When people ask me what I am, I say I’m Mexican. Then I qualify the statement.
I say that one of my four grandparents was born in Mexico, in San Juan de Los Lagos. This makes me a third generation Mexican, barely.
All this is to say that primarily, I am American. My culture mainly lies within the boundaries of Southern California.
In truth, I never thought much about my background until I was scrounging for tuition money and came across the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. For the scholarship I had to tie in my heritage/ family history with my desire for a higher education.
Through an interview with a somewhat-related uncle, I discovered education was indeed important to my family. In my grandpa’s wilder, less sickly days, he was a ranchero who, with his brother, drove a truck from Mexico with a desire to make it in America. He started a great restaurant with my grandma but felt he didn’t have the “know-how” to sustain the business. If he only had more education… That was the basis of my entrance essay. And it’s true.
That was more than a year ago, and since then, the question of my identity and purpose has plagued me – especially now, in light of the struggle for immigrant rights.
My family has never been politically charged. As a child, my parents wouldn’t even tell me if they voted Republican or Democrat. I took the necessary courses in high school and college, registered to vote and still managed to not care about the looming “system” that is the United States government.
But simply having Latin-like features and “Duarte” as my last name involves me with this immigrant struggle.
Since its recent upheaval, I’ve been on a quest for more information.
Employers need to let go of illegal immigrants as “cheap labor.”
Employers rely on this source in order to compete with other companies, but they shouldn’t. There’s a reason for the minimum wage system. Employers who hire illegals for next to nothing suppresses wages and drives unemployment past a healthy level.
If they’re going to work for the success of American companies, they deserve better conditions, especially if they’re already paying into part of the benefits we receive (i.e.: Social Security).
Should they be labeled as felons? No. Should they learn to work with the system and not continue to hide from it? Yes, and that change starts with the system.
Despite demonstrations across the U.S. and Mexico, decision-makers may not be swayed one way or the other.
What I can say is that the marches, the e-mails, the news stories and the discussions have made this third generation Mexican curious about an issue that the United States has battled since its inception and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. It has spurred conversation among people who maybe had never thought about immigrant rights.
Even students, who may have begun marching as senseless teenagers, are beginning to look at the bigger picture.
People are beginning to care.
The movement needs strong leadership to really make an impact. Although the marches may not change policy overnight, the bear has been awakened and a new era of activists is being born.
Stephanie Duarte, a senior communications major, is arts editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.