These are new times.
Young people — the Dreamers and the survivors of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida — are pushing for real change in America. They are not requesting change from the politicians; they are demanding it. They have nothing to lose. A 19-year-old with a legally bought AR-15 killed 17 of the survivors’ peers and supervisors. They don’t want to be next. And the Dreamers, risking deportation to a country they don’t even know, have come out in record numbers, changing the mind of one president — Barack Obama — and closing the government of another — Donald Trump. They won’t stop until they, their parents and their siblings are legalized.
The Dreamers and the survivors are using the same tactics: to be in your face, unafraid, exploring possibilities with a new and strong voice on social media, exposing hypocrisy and even threatening the political class: If you don’t do what we tell you to do, we’ll get rid of you in the next election.
I wrote about these new tactics in my recent book, Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era. The following is an excerpt relevant to what’s happening right now.
Many undocumented people who—following the example set by the Dreamers, came out of the closet during Barack Obama’s presidency—have gone back into the shadows during the Trump era. They don’t trust the police. They don’t want to drive anywhere. They’re afraid to go to work. They have become, once again, invisible.
How does one go from invisible to visible?
It’s not easy.
The Dreamers — the brave young people who were brought to the United States as undocumented children who have since become the new political leaders of the Latino community — taught us that the first thing you have to lose is your fear.
They showed us this in 2010 when four of them marched from Miami to Washington to draw attention to their struggle. Many of us feared that they would be arrested along the way and deported to countries they did not know. But that’s not what happened.
Those same Dreamers who, in 2012, were not allowed to set foot in the White House because of their undocumented status were the same ones who finally convinced President Obama that he indeed had the legal authority to approve an executive action and make Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a reality.
Their strategy worked.
In June of 2016, I was invited to Houston to a conference of United We Dream: the primary organization of Dreamers in the United States. The place was filled with rebellious passion. It was clear to me that the new leadership of the Latino Community was there, and not in Washington.
I took the opportunity to talk about the difference between their parents and them. I said that I was very afraid that their parents would become the “sacrificial generation.” What did I mean by that? That they were part of a group which, despite decades of effort, was never able to legalize their migratory status. But still they stayed in the United States so that their children could legally live here and prosper. They made this sacrifice for their children.
And we’re already witnessing the results. The Dreamers are as American as any of us. They just don’t have the paperwork to prove it. That’s how they feel, and they let everyone know it.
Many Dreamers are the first in their families to attend college. I’m always excited to meat Dreamers at the nation’s top universities. They study in places that their parents never could have imagined.
But the contrast between the tactics wielded by the Dreamers and their parents could not be more stark. The older generation believed that the most important thing was not to make any waves. Keep quiet and don’t draw any attention to yourself, period. That was the way to get ahead in life. And they were right.
Their tactics of silence produced results. Many of their children were born here in the United States — and therefore U.S. citizens with all requisite rights — and thousands of those born outside of the country have been protected under DACA.
After many conversations with the Dreamers and their parents, I began to notice a certain sense of impatience among the younger ones. Why had their parents remained silent for so long? Why did they not speak up and protest? Why didn’t they go out and fight for their rights?
There are no easy answers to these questions. Suffice it to say that those were different times. The parents of today’s Dreamers learned to survive by staying silent, invisible, virtually immobile. And there, while nobody was watching, was where they worked and raised their families.
It served them. But not their children, who decided to change the rules of the game.
Their parents were invisible, so the Dreamers want to be as visible as possible.
Their parents learned to use silence to their advantage. Dreamers want to be heard.
Their parents waited patiently for politicians to acknowledge them. Dreamers forced candidates to address them and their agenda.
Their parents never would have dared to confront members of Congress or occupy their offices. Dreamers aren’t afraid of doing exactly this.
Their parents waited patiently and prayed for the best. Dreamers demanded immigration reform for themselves and for their parents.
Two different eras with two very different sets of tactics.
I have learned a lot from the Dreamers, which is why I dedicated this book to them. While I was there in Houston, I told them that when I faced off with Donald Trump at the press conference in Iowa, the first thing I asked myself was, What would the Dreamers do?
They remind me so much of Rosa Parks.
On December 1st of 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, she knew that the law was against her. But she did it anyway. There are times when civil disobedience is necessary. And her simple gesture of defiant freedom kicked off the civil rights movement here in the United States.
I believe that Dreamers are doing the same thing: rebelling against unjust laws. They stand at the forefront of a new civil rights movement in the United States, one in which nobody is illegal, regardless of the papers you may or may not carry in your wallet.
That’s why I dream with them.
From Stranger by Jorge Ramos. Copyright © 2018 by Jorge Ramos. English translation copyright © 2018 by Ezra E. Fitz. Reprinted by permission of Vintage Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.