hidden minority

I participated in a campaign for the Princeton Hidden Minority Council aimed at raising awareness for what it means to be a first-generation or underprivileged minority going to Princeton. I think it’s important to be exposed to our perspective and the typically unspoken problems we face here in this privilege bubble. Here is my submission:

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You should check out the website http://www.princeton.edu/~phmc/

You should also check out the album and the other submissions (link). I think they raise important points regarding family, identity, achievement, struggle.

J

undocumented and capitalistic?

I have to return to this topic because it keeps coming up: how should/would/could oppressed individuals in the U.S., who need to partake in the economy and system to get ahead, navigate this identity? How should/would/could we participate in the oppressive system we belong in without propagating it? Are we “capitalistic” if we choose to do so?

When you’re an undocumented individual in the U.S., you are given a fabulous selection of three possible life trajectories: stay under the radar, work the system and see how far you can get, or get deported back to a country you either ran away from or never truly lived in (note: the second one comes with a high risk of the third). Given the large risk that comes with public visibility, our experiences tend to be hidden from public discourse. As such, we haven’t had an honest conversation for what it means for an undocumented individual and engage the public on social issues in the U.S.

Here, I raise a couple of starting points that I think are worthy of discussion:

  1. Survival strategies should not be confused with supporting oppressive systems
  2. It takes privilege to be able to fight for social justice in the U.S.


Survival strategies should not be confused with supporting oppressive systems

Given the glamorous opportunities of silence or deportation we have available to us, it is not surprising most of us stay in the shadows. I know an extended network of people back home that are undocumented, but have adapted to living under the table. It’s a life, but an invisible life, whose beauty and struggle gets lost in the mix that is U.S. political discourse. While Black Lives Matter have the opportunity to forcefully fight for their rights because many of them are citizens, our situation calls for more subversive engagement given the risk of deportation and losing the life we have here. With the recent momentum of DACA and the Dream Act, more and more of us have found the courage to proudly and loudly proclaim our spot in society. And now we even get to witness beautiful moments where Spanish-only speakers are able to publicly engage with presidential candidates about our plight. However, change occurs slowly and many of us still have much to lose. Especially given the fragile status of current DACA recipients, since the program can be yanked at any minute leaving us free-falling from all we have accomplished in the past 4 years since DACA began. As such, some of us who aspire to change the system decide to play the game and work the system (see my first post for this discussion). I call this survival. We survive by blending in when needed. We survive by resiliently moving past the endless obstacles the U.S. immigration laws set before us. We survive by subversive assimilation. This is a strategy brought born out of limited freedom and limited power. Yes, we engage in the capitalistic environment in which we live in, but only because we need a better future for ourselves and our families. We believe that the more of us who reach places of power, the better we can build an inclusive future. Some won’t agree with this strategy and consider us capitalist/part of the problem because we are still participating in an oppressive system, but that brings me to my second point:

It takes privilege to be able to fight for social justice in the U.S.
Nothing angers me more than people with legal status in the U.S. thinking they have input on how we run our lives, on whether we should participate in a capitalist system, on how we support our own people. Do they have to worry about their family or themselves being arrested and deported if they engage in visible protests? No. Have they felt the struggles of growing up undocumented and navigating a space where following their ambitions could lead to drastic life costs? No. It takes privilege. They have the ability to engage in far wider forms of social justice (loud, forceful/aggressive, international) because they don’t have the daily worry that they will be ejected from their current, and often only, home. It’s ironic. It’s intersectionality. Oppressed citizens have more privilege to lawfully fight for justice than undocumented people. I’m not saying it can’t be done. There are very brave individuals fighting for the Dream Act and undocumented rights and putting their lives directly on the line. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that working the system can be just as subversive. Working the system is the dangerously underprivileged individual’s safe route to joining the fight. This daily struggle to become safely visible does narrow our focus towards ourselves and our families and our communities within the borders of the U.S. Like I said before: attention and money are limited resources, which forces one to prioritize (especially the underprivileged with less money and more basic needs to attend to). Those who have resources (such as citizenship privilege or wealth) have a better foundation for rejecting current social structures and and breaking the status quo because they are less dependent on the system. Moreover, the U.S. system affords them the legal freedom to do so (the Bill of Rights)… some protections which technically include undocumented individuals, however deportation trumps all. Our lack of status leaves us dehumanized and disenfranchised, socially and politically, and easily relocated like garbage. Despite our active participation in the interconnected economy of the U.S., we remain slaves to the political whim of those who hold the golden ticket of citizenship.

