DREAMer Responds to "Petulant Children" Criticism of DREAM Movement

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Undocumented and Unafraid

Guest poster Mark, a DREAM Act-eligible activist ("DREAMer"), responds below to progressive activist Sally Kohn's recent criticism of a Truthout article written last month by four California-based DREAMers.

When identifying myself as an undocumented student (self-labeled as a DREAMer/ once-in-a-while DREAM Activist), I've never let any derogatory terms thrown at me get under my skin. As DREAMers, we've pretty much heard it all from all sides. According to the extreme xenophobic right, undocumented students who've worked hard to fund their own higher education, without so much the help of any federal aid, are still nothing but freeloading illegal alien [undocumented] scum of the earth. Meanwhile, here I am still struggling to pay off my AmEx from charging my college tuition. (Btw, shout out to AmEx CEO for supporting the DREAM Act)

Then of course, we also have our frenemies, those who claim to have our best interests in mind and have consistently told us to trust them. All the while they whisper behind our backs and call us selfish students, elitist at the core, with our falsely perceived "DREAM Act first / CIR-be-damned" attitude. In addition to that, there was the recent remark made by Sally Kohn in a fresh article labeling DREAMers as "petulant children." Being called a "petulant child" is the last thing that I'll allow to get under my beautiful brown and proud skin.

Of course the irony of it all is where we learned the strategy to display our so-called "petulant" attitudes [...more on that later].

What I'm actually upset about is the defeatist attitude that Sally personally admitted within her own article. Forget the name-calling; I can easily brush that off the same as some uneducated xenophobic minuteman calling me a foreign invader. [Hmm...okay, after re-reading that last remark, I'll make an admission of my own, maybe I personally am elitist at times, but only towards true enemies] But as I was saying, reading about how Sally had already waved her white flag before the battle even began this year, is what got my full attention:

Personally, I'll go on record believing that the entire immigrant rights movement (CIR supporters and DREAMers alike) should not have tried for legislative victory at all this year. The backlash from 2006 and 2007 was too strong and, though perhaps less severe than under the reign of the Minutemen, more widespread thanks to the visibility of the Tea Party and increased audience of Fox News.

Sally goes on to say:

Immigrant groups should have spent the past two years on a longer-term majoritarian strategy to change the mainstream climate, rather than a Hail Mary minority interest strategy to persuade Congress that Latino votes were dependent on reform.

Now granted, Sally is very much entitled to her own personal opinion, and from what I'm aware of, she was not officially representing any immigration reform organization with her comments. But at the same time, hearing that type of attitude from someone who claims to have the best interest for all immigrants is simply quite shocking and completely disheartening. With that being said, the second admission I'll make is that I'm nowhere close to being as active in comparison to the DREAM Activists who are currently sacrificing all of their OWN time, all of their OWN money, and even their OWN lives, all for the sake of our whole movement. As someone who has been working only part time on our movement, it leaves me unfamiliar with the detailed dynamics of the mainstream immigrant rights groups situated within the beltway. So, I'll refrain from giving my own critique. What I can say is that my comments about "frenemies" I mentioned previously are certainly not directed towards any particular organization, as I'm very happy to see immigrant rights group such as RIFA and America's Voice green light their support for the DREAM Act as a standalone/attachment measure. I am also very thankful that their attitude differs from Sally's "wait and see approach" when it comes to scoring a victory for the immigrant community.

As Sally had said...

"Still, everyone gave it their best shot. Everyone." Hmm...

Metaphorically speaking, if her best shot was supposed to be NOT taking a shot at all, in order to see what happens in overtime, then we've already lost the game, long before time ran out.

As for the immigrant rights movement, time is certainly not on our side. Nor is our movement some game to be played among those who aren't personally affected by the dire consequences of what is happening now. There are literal repercussions affecting all immigrants right now. With anti-immigrant state legislation such as Arizona's SB-1070, along with ongoing raids and deportations and the demonization of immigrants on the rise, there is little time to waste, let alone allowing two or three full years to go by in order to strategize solely on "coalition building." We as a whole immigrant group are in need of some sort of a victory now, no matter if it's through a CIR package or piecemeal approach.

Now I'm certainly not advocating a G.W. Bush-type "strategery" of a "leave-everyone-in-the-dust-just-to-see-how-it-settles-afterwards" arrangement. I believe one of the biggest misconceptions about DREAMers, some perpetuated by our own "supposed allies", is that we're brash and selfish when it comes to moving our own agenda of the DREAM Act. And that we only care about the DREAM Act. Period. That's hardly the case, when most undocumented students, including myself, have undocumented parents that would benefit from a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill. Meanwhile, all my parents truly wish for is the DREAM Act to pass ASAP, even if it doesn't directly benefit them like CIR would. Hmm...I guess irony can strike twice.

What we do advocate for is a pragmatic approach to scoring a victory for all undocumented immigrants. My parents have enough common sense to recognize, that if I could step out of the shadows and no longer live at risk of deportation, they could use me as a platform to voice their fight for CIR publicly without risking their own safety. I among many DREAMers, would be the first to say how determined I would be to fight for a CIR on behalf of my parents, if circumstances allowed me to do so without risking everything we've worked for as a family. Look at the courageous and borderline-dangerous strategies that some DREAM Activists have used, in order to gather attention to the immigrant movement. Now imagine that strategy being employed by each and every DREAMer, exponentially in comparison to what is being displayed now.

Selfish, definitely not. Sensible, absolutely.

