by Gabriel Montresor
Children of the diaspora.
Children of the diaspora. That’s what we are, really. I mean, how else would you describe a city where pretty much every one of your friends is either an immigrant themselves, or the child of immigrants? This was normal for us, and we didn’t realize how different the rest of the world would see us.
I grew up in Everett, Massachusetts. This working class city is a mere 3.6 square miles. It is home to around half-a-dozen scrap metal yards, trucking routes, several Dunkin’ Donuts, and over 100 small businesses (many minority owned). If you grew up here you would know it’s really not for the faint of heart. Everett is a tough city. It faces tough problems and people live in tough conditions. The school district’s population is 63% minority, 78% economically disadvantaged, and holds a 3.8% dropout rate, which is twice the national average. We do have our handful of people that manage to beat these statistics each year, which you can bet the local papers will boast about, but most of these students get lost in the cracks and often find themselves stuck. There is a strong disconnect between teachers and the reality of their students’ lives. Many teachers wish to make a difference and help, but the demands of standardized testing that requires that children who have difficult lives outside of the classroom are taught procedurally and impersonally. The achievement gap that the youth of Everett faces continues into their adulthood through the political exclusion the city experiences.
The political climate of my minority-majority home city is fairly representative of the political process in the US, in the sense that it’s not representational whatsoever. Everett has been deemed the most diverse city in Massachusetts for the past three years, yet the municipal buildings, jobs, and services are almost exclusively dominated by what is the political caste in Everett. The political caste has been referred to as an "incestual government," where its members nearly all have familial ties. We have one shade of white representing our diverse pallet of colorful folk, cultures, and ideals.
A prime example of this was the controversial case of the Wynn casino being voted YES in Everett. The ‘campaign for Wynn’ was a funded by Steve Wynn himself, who invested $405,000 in the campaign. There were just over 6,000 votes cast, where around 5,000, or 87%, voted yes for the casino in Everett. The last census of Everett measured our population at 41,550 in 2010. While the census in Everett is often thought to be inaccurate, with underreporting due to the high undocumented and non-English speaking population, this figure still shows that only 15% of the city made a colossal decision for the entire population and the populations of surrounding cities by voting YES for the Wynn casino. With the construction of the casino already under way, a looming promise of gentrification, and the complete alienation of the immigrant community to the activities in our city, state, and federal government, it is unfortunately likely that the residents of Everett will face more hurdles on top of their already difficult course.
To me this speaks volumes about the political process within the U.S. Many people like to think that our democratic republic is in line with the views, opinions, and desires of its citizens. Let’s be honest though: it’s not. When a large number of residents are legally barred from voting (whether immigration status or disenfranchisement), it creates a skewed political system. When a huge part of the voting eligible population feels alienated from decades of oligarchical elections, you get below 30% turnouts in presidential primaries. The Democratic Party’s turnout in this year’s primary was less than 15%. That means even if the party’s nominee for was unanimously chosen, 85% of the party was not involved in making the decision. Now I used to be on that “if you didn’t vote, you can’t complain” boat, but that isn’t realistic. We have a two party system where candidates work harder showing their opponent’s flaws than actually engaging with their constituents.
Our fourth branch of government, the media, perpetuates this dilemma. There is no accountability in the media. Stereotypes are perpetuated, there is no standard of quality in the information provided, and there tends to be more time allotted for bigots than marginalized people. This is especially apparent when the topic of immigration arises.
The old saying is “we’re a nation of immigrants,” and the “kumbaya” tendency of democrats and liberals is to blurt out phrases like “immigration reform now!” and “we need a more humane and compassionate system” which certainly holds merit. But the more I find myself working in the field of immigration law and activism, the clearer it becomes that these sentiments are often just that: sentiments. Immigration law is second only to tax law in its complexity. Many of those going through the process have a hard time understanding it, let alone those who have no ties. The process toward legal permanent residency is long, expensive, and oftentimes unattainable. Now why is this relevant to our political discourse? Because much like how the leaders of the U.S. federal government cannot relate to the average U.S. citizen from an economic standpoint, virtually no lawmaker can relate to the needs of undocumented folk in the U.S. It is currently safer from a political standpoint to criminalize or ignore undocumented residents than it is to ask their opinions or act in accordance with their best interests. They don’t vote, so why bother? But what people don’t realize is that these decisions have generational impacts.
The fear that the first and second generations of immigrants have endured due to laws and discourse generated by both political parties will not be forgotten overnight. It has created a hot mess that has been boiling up for some time.
As I mentioned before, the youth of Everett endure a life under a system based on struggle. Whether it be making a living while existing in the shadows, learning the true meaning of hard work by holding down our homes while our parents worked 12 hour shifts (or working them ourselves), managing to keep a steady head while being discriminated against by teachers, officers, and politicians, we survive and will continue to do so. The next generation will remember the things said and bills voted on by politicians in both parties. They are not going to simply give their vote to a pandering fear mongering politician, and certainly will not turn the other cheek to an idiotic, vehement racist. Each election cycle is going to demand more accountability from politicians who either steer away from or take a hostile approach towards immigrants. Politicians across tickets will find themselves running against immigrants. Our stories and our diaspora are covered in blemishes and scars. They are not always beautiful. We are, however, a breed of resilient people whose journey is far from over. And just as we are able to build businesses and own homes despite these artificial obstacles, we will hone our voices and one day rewrite the rules that once worked against us.