The Latino United States + The Courage of Immigrants
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Juan González, in his classic book, Harvest of Empire, writes, “We are all Americans of the New World, and our most dangerous enemies are not each other, but the great wall of ignorance between us.” Sadly, instead of walls coming down, walls are literally going up. The border is militarized. The tens of millions of Latinos in the U.S. represent an enormous diversity from Dominicans to Bolivians and Salvadorans to Chileans. A fundamental social, political and cultural transformation is occurring way beyond barrios and bodegas, JLo and Marc Anthony, La Bamba and La Cucaracha, and nachos and tacos. Latinos are challenging conventional notions about race and ethnicity, labor and capital, education and language, justice and fairness, and our history as a nation of immigrants. How are Latinos changing the U.S. and how is the U.S. changing Latinos?
Emma Lazarus in her poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty wrote: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Bedros, my father might have seen those words in 1914 when he landed at Ellis Island and Araxie, my mother too, seven years later when she arrived. My parents were highly motivated to leave Armenia, their ancestral homeland in Eastern Turkey. Genocide does a lot to focus the mind on survival. For them, and millions of others, America was a safe haven. Today, violence. economic terror and hunger drive many to come to these shores. Immigration reform is talked about but little happens. NAFTA and rapacious capitalist policies have pauperized many people in Mexico and Central America. The trek north is dangerous. Women and children are particularly vulnerable. The journey requires tenacity and courage.
Ray Suarez was host of NPR’s Talk of the Nation. He was chief national correspondent for PBS’ NewsHour for many years. He is the host of Inside Story on Al-Jazeera America. He is the author of Latino Americans.
Sonia Nazario, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Polk Award, has reported for The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times. Her book Enrique’s Journey was a bestseller.