Wednesday, February 29, 2012

ECCSF @ Brown!

This past weekend, four MEChistas joined dozens of other students from throughout the East Coast at MEChA de Brown's conference on Neo-Chicanismo. In addition to meeting and socializing with other Chicanos, MEChA de Yale's representatives listened to presentations on topics such as the History of the Chicano Movement, the Literature of the Chicano Movement, and the future of the Chicano Movement. MEChA de Yale was able to connect with its fellow MEChistas and Chicanos on the East Coast and learn more about each others' efforts to redefine and expand the Chicano Movement. MEChA de Yale looks forward to the next conference at Cornell in the Spring and appreciates the great hospitality shown by Brown University MEChistas!

Con mucho MEChA amor,
-Juan Díaz

Sunday, February 26, 2012

For a Good Discomfort

For most of my life, I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Mostly African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos, many who have recently immigrated, live in my neighborhood. South Central Los Angeles is also notorious for its poverty, failed school system, and gang violence to the extent that the city decided to change the name of the area to South Los Angeles. This summer I left the comfort of of bodegas, Spanglish, and Mexican and Central American food to come to Yale, a dream come true.

Although I love Yale, the transition to Yale has been everything but easy. I miss eating pupusas and tacos with my family, speaking Spanglish, listening to my grandfather discuss Latin American politics and Hugo Chavez, listening to the chisme of the neighborhood, and not having to dress in layers. I have also had to come to terms with my identity. This year, I have come to terms with what it means to be a Latina woman from a disadvantaged neighborhood. Being away from home has made me more attune that my reality is alien to others.

Out of ignorance, students have made very hurtful and bigoted comments which make me uncomfortable. My first memory of Yale is of being asked a hurtful question. A fellow Yale admit asked me “Are you actually Hispanic? Or did you just say that to get in?” after seeing my name tag that contained my surname: Cruz . I did not know what to say. Yes, I am actually Hispanic but also I felt hurt that my accomplishments were belittled because of my ethnicity. He later went on to criticize institutions like Yale for educating international students and immigrants. Uncomfortable with my own skin and uncomfortable with my current situation, I am often flabbergasted and speechless. Yet, my own silence disturbs me and makes me feel guilty. While studying for calculus or heading to class, my thoughts begin to consume my mind. I am ashamed of my silence; I am supposed to be a Yale student. Yale students are courageous, eloquent, and the “leaders of tomorrow”. Yet, my silence mocks me and I revert to feeling like an insecure middle school student. My shame and guilt are also combined with anger. Why should I have the obligation to speak up? Why can’t other students be cognizant of the backgrounds of other students?

Recently, this discomfort has become more perverse to the extent that I have turned to friends and mentors here at Yale. I have found solace within talking to other MEChistas but also with friends who do not share my story. A recent dinner with a friend has shifted my paradigm regarding my own discomfort. My friend told me, “Your discomfort is actually a really good thing. It means this institution is changing.” Decades ago, it would have been impossible for me to get a college education nevertheless a Yale education. Yale is changing; it is becoming more inclusive and diverse. It is easier to be a student of color here then it was a couple of years ago.

For this reason, Yale I encourage you to share my own feeling of discomfort. Let us have an open discussion on issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship and identity that can be at times uncomfortable and awkward. I have broken my silence. I am eager to listen; Yale tell me your story because there isn’t such a thing as the average “Yalie”.


Roselyn Cruz

Saybrook College Class of 2015

Borderland Identity

Since coming to Yale, I have been more conscious about my identity. In my home town of South Central Los Angeles, there are so many Latinos that I never paid much attention to my identity. As a child of two immigrants, I live in the borderlands that Gloria Anzaldúa so beautifully describes.

