She was standing there as an immigrant – in spite of the danger of “the single story”— she was choosing to stand as “the foreigner,” as “the other,” as the one that doesn’t belong according to the dominant culture that permeates mainstream society.
If you would be curious about her, you would discover that she is more than a single story, she is also a mother, a wife, a daughter, a professional, and a dreamer of a just world.
She worked for years with Guatemalan refugees after the civil war, and was like the proverbial “fish in the water.” She did not examine her own privilege in the way the circumstances encouraged her to do it when she moved to this country 18 years ago.
At a moment’s notice her individuality was gone. She became anonymous; she was seen as part of a mass with not particularly flattering labels attached. Her identity felt buried under those labels, and she was not alone; she imagined that some of the 44 million immigrants living in the U.S. have had similar experiences.
A poem from Eduardo Galeano describes well how the dominant culture views those who emigrate from the global south:
Nobody’s children, owners of nothing.
The no ones, who don’t speak languages, but dialects.
Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.
Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.
Who are not human beings, but bodies for labor.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world,
But in the police record of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, last year 65 million people were forcibly displaced. There is a logical question that needs to be asked: why are so many risking their lives to escape? We hear in the news every day that it is because poverty, violence, and war. But those are the symptoms, the single story, not the root of the problem.
Much of the migration is a result of the implementation of political and economic policies conceived in the north hemisphere, based on privatizing public works, removing rules and regulations over businesses that protect citizens, tax cuts for the wealthy, and market based solutions to social problems. All of it has disrupted the social fabrics of those countries and the traditional forms of agriculture and production, impacting their economies.
The demands of a globalized economy have had many effects around the world: lack of employment opportunities, growing inequality, poverty, crime, human trafficking. It also has been fertile soil for the increase of drug gangs and jihadist organizations.
The consequences of those policies are not so apparent to those living in safety and prosperity. There’s little compassion for the victims of the globalized economy until hundreds are drowned by an overcrowded boat sinking in Europe or children die in detention centers in USA.
When people leave their land, whatever the reason, they carry with them cultures, traditions and belief systems, and, it is right there in the intersection of belief systems and cultures that the struggle about immigration happens. The North/South hemisphere, the west/east. The dominant culture wanting to dictate what is right: What is the right language, the right religion, the right country of origin, the right skin color? When is the right time to seek asylum?
The immigrants envision a world where the answers to those questions are not shaped by the dominant culture – the white supremacy culture. It requires more that telling single stories. It is time to create narratives that tell the complexity of the stories; it is time to have the courage to stand in solidarity with “the others — those who the dominant society says don’t belong.” It is time to teach to value any and every human being.
Women are called at this time to step in and be leaders that challenge and transform. It is time for allies to stand up.
It is time.
Mercedes Guerrero Tune is program specialist for California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. This is an excerpt from her speech at the Women’s March in Sonora on Saturday.