from my lukewarm water bottle and collect some stories.
As it turns out, I’m a novice at recording equipment and although I interviewed six people at Foley Square, only two of the interviews I recorded had good audio. In my defense, it was difficult to tell whether audio was actually being recorded with people right next to me yelling: “ABOLISH ICE!” and “NO HATE, NO FEAR, IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOME HERE!” You’ll notice my inability to hear the audio in the ways the volume levels differ during the interviews. It was also difficult to edit out the background noise, and as a result you can hear me fidgeting with the controls of my recorder and even the questions I posed to the people I interviewed.
Despite these technical issues, my conversation with Adelaide Alexander, a housing organizer in The Bronx and Carlo Albán, an actor from New Jersey shed light on some of the thoughts and feelings on the immigration crisis here at home. Both are friends of mine.
Adelaide explains how the immigration crisis resonates with her housing rights work in New York City. Most of the people impacted by gentrification, she states, are immigrants and working class. Their expulsion from their homes by unscrupulous landlords is similar to how Central Americans are being pushed out of their lands by U.S. corporate interests and years of foreign intervention that have impacted the economic, governmental, and cultural stability of the area.
Carlo on the other hand shared his personal immigration journey to U.S. citizenship after he and his family immigrated from Ecuador in 1986. Albán has been vocal about this experience. In 2011, he wrote and produced a one-man show called “I is for Illegal” about his years on Sesame Street as a child actor while undocumented. As he speaks, he comes to term with the class privilege that facilitated his migration and contrasts this to the implicit classism and racism in the immigration policies today that make it impossible for working class people to migrate. He states that fear should not have to be the sole and primary reason for mobility. “It’s absurd to me that you should be in mortal danger, fearing for your life in order to be allowed to come here and apply for asylum.”
Six months after the rally, hundreds of children have still not been reunited with their loved ones, families are still being separated, and thousands continue to escape Central America in migrant caravans that are now camped out in refugee camps in Tijuana and other areas along the U.S./Mexico border. And although the Families Belong Together rallies galvanized many to care and express their anger and frustration about U.S. immigration policies, it missed an opportunity to educate people about the root causes of the exodus from Central America and to really address the United States’ complicit participation in the immigration crisis.
Addie Alexander continues to advocate for the housing rights of immigrant and low-income tenants in the Northwest Bronx. Carlo Albán was recently featured in the film Mile 22 directed by Peter Berg and is working on a memoir about his immigration story. To listen to the audio of my conversations with Addie and Carlo, click HERE.