I am neither Guatemalan nor American. My birth certificate says I am a US citizen. I am a citizen of a country that does not want me. I live in a country where individuals want to end birthright citizenship to prevent people like me from being citizens. I also live in a country where school officials do not want Latinos to learn about nuestra historia. I live in a country in which Spanish is considered the language of the ghetto and poverty by a man who wants to be my president. The United States has also executed an imperialist foreign policy in Guatemala which has greatly impoverished Guatemalans. I also have trouble claiming a country that thinks that people like me are disposable enough to infect Guatemalans with syphilis and other venereal diseases.. I am not Guatemalan either. Although visiting Guatemala fills my heart with joy, my Spanish is foreign, my behavior is too “American”, and I am treated as a tourist. I am also not proud of country in which few families control all of the wealth of the county and a country that does not respect the rights of indigenous people.

Race and Ethnicity are separate from citizenship but yet a large part of one’s own identity. My complexion also complicates how others perceive my ethnic identity. My fair skin and reddish hair have caused many awkward misunderstandings. People have said very racist comments about Hispanics/Latinos while I have been present because they did not believe I was Hispanic. Likewise, I have been called a gringa and been spoken poorly about in Spanish. Growing up, I wanted darker skin so I could be acknowledged as being Latina. I did not like being called a gringa. Now that I am older, I am comfortable with my own skin. The color of my skin does not make me any less or any more Latina. I am Latina because I have a connection and love to Guatemala and Latin America.

I continue to live in the borderland. The terrain on both sides can sometimes be unfriendly. Yet, I will no longer be uncomfortable with the questions of my identity. As Gloria Anzaldúa states ,"Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar" (Voyager, there are no bridges. They are built as you walk). I am forging these bridges that deconstruct identity and citizenship.


Roselyn Cruz

Saybrook College Class of 2015

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Defining Secure Communities, Yale Daily News

ENRIQUEZ: Defining secure communities

The first scare came in December. I received news from City Hall that the Secure Communities Act was to be implemented in New Haven. I broke into a cold sweat as I considered the implications of the act.

Secure Communities is an act passed by the federal government in October 2008, set to go live state-by-state across the United States by 2013. The bill includes provisions to merge local police databases with background checks run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Everyone whose profile is filed in local police stations will have her immigration status checked through ICE’s database. Ideally, the bill is supposed to target people with criminal records who live in the United States illegally, but in practice this bill does not secure our communities.

One of the victims of Secure Communities was a friend of mine who lived in a city where the act was enforced. He was a student finishing high school. He was driving too fast one day, and his back taillight was out. He was pulled over by a cop. He argued with the policeman and was taken in to the police station. From there, his profile was entered into the computer. His name was flagged, so the police had to detain him. He was deported.

Imagine a world where people you grew up with, friends who mentored you, your co-workers and other Yale students are afraid to leave campus — not because they look at this week’s crime rates or because they have not explored the city before, but because simply encountering a policeman on the street could mean deportation and a radical change in their futures.

Imagine a world where you cannot go home to visit your family less than two hours away because getting on a train could mean being subjected to a random search and detention by an ICE officer.

Do you feel comfortable knowing that other students, some living in your dorm or studying in your classes, are afraid to talk to anyone about family members who have been detained? Do you feel comfortable knowing that these people have to worry about where they will go over winter break, since home isn’t an option for fear of detention en route?

To many of us, the police may look like symbols of order and safety. Under the previsions of this bill, immigrants are encouraged to fear and avoid the police force by going underground in society. This means that when an immigrant is robbed or becomes the victim of a crime, she is less likely to report it. All efforts to improve relationships between the local immigrant community and the police force will be cast aside, and we compromise the security of our community. This is not a risk I support. We are asking for crimes against immigrants to go unreported.

Community organizers and government officials alike refer to the last time ICE conducted raids in New Haven. Houses in Fair Haven were raided; children disappeared from schools, businesses stayed closed and workers stayed home from their jobs. New Haven is still rebuilding the trust in our community that was lost as a result of these raids.

Those raids weren’t specifically tied to Secure Communities, but they are also the result of federal interference in the way Connecticut handles its immigration policy. Connecticut has shown in other ways that its policy on immigration is more lenient than that of other states. For example, Connecticut’s labor policy requires employers to respect contracts regardless of a worker’s immigration status.

Does a community that encourages vigilantes to report anyone they suspect might be an undocumented immigrant — despite the hours of work that immigrants put in every day, the families they raise and put through school and the taxes they pay under false Social Security numbers — sound like a secure community?