Returning to the first point, to shame an undocumented individual for neglecting the broader effects of “capitalistic or imperialistic” thinking and living is to shame them for not having enough resources, for depending on the system, AND neglects to put the onus on those with actual power and investment in social stratification. It’s like pointing fingers at the bottom of the hierarchy and ignoring the weight of the full structure.  Ultimately, however, we don’t have to follow specific rules or ideologies to be a progressive, caring, productive minority.

Social discourse has failed to include undocumented voices and this lack of visibility has emboldened people to feel that they can take a superficial glance at our thoughts and behaviors and judge. That’s how stereotyping works: your categorization of individuals is a function of familiarity. However, I hope through these posts that the pressures and goals and costs and decisions that we (I) face as undocumented individuals will start to clarify our unique issues as excluded minorities in this country.

Note: I’m slowly building my thoughts about my identity here in the U.S. and welcome disagreement or other points of views. I readily accept that my experience is not prototypical, but I do speak out forcefully (and less nuanced) to provide a strong message of representation for undocumented individuals.

the double-edged sword of minority success

I find solidarity in Beyonce’s message in Formation. Not just the pride in our Texan roots \m/, but her call to “stay gracious” since “best revenge is your paper”. There has been a lot of backlash, most interesting was the wariness from people who feel Beyonce only represents capitalism. Inherent in these opinions is a stigmatization of minority success and lifestyle that demands certain requirements for it to be palatable. In other words, people have normative ideas about how a minority should behave when they reach high status positions, otherwise they’re evaluated negatively. There is a sense that they must always be supporting their community 100% of the time and not be focused on their own success. However, I argue, this overlooks and minimizes the work and strategic decision making it took to reach that success and influence.

I’ll shift focus from Beyoncé to minorities who are in positions of being on the come up from unprivileged origins as I have encountered criticism of normal everyday minorities who reached success but haven’t graciously given back to the community from which they came. Typically the name given to these individuals is “sell outs”, which suggests that they are considered out-group members instead of representing an advancement of their group.

I will reason through this with my own experience since this strikes home: I come from very poor background, lots of stuff happened in between, and now I find myself with an impossible opportunity that only occurs in feel-good movies, as a student at an Ivy League institution. I’ll be honest, my CV won’t be filled with many (if any) lines showing that I have returned the opportunity to others from my Mexican Houston community (a point I will return to).  The beginning of my timeline is fundamental as I had a longer route to pass to reach my current position (relative to others), however just as important was the stuff in between. I was a motivated undocumented Mexican boy with assimilationist dreams, I wanted to drive and have a job and everything that was only available to my American peers. My journey was a passioned fight filled with countless decisions and actions that required me to think about myself and focus on my advancement. Individuals who lack the struggle many minorities face don’t have a clue about the day to day experience of forging your path. Even now, while at Princeton, my undocumented status threatens to destroy everything I have built every two years when my DACA work permit needs renewal (a looming fear in case the next president is republican).

Given that attention and money are both limited resources, there is surely a resource competition between becoming successful and giving back to the community. I chose to advance myself first. Doesn’t mean my community isn’t on my mind, however. It’s about setting myself up so that I’m in a better position to provide help in a larger scope. Much like Beyoncé did. She has set herself up on one of the highest positions in this culture to be able to drop Formation like a bomb on an international scale and continue to be successful and provide aid to her community. The critique that I, or other minorities, are not giving back (whether now or in the future) only serves to shame our sweat-filled path. As one of my favorite commentators on race issues, Kat Blaque, said:

“We can always talk about people who do that. People who don’t speak [out about issues]. To me it’s survival. I think for the longest time I had this idea that I would play the game and then break it up from the inside. But where I am now, I have established myself as someone with certain positions and ideologies. People can take it or leave it.” [Link]

Am I a “sell out” if I play the game while I pull myself out of my oppressed situation? No one would know what my intentions were once I reached a successful platform unless they asked. Same with others, we don’t know what they have planned and, nonetheless, representation in successful positions matters. Most importantly, everyone with similar experiences will choose a different strategy for advancing themselves and their community. Some will play the game, others seek to destroy it. None of these strategies are wrong, they are survival. When it comes to my priorities and values, there is too much to gain (for myself and others) and too much to lose to not engage (and staying conscious while doing so). I, and hopefully others in my position, will continue to “stay gracious” because I also believe the best revenge against a society/judicial system that actively works against your life and success is your success (however you choose to define it).