On each side of the political spectrum, one need not look too long, before finding an American that proudly perpetuates the romantic view of the U.S. melting pot. There is no arguing that the social and economic infrastructure of the U.S. was built by an international coalition of immigrants, some arriving to find better economic and social opportunity, some as refugees, and some against their will. The history of the United States is also a history of international human migration. At the same time, the history of the United States also demonstrates how nationalistic values at times clash with the acceptance of immigrants. This history also demonstrates the difficulty the country has had in dealing with racial diversity. For example, the very formation of the country began with a racial battle for territory between newly arrived Europeans and Native-Americans. And this conflict was only possible by the two groups seeing each other as a separate entities and in fact, enemies. Today, biological anthropologists, geneticists, and others that study human DNA, are in universal agreement that at the biological level, all humans are virtual copies of each other regardless of our cultural and social practices and our outward appearances.
I think today’s political climate is reminiscent of Americans’ difficulty in dealing with diversity. If it is not the Native Americans, if it is not the Irish, if it is not African slaves; today it is the Muslim community and undocumented Mexican immigrants. With this discussion in mind, I believe that Tulare County in California is exception to the broader the United States, in the sense that in this county, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, co-exist, for the most part, peacefully with the rest of the population. There are close to 460,000 people living in Tulare County, the biggest city being Visalia which has close to 128,000 residents. Close to 63 percent of Tulare County is considered Latino or Hispanic, and 22.5 percent of the entire Tulare County population are first-generation immigrants, and most of those are from Mexico. Today there are 49,000 undocumented immigrants in Tulare County and most of these immigrants are employed. In fact, those of us that live in Tulare County see them working on almost everyday of the calendar in agricultural fields picking oranges, grapes, olives, and other crops adjacent to the highways.
What I do find strange about Tulare County is the unwillingness of public officials institutions, cities, and representatives to announce their support for undocumented immigrants. Although Tulare County happily exploits the labor of ten of thousands of immigrants, many of them being the backbone of the agricultural industry that fuels the county’s economy, there is a reluctance to publicly or even symbolically take a stand of support with undocumented immigrants. Last week, a group I am involved with in Tulare County known as “PUSH – Progressives United for Social Justice and Human Rights” spearheaded a call to the Tulare city council to take a stance of solidarity with undocumented immigrants and declare itself a sanctuary city. In this mostly Latino city, all but one of the city council members, Jose Sigala, mentioned they are willing to declare the city as a sanctuary. I find this reluctance even in my own hometown of Lