I have to return to this topic because it keeps coming up: how should/would/could oppressed individuals in the U.S., who need to partake in the economy and system to get ahead, navigate this identity? How should/would/could we participate in the oppressive system we belong in without propagating it? Are we “capitalistic” if we choose to do so?
When you’re an undocumented individual in the U.S., you are given a fabulous selection of three possible life trajectories: stay under the radar, work the system and see how far you can get, or get deported back to a country you either ran away from or never truly lived in (note: the second one comes with a high risk of the third). Given the large risk that comes with public visibility, our experiences tend to be hidden from public discourse. As such, we haven’t had an honest conversation for what it means for an undocumented individual and engage the public on social issues in the U.S.
Here, I raise a couple of starting points that I think are worthy of discussion:
- Survival strategies should not be confused with supporting oppressive systems
- It takes privilege to be able to fight for social justice in the U.S.
Survival strategies should not be confused with supporting oppressive systems
Given the glamorous opportunities of silence or deportation we have available to us, it is not surprising most of us stay in the shadows. I know an extended network of people back home that are undocumented, but have adapted to living under the table. It’s a life, but an invisible life, whose beauty and struggle gets lost in the mix that is U.S. political discourse. While Black Lives Matter have the opportunity to forcefully fight for their rights because many of them are citizens, our situation calls for more subversive engagement given the risk of deportation and losing the life we have here. With the recent momentum of DACA and the Dream Act, more and more of us have found the courage to proudly and loudly proclaim our spot in society. And now we even get to witness beautiful moments where Spanish-only speakers are able to publicly engage with presidential candidates about our plight. However, change occurs slowly and many of us still have much to lose. Especially given the fragile status of current DACA recipients, since the program can be yanked at any minute leaving us free-falling from all we have accomplished in the past 4 years since DACA began. As such, some of us who aspire to change the system decide to play the game and work the system (see my first post for this discussion). I call this survival. We survive by blending in when needed. We survive by resiliently moving past the endless obstacles the U.S. immigration laws set before us. We survive by subversive assimilation. This is a strategy brought born out of limited freedom and limited power. Yes, we engage in the capitalistic environment in which we live in, but only because we need a better future for ourselves and our families. We believe that the more of us who reach places of power, the better we can build an inclusive future. Some won’t agree with this strategy and consider us capitalist/part of the problem because we are still participating in an oppressive system, but that brings me to my second point:
It takes privilege to be able to fight for social justice in the U.S.
Nothing angers me more than people with legal status in the U.S. thinking they have input on how we run our lives, on whether we should participate in a capitalist system, on how we support our own people. Do they have to worry about their family or themselves being arrested and deported if they engage in visible protests? No. Have they felt the struggles of growing up undocumented and navigating a space where following their ambitions could lead to drastic life costs? No. It takes privilege. They have the ability to engage in far wider forms of social justice (loud, forceful/aggressive, international) because they don’t have the daily worry that they will be ejected from their current, and often only, home. It’s ironic. It’s intersectionality. Oppressed citizens have more privilege to lawfully fight for justice than undocumented people. I’m not saying it can’t be done. There are very brave individuals fighting for the Dream Act and undocumented rights and putting their lives directly on the line. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that working the system can be just as subversive. Working the system is the dangerously underprivileged individual’s safe route to joining the fight. This daily struggle to become safely visible does narrow our focus towards ourselves and our families and our communities within the borders of the U.S. Like I said before: attention and money are limited resources, which forces one to prioritize (especially the underprivileged with less money and more basic needs to attend to). Those who have resources (such as citizenship privilege or wealth) have a better foundation for rejecting current social structures and and breaking the status quo because they are less dependent on the system. Moreover, the U.S. system affords them the legal freedom to do so (the Bill of Rights)… some protections which technically include undocumented individuals, however deportation trumps all. Our lack of status leaves us dehumanized and disenfranchised, socially and politically, and easily relocated like garbage. Despite our active participation in the interconnected economy of the U.S., we remain slaves to the political whim of those who hold the golden ticket of citizenship.
Returning to the first point, to shame an undocumented individual for neglecting the broader effects of “capitalistic or imperialistic” thinking and living is to shame them for not having enough resources, for depending on the system, AND neglects to put the onus on those with actual power and investment in social stratification. It’s like pointing fingers at the bottom of the hierarchy and ignoring the weight of the full structure. Ultimately, however, we don’t have to follow specific rules or ideologies to be a progressive, caring, productive minority.
Social discourse has failed to include undocumented voices and this lack of visibility has emboldened people to feel that they can take a superficial glance at our thoughts and behaviors and judge. That’s how stereotyping works: your categorization of individuals is a function of familiarity. However, I hope through these posts that the pressures and goals and costs and decisions that we (I) face as undocumented individuals will start to clarify our unique issues as excluded minorities in this country.
Note: I’m slowly building my thoughts about my identity here in the U.S. and welcome disagreement or other points of views. I readily accept that my experience is not prototypical, but I do speak out forcefully (and less nuanced) to provide a strong message of representation for undocumented individuals.