Letters to the EditorOpinion

Letter: Cinco de Mayo should be a time for reflection on Latin immigration history in America

This Saturday, Cinco de Mayo will be enthusiastically celebrated in large and small cities across Oregon. Though many think it is a holiday recognizing Mexico’s independence, the true celebration will be that of the unlikely victory of the Mexican army against the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Latinos comprise 11.7 percent of Oregon’s population and are our largest ethnic minority. Though under-represented, the Latino/a presence in Oregon has a long history. @@http://2010.census.gov/2010census/popmap/[email protected]@

Prior to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) when the U.S. border moved further south, frontier cattle and sheep ranchers in the territory now known as Oregon relied on sheepherders and vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) who came from California and other parts of Mexico for work. In the mid-20th century, the Bracero Program — the temporary worker program launched during World War II — brought tens of thousands of Mexican workers to Oregon to save the harvests and keep our war-time economies functioning. Today farm workers — overwhelmingly of Mexican and broader Latin American origin — are fundamental to our state’s $3.8 billion agricultural sector. Latino/a farm workers are increasingly year-round residents, rather than mostly seasonal migrants as was typical thirty years ago, who support our diversified and labor-intensive forestry and agricultural sectors.

Yet, it has been a range of non-agricultural economic sectors that are equally responsible for producing the demographic shift and immigration patterns reflected in the 2010 census. Over the last two decades, a wider range of Oregon businesses have recruited immigrant workers, most of whom are of Latin American and particularly of Mexican origin.@@and what of the implications for citizens who need [email protected]@ The construction boom in Bend, Portland, Ashland and other cities from the late 1990s until the housing crisis relied heavily on Latino/a workers. Similar recruiting and economic integration dynamics have shaped a range of service sector and manufacturing businesses throughout the state. As a result, Latina/o immigrants and their families (many with U.S.-born children)@@[email protected]@ have become fundamental to the social and economic fabric of Oregon, from large cities to small rural communities.@@this is [email protected]@

While recent studies show that Mexican immigration to the U.S. has slowed considerably, the fundamental economic dynamics that produced these demographic shifts over the past two decades in Oregon have not disappeared. Our state’s population will continue to become more diverse, fueled by on-going labor market dynamics and the presence of a range of immigrant and non-immigrant ‘ethnic’ groups who call Oregon home and are raising families here.@@while being exploited by businesses that hire them — themselves saving money by not paying them wages citizens are entitled [email protected]@

While the Latino/a immigrant presence in Oregon is driven primarily by economic changes close to home and has lowered the cost of food, construction, property maintenance and child care to the benefit of all Oregonians,@@really? it certainly has driven down the wages citizens normally [email protected]@ Latino/a immigrant (and non-immigrant) residents have been confronted by profound social and political exclusions.@@awww…. what do you [email protected]@ In other words, we welcome and even depend on Latina/o labor across the board,@@who is ‘we’? certainly not [email protected]@ but as a society we often act as if Latina/o bodies, souls and families cannot “belong.” Laws, policies and media narratives employ the language of “illegality” to justify denying driver’s licenses to people working, raising children and paying taxes in our economy; to justify refusing in-state tuition for students who have spent most of their lives in Oregon and excelled in our school systems; and to justify separating families that have become invested and productive members of our communities.@@therefore make it harder for them to be here or make it easier for them to get [email protected]@

Instead of mindlessly demonizing Latinos or perpetuating short-sighted and ignorant stereotypes of Latino/a cultures on this Cinco de Mayo, the University community should ask itself a series of questions: What should be the tenor of our conversations on the subjects of immigration, human rights and democracy in the 21st century? What is the role of higher education in these issues? What kind of community do we want to create at the University?

We call for the University to continue its efforts to expand opportunity for all Oregonians, including immigrants and children of immigrants, regardless of documentation.@@uh [email protected]@ As an engine for economic growth and social mobility, the University must resist efforts to exclude a vibrant and important sector of our population from higher education.@@give more privileges to non-citizens than citizens? what of those who follow the rules trying to come here legally to [email protected]@ To play into narratives of exclusion made apparently “natural” through a vocabulary of “illegality” risks contributing to processes that entrench a racialized underclass in our state.@@[email protected]@ This is an unacceptable travesty of our inclusive educational mission and of Oregon’s democracy.@@oh, [email protected]@

Just as importantly, we must confront — in our everyday conversations and in the public presence of University students and staff in a range of arenas outside the University — the deeply unethical and misguided notion that crossing the border without papers is justification for social exclusion and persecution.@@i’d like to see how far you’d get if you did the same to a country you wanted to go [email protected]@

On this Cinco de Mayo, while folks enjoy eating tacos, guacamole, wearing gear with chiles printed on it — and perhaps even drinking a margarita —@@you don’t know 5th may, do [email protected]@ we should more importantly question politics that assume we can use and exploit people’s labor and culture while denying them fundamental civil, political, social and indeed, basic human rights.@@lol…[email protected]@

Jill Torres @@http://www.uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Jill*[email protected]@
University Graduate Teaching Fellow

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