For a year, Elvira Arellano, a Mexican immigration activist and illegal immigrant, has been given sanctuary in a church, protesting her impending deportation and illuminating the political situation faced by many illegal immigrants in the US.
“From the time I took sanctuary the possibility has existed that they arrest me in the place and time they want,” she said in Spanish. “I only have two choices. I either go to my country, Mexico, or stay and keep fighting. I decided to stay and fight.”
On Sunday, August 19th, 2007, Arellano left the church and was promptly arrested and deported. Many consider her arrest and deportation unjust, calling her the new Rosa Parks.
Cindy Mosqueda at loteria chicana had this to say:
–“I’ll admit, many comparisons to Rosa Parks are flat out offensive and even comical… However, Arellano was doing something similar. She was openly defying this nation’s laws that she considered unjust and unfair. Her defiance of these laws was dangerous. Crossing the border is not easy and we know that being held in one of the ICE detention centers can be hazardous – even deadly – to your health. She’s part of a large movement considered by many as this nation’s newest Civil Rights Movement and is president of the organization La Familia Latina Unida and her right to take sanctuary in a church was supported by prominent national civil rights organizations like National Council of La Raza and League of United Latin American Citizens. Oh yeah, and she’s a Christian.”
For those of you who don’t know, Rosa Parks was the Black woman who refused to give up her seat to a white person on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955. Historians have determined Parks’ act of political defiance, an act for which she was arrested and fined, the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
To call Elvira Arellano the new Rosa Parks is not only offensive, it is completely ignorant of the history of Black Americans and the political struggles faced by our people from slavery to Jim Crow and beyond. Elvira Arellano’s political journey, and the political history of her people in this country, can in no way be compared to that of Rosa Parks and African-Americans.
While I do believe that struggle is relative, and I’m sure Elvira and her family is suffering, her act of defiance is simply not comparable. Her act was not the defining moment of a political movement; in fact, the illegal immigration movement has lost steam in the past years.
Elvira Arellano is not a citizen of the US and does not have the right to demand that laws pertaining to immigration be dissolved because she deems them unjust. On the other hand, Rosa Parks was a citizen of the US and the Jim Crow segregation laws were in direct violation to our Constitution.
When it comes to immigration in the US, I tend to be down the middle politically. I recognize the important contributions immigrants have made to this country, and value diversity in all its forms. However, I believe that the immigration conversations held in this country completely leave out blackness; from the plight of Black immigrants, the toll illegal immigration takes on the employment of the native born Black population, the anti-Black sentiments expressed and acted upon by non-Black immigrants, and the preferential hiring practices of employers choosing unskilled, low wage illegal immigrants over Black people. Even the word immigrant conjures up images of brown Mexican and Central American people, making the plight of Black immigrants invisible.
This talk about the comparisons between Elvira Arellano and Rosa Parks reminds me of this job I had many years ago at the Columbus Metropolitan Museum of Art. My supervisor at the time was asking me what my goals in life were. I told her I wanted to be the next Toni Morrison. She looked me in my eyes and said, “Why don’t you be the first Kym Platt instead.”
Why do people feel the need to draw comparisons between Arellano and Parks? It’s culturally insensitive, historically inaccurate, and completely unnecessary. Latinos living in the US need to create their own political leaders and icons, instead of piggybacking and appropriating the political achievements of African-Americans. It’s one thing to be inspired by and learn from the Civil Rights Movement, but to hijack it and gentrify it will only weaken the legitimacy of immigration movement, but it also makes it all the more difficult to build African-American and Latino political alliances.