I’ve been reflecting on the ways in which the United States has responded to the traditional migration patterns of indigenous families and individuals of the Americas. The obvious to state is that I am extremely frustrated by the audacity of the US to force the descendants of these lands to recognize the USA government’s imagined “border” that exists between the US and Mexico. Beyond my frustration, however, I wonder- how is civil society responding to a State government, like Arizona, taking this international, human rights matter into their own hands? How is civil society responding to the failure of the Federal government to create a treaty that honors the daughters and sons of the Americas? How is civil society responding to the abandonment by the United Nations of the most vulnerable people in this hemisphere?
In March 2010, hundreds of thousands of Latinos, a large contingent of civil society, descended upon the mall on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to send a message to the President and Congress that the children of the Americas are here and we demand recognition. Absent from the immigration rights rally were African Americans, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered communities and the environmental movements. Before I continue, I must recognize the very few, daring, powerful Queer groups that were present in solidarity, like GLOBE and PRYDE of Make the Road New York. Groups like these, however, struggle within their own communities for their intersectional politics to be recognized.
Why weren’t there more African Americans at the immigration rally, supporting the familiar fight against discrimination and oppression by the laws of the US government?
I recently had a conversation with my friend Tamara, a self-identified African-American lesbian woman from Baltimore. I was explaining to her how I don’t claim Chicago as the place I am from, even though that is the city where I was born and spent many of my years growing up. I explained that all throughout my life, I traveled with my family to Mexico to visit my large, deeply rooted, extended family. I explained how papa would send a lot of money back so that his parents could invest in equipment to farm more efficiently and have electricity in remote areas. His investments back home are common among Latinos living in the US. The money acquired here goes back to help create infrastructure and stimulate the economy.
In response to me, Tamara said, “I can only go as far back as Baltimore. I know my people were African. I know I got some Native blood in me. Some European blood in me. But I can’t trace it back. I can only trace it to Baltimore.”
I have heard a similar story from many African Americans. For me, this explains why many policitized African Americans take an integrative approach to change and become a-part-of and step into leadership within the systems in the US that already exist. To me, this also explains some of the roots and philosophies of Hip-Hop – a language that’s about plural meanings and a culture about claiming one’s liberation, always reinventing itself to escape the captive hold of the oppressor.
Why weren’t the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered communities at the immigration rally, supporting a struggle and action similar to their own, on the same mall where they held their own march and rally only five months earlier to combat the discrimination against and oppression of LGBT people by the laws of the US government?
When I think about my own sexuality, I think about how it’s linked to my identity as a person of color from a low-income family living in the US. I think about my years as a teen and the rejection I experienced coming out to my family and society and the lack of resources or support available to me. It took me years to self-organize and discover the distant systems that existed. It took me even longer to figure out how to navigate those unfriendly, exclusive systems. When I think about other LGBT people of color organizing for the rights of LGBT people of color, I think of groups like the Audre Lorde Project, FIERCE! and Queers for Economic Justice. These groups confront head on the dilemma of uncovering the resources in this country and figuring out how to navigate existing systems in a way that honors the integrity of the complex, diverse identities of their members. These groups are laboratories for a multidimensional social movement. These groups, however, do not represent the dominant method of LGBT organizing in the US. That title is held by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Alliance.
I was a participant in the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Alliance’s annual Creating Change Conference in February, 2010. Creating Change is a conference that convenes activists and advocates for LGBT rights from around the US to share community organizing methods and build alliances. I attend this conference to gauge the work being done to advance the rights of LGBT people living in the US and to observe where and how resources are being used.
The priorities most visible to me at the conference were around marriage equality, employment discrimination, and hate-crime prevention. These are the issues put on the table by the majority white conference attendees. Now, don’t get me wrong. The issues are extremely important and affect many people, myself included. However, the value of these issues does not justify the exclusiveness that currently defines the LGBT movement in the US, an exclusiveness and a fund of legislative energy for the Federal government that has pushed us, the children of the Americas, to the side and has limited our struggle for dignified treatment and our rights to the land of our ancestors by the US government.
Why weren’t there environmental movements of the US at the immigration rally, supporting the familiar fight against exploitation and oppression by the laws of the US government?
In an economy that is entirely dependent on the mass consumption of Mother Earth and her resources for the production of wealth, entirely dependent on inhuman labor practices and the excretion of toxic waste, the people working for sustainability and environmental preservation is a struggle outside the realm of identity and within the realm of the natural and built environments. For the domestic Environmental Justice movement, social issues like race and class are central issues for thinking about environmental justice as it pertains to the people in the US affected most by Mother Earth’s degradation.
Across environmental movements there is a dominant emphasis on location-specific issues and dependence on federal and philanthropic funding to shift unhealthy environmental conditions and practices, often excluding from the dialogue how indigenous communities throughout the world are suffering from the affects of climate change and the exploitation of Mother Earth by capitalist and imperialist countries, primarily the US. The exception to this limited perspective is the work around environmental justice by mighty groups of indigenous brothers and sisters in the US, like the Indigenous Environmental Network, that has always held imperialism and capitalism as the culprit for the environmental plagues suffered by indigenous people around the globe.
In a place beyond the hyper-policed “borders” of the US, south of the fictional line, is a homeland with an indigenous popular leader and a communal people of warrior-survivors. In April of 2010, this indigenous leader and the people of this homeland, Bolivia, along with multiple leaders in Latina America, convened 35,000 people from around the world to produce a People’s Agreement and Declaration on the Right’s of Pachamama (Mother Earth). One of the central tenets to this agreement is the rights of indigenous communities suffering displacement and forced migration due to the environmental exploitation of capitalist and imperialist governments, again primarily the US. As the lands in the global south continue to become unlivable and unfertile, the inhabitants of the lands will continue to be forced to migrate in order to survive. Our people have and will always depend on the land for our survival and will move about this hemisphere as we have for hundreds of years to find that fertile land, in spite of any colonial and imperial restrictions the colonizer attempts to impose upon us.
It makes total sense why the US and local state governments are ringing the alarms and panicking. Pachamama and her children have awakened. And we are demanding our land be returned to us. It is in the interest of all our brothers and sisters, African American, LBGT or heterosexual, global south or east to imagine a borderless United States. What might your freedom feel like in a land where these discriminatory and oppressive governments had no authority over your existence? What might your existence feel like in a land where you could move freely between this land and Africa, to experience the land of your ancestors without stigma of being labeled unpatriotic? What might your existence feel like in a land where you were free to love whomever your heart desires or love yourself and your gender identity fearlessly? What might your life be like in a land where your body was healthy and in harmony with Mother Earth? The call for immigration reform and the recognition of the rights of the sons and daughters of the Americas is a call across civil societies to unite to disempower the discriminatory and oppressive state and federal governments in the US and to return the land to the people.