The act originally stipulated that cities could opt out of enforcement. But too many cities opted out. Now, all states will be required to implement the act’s provisions on a staggered timeline. In December, Connecticut received the go-ahead.

In most of the country, police departments support Secure Communities. But in New Haven, both citizens and public officials rallied around the immigrant community. I hope Connecticut will follow Massachusetts, Illinois and New York in refusing to enforce the federal act.

As Secure Communities rolls out in Connecticut, ask yourself, is this really building a secure community?

Diana Enriquez is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Memories of the Border

The seals had been decapitated. They lay there, bloated and shiny, basking in the sun as it leaked through clouds that cluttered the sky. Neither of the two seals looked dead; their corpses mocked life. Their fins were too erect, their waterproof skin too golden. It wasn’t until your scanning eyes reached the top of their bodies that you realized that instead of dark, bright eyes closed against the sun, a thin backbone discolored with blood and dried muscle tendons poked out from their short necks. Then your eyes looked more carefully.

The first seal had been shot in the stomach. It had not died of natural causes, unless you count the propensity for useless killing possessed by the humans that do these things as natural. The second seal had gone the same way. I shivered as I gazed at the identical bullet hole. Though high tides had come and gone, washing over the bodies, a ring of watered-down blood still circled the holes. I thought of all of the decapitated bodies that had been dug up from mass graves along the border in the past year; migrants killed viciously, impassively. It was a mounting death toll forced by gratuitous violence. Money, guns, drugs, power.

Many details of this landscape of the San Diego/Tijuana borderlands seem to mock not life itself, but the way in which humans have decided to experience it. The birds here in the border backcountry fly unchallenged over green marshes, and the dolphins swim uninhibited through the waters beyond the trail, but two separate fences keep people from moving freely across the infamous San Diego-Tijuana border.

The fences run into the sea. Maria, one of the women in our group of 10 that has driven to Friendship Park for a language exchange across the border fence, tells me that once, children on either side would swim near the shore. It didn’t matter what country they started in: boys from Tijuana and children from San Diego would paddle against currents and end up 10 feet across the line delineated on land without being arrested or even reprimanded. Now, the concrete pillar that thrusts itself into the sky on our side bearing cameras (though not a machine gun, as I imagine while looking at it) insures that this is not the case. I can see smoke from barbecues and colorful beach umbrellas on Playas de Tijuana. I’m sad I cannot make the fence melt into the sand, walk over, and introduce myself. I wonder if there is an invisible line that splits the sea here.

At first I hadn’t understood Isabel (the Volunteer Coordinator for the non-profit Border Angels, which I volunteered with last summer) in her indignation at the second fence being installed by the government to create a space of about 30 feet between Mexico and the U.S. Though I am a proponent of immigrant rights and my volunteer work put me in direct contact with “illegal aliens” (a term I abhor), my logical self likes to keep the equation balanced. I must fight for the basic human rights of all, but I must also grant the government a certain measure of understanding, I tell myself. Surely it is a crime to allow people to die crossing the desert, but at the same time we can’t simply open our borders, no holds barred. What about the practical reasons for maintaining a physical distance between the two countries, such as prevention of drug deals through the wooden slats of the fence? But after visiting this portion of it, guarded by multiple armed officers, I realize that these concerns are not valid. No one would risk being caught by the border patrol for a petty drug deal, which is the only scale that could occur under such close watch (not to mention the practical difficulty of shoving kilos of cocaine through a one-inch space between boards). What criminal would smuggle their goods in such an inefficient manner, with such drastic possible repercussions for such minimal possible payoff?

The second fence does more than just physically separate the U.S. and Mexico. It alienates an entire country, its culture, and its people from its neighbors. In building that second, arbitrary fence, the U.S. government says no to civilized dialogue and thoughtful, purposeful actions to truly reform not only immigration policy, but arms policy and drug policy which feed the violence and poverty cycles in Mexico that drive scores of Mexican citizens over the border in the first place. 

Photo: Couple embracing on the Mexican side of the border mentioned above
Omar Torres/AFP/Ghetty Images

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Reasons for Being Here

I really should be doing my readings on Immigration law, but this was just such a perfect moment that I wanted to put it out there.

I just got off the phone from a conversation with the only person that I text regularly in spanish. She has been in my life forever, and in all honesty, she is more of a sister to me than anyone else I've ever had. She knows all of my quirks, what drives me CRAZY, she's seen me cry when I was hurt and I've seen her cry when so many of the things in her life have gone wrong.

The age difference is huge, but we fight like sisters. There is yelling in the hallways, me dice "AYE NIÑA MAL EDUCADA!" when I'm acting poorly and we always come to an agreement. A mutual standoff between two VERY strong personalities. We respect each other. As strong women who really dont put up with ridiculous behavior from any other person. These stare downs are the most intense I've ever experienced.

And while I'm away she still loves me. She'll send me short messages hoping that I'm not working too hard when I know that she works 18 hour days. When I call her she asks what we are going to cook together since she is the person who taught me everything that I know. She'll never hug me the way that she hugs my brother, our relationship is more out of mutual respect than out of hierarchy of any kind. And she is the reason that I am part of MEChA.

Because it is not about me. We are born fortune if we can say that the people around us inspire us to be everything that we can be. This woman, in all of the challenges she pushed into my life, my need to defend myself in arguments, and even when I first learned to read in my native tongue, was there. It's so impossibly hard for me to talk about it that my first answers about why I work with MEChA are about myself and my history. It's so much easier to talk about myself than it is to talk about how much I love this woman. And why is that? Why shouldnt we celebrate the people that we love so dearly that it makes us feel?

So this is for her. Confession: Everything that I have done here, was with her in the back of my mind. Because I was given gifts that I will never be able to give her. And with her in my mind, I am inspired to be all that I can be. Te amo.

Family Tree

For many people, tracing their lineage is as easy as logging onto the Internet and subscribing to a popular ancestor-finding service. For someone like me, whose ancestry is of peasants from Oaxaca, in Southern Mexico, the job is a lot harder. Like many other first-generation Americans, my roots straddle an enormous gap. Centuries of history lie on one side, while only 20 years–the time since my parents’ immigration to the US–lie on the other. While some people can find their entire family histories online, I am left with only the stories of my grandmothers and a vast register of civil documents in Mexico.

Both my maternal and paternal grandfathers died before I was born, leaving only my grandmothers as a source for the past. On trips to Mexico, I am enchanted by their stories of the past, of times before their sons and daughters left for El Norte, of times when only one television in an entire village blared telenovelas, of times when only one party ruled all of Mexico. Characters with names like Febronia and Faustino, long lost aunts and cousins who left for the DF or joined some religión, all play starring roles in these stories. Places with names like Tres Arroyos or La Culebra are the locales for these tales. Death and frivolity both take the stage; times of joy and festivity are followed by the tragic.

But these stories are increasingly harder to remember, and names and dates are increasingly confused. My grandmothers remain one of the few links to the past, but I realize that there is only so little time before more of my family's history disappears along with them. The other source is the store of civil records lying in my parents’ hometown’s municipal palaces and the state capital archives. Here, I know, is where I have to direct my search and investigation in hopes of illuminating my family's history. It seems like a monumental task to tackle such a project. It seems like such a strange or even frivolous thing to spend time on. However, I cannot fathom the thought of my family’s history remaining so cloudy. I want my own progeny to remember their own roots, so they don’t forget that they come from humble, modest origins. That their ancestors grew maize by seasons, spoke indigenous dialects, and lived in the mountains of Oaxaca. The stories of common people with extraordinary lives, that's what I want to explore.

I have challenged myself to make my next trip to Mexico far more enlightening than the usual. My mother tells me that though bureaucratic red tape makes such dives into the past difficult, it is not impossible to search the archives. As a historian, the prospect of finally diving deep into my own history and filling in the gaps and expanding upon my grandmothers’ own histories, a combination of written and the oral, thrills me. Years of history have gone unwritten. It's my own personal history project. And this time, the family tree will be a lot larger than the few branches of my 7th grade history project.

-Juan Díaz, MC 2015