So now moving onto our so called elitism and sense of entitlement we've been accused of. Well, right away, I'd have to argue that as DREAMers, we were raised by our undocumented parents and taught by example. They've shown us that through their persistence and hard work, the ability to succeed and the pursuit of happiness are very much within our own reach. We've been given an opportunity by our parents to follow their path by exhibiting courage and determination on all accounts. So for our so-called allies to label DREAMers as some out of touch group, and to accuse us that we believe we are a class above other undocumented immigrants is almost insulting. I say almost, because I still give the benefit of the doubt, that as DREAMers stuck between two worlds; of being raised culturally Americans and yet lacking the proper documents, that we're simply misunderstood. Idealistic as that may sound to some of my peer DREAMers, I really hope that is the case about our "allies."

As for that sense of entitlement, the only time I have pulled out my "educated" card is when I'm fending off comments from the occasional ignorant xenophobic enemies I've come across. I'll be damned if I'm going to let an uneducated foe devalue everything I've earned through my own hard work. I've never expected a handout from anyone and my only request is to be able to contribute back to this country. Hence, my earlier admission about the tendency to display a sense of elitism, yet only reserved for those who try to strip me of my dignity and humanity. But as for ALL of our undocumented immigrant peers working hard to provide for their own families, I believe I can speak for all DREAMers when I say that we hold the utmost respect for their resiliency, despite the circumstances we all share. After all, they too, are our friends and our own families. When I cheer for a piecemeal approach to score a victory for the immigrant rights movement, I cheer for Agjobs, UAFA, and DREAM Act with the same intensity. We are all in the same fight, and all on the same side. If CIR isn't ideal at the current climate, then why not have one of these components be used as a stepping stone to our ultimate goal. If we are going to use the 1960s Civil Rights movement to draw a parallel, then let's not forget that it took several pieces of legislation spanning some years to address all of the issues.

The last thing I will address concerns the brazen attitude that DREAM Activists have been portrayed to retain. Well actually...there's no denying that. As I mentioned earlier, there lies an irony. Brash and bold they may be, but that relates to the strategies they've deployed to gain attention for our movement. And where else could we have learned to employ such strategies, but through our own AMERICAN upbringing? Reading our history textbooks throughout our secondary education gave us this idea that injustice could be fought and won decisively, if we faced it unabashed and head on.

And today, we still believe that to be true. Just look at the DREAM 21, the DREAMers that organized a civil disobedience sit-in at the U.S. Capitol Building back in July. Eight of the twenty-one brave DREAMers were arraigned in court as a result of their powerful show of action. And with their heads held high and unashamed, they answered to the court directly by representing themselves. Now really...how's that for acting "petulant."

A quick look up on Dictionary.com shows the entry for petulant as the following: moved to or showing sudden, impatient irritation, esp. over some trifling annoyance. Well just a couple reminders to finish with: 1) Formulating the ideas for such actions on their own, carefully planning out the logistics of the task, and having the guts to carry on even with such self-sacrificing consequences in return...that can be described with plenty of different words, but I'd have to say neither "petulant" nor "childish" could be two of them. 2) The chance to live out our dreams as documented Americans is certainly not something trivial to us, which is why we will continue to fight as we've never known defeat.

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kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Fire Mark. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. That Sally has yet to respond, apologize, or backtrack for her widely criticized comments makes me question who she's accountable, too.

I don't know her enough to speak for all of her work, but I can say that with respect to migrant rights, her movement vision lab is not doing anything to build movement with her latest post. That she's unwilling to account for that show's pretty clearly, I think, that she's not a migrant's best friend. It also makes me question more broadly who she's accountable to except herself and the funders that she's closely tied to.

It's not really possible to build movement if you're only accountable to yourself and foundations.

Josh Hoyt Author Profile Page said:

I really like this post.

Mark, your post respects the work and intentions of others, while making a strong case for why we should push hard for DREAM or any other concrete victory that we can right now. There is no apology for youth, nor for being an "elite" student among the many undocumented who are not so privileged.

We come to the struggle for justice with whatever we have and we need to merge our strengths - be it college educated undocumented youth (Mark) or 55 year old white male who has been organizing 33 years (me). How else might we move forward?

But I think that the main point of Sally's post was not the provocative "petulant children", but the part above it about the hard work and sacrifice of the "mainstream organizations" in the movement. I completely agree that the "circular firing squad" is deeply destructive, and is more a sign of enraged mourning at our losses than useful strategy.

DREAMERs and "mainstream organizations" play different roles in this movement; we are saddled with pathetically weak allies in the Democrats; and we have real and dangerous enemies among the Right. Let us modulate our critiques and our venom appropriately, given the different levels of real blame for our losses.

Where I most agree with Mark is the idea that it would have been FOOLISH to not attempt to get a win in the past two years. With a President promising to support immigration reform and Democratic super-majorities in the House and Senate it would have been organizing mal-practice NOT to try for a win... especially with over 1,000 deportations a day. The process of pivoting from legislative lobbying to direct action, and from comprehensive reform to DREAM and push-back on enforcement was messy but not for lack of good intentions on most sides. And in the end the DC groups, the DREAMers, and the grass-roots immigrant rights groups were all working hard.

I am proud that many of those arrested in DC were from Chicago. I am also proud that three civil disobedience actions were organized in Chicago pushing back against deportations and for both the DREAM and comprehensive reform. I am proud that both Durbin and Gutierrez are in the legislative leadership on our struggles, and I am proud that we took over 9,000 people from Chicago to D.C. for the March for America.

We can attack each other, or we can celebrate what we were able to achieve, and figure out how to work together to keep pushing hard. We will win, eventually. That is certain. And we will need each other to get these wins. Peace

Pablo Author Profile Page said:

I think this conversation needs to be taken deeper than the insults and the quick dismissing of valid critiques.

Pablo Author Profile Page said:

I think this conversation needs to go deeper than insults:


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This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on October 16, 2010 6:11 PM.

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