Normally, at this celebration, I would share with you the great work that MEDA does.
However, it does not seem quite right to use this time with you to list our accomplishments, and ignore the larger context that is being experienced by our Latino immigrant community nationally.
Over the last year, people in power in Washington, DC have used Latinos as a target in their chosen culture wars:
- Latinos have been referred to as criminals.
- We have been told that we are not welcomed in this country and, therefore, that we need to build higher walls.
- And, when a natural disaster struck – assistance has been slow and lacking.
- This treatment of our Latino community is, at best, racist and immoral.
Sadly, for me and my family — and I am sure many of you — this treatment is much too familiar.
Until I was 13, my family lived in Juarez, Mexico. We would cross the border, and that bridge, into El Paso on regular basis to work, shop and visit relatives and friends.
Yet, every time, we would cross, immigration officers always questioned our motives. They would:
- Interrogate us as to why were crossing the border;
- Search through my mom’s purse and personal belongings; and
- Often inspect the vehicle with dogs when we were crossing by car.
My family, and those crossing the border at that time, every time we crossed, were judged guilty, declared as lesser than, and shown that we were not welcomed across that border.
We were not treated as a humble family living a normal, dignified life.
Forty years later, the messaging and actions by this administration are disturbingly familiar.
While familiar, it is not right.
It was wrong then.
It is wrong now.
Despite this treatment, the negative stereotypes and the targeting, we know that our community is resilient, perseveres and succeeds under the most challenging conditions.
In my family, we can look at what has transpired since we were crossing the border daily:
- My parents are living comfortably in the home they bought a year after we arrived in the United States;
- My brother Javier and sister-in-law own their successful real estate business, and have raised four happy adult children – one of them a doctor;
- My brother Jorge and his wife have a young son who is full of joy and hope; and
- Next week, my daughter and I will be visiting colleges on the East Coast. Her future is bright … and the possibilities are endless.
Our people are resilient.
My family’s experience is not that different from the over 7,000 people MEDA serves yearly. You will hear one such story tonight about Alicia Villanueva who started a tamale business out of her kitchen, and now produces 40,000 tamales per month, and employs 18.
Our people persevere.
These are not isolated cases.
Look around your table.
Look around this room.
Look around in these immigrant communities, like San Francisco’s Mission District.
You will see people who succeeded despite the challenges they faced.
Our people are resilient, persevere and succeed.
Looking ahead, you can trust that MEDA will continue to work tirelessly to serve our community by:
- Providing asset building services;
- Addressing educational disparities;
- Creating more affordable-housing opportunities; and
- Bringing capital into the Mission District to ensure that people are not displaced.
However, to address the larger, national context, we must assure you that at MEDA, we share in the belief that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
To get back on the path to create the type of society, the following is required:
- We must elect those who see displacement of Latinos in the Mission District as a most serious problem, and act on it with equal force and sense of urgency.
- We must elect those who believe in California as a sanctuary state, and as a means to directly counter new policies from Washington.
- And, we must elect those who will explicitly value Latinos as integral members of American society.
We cannot settle.
We must overcome.
We must resist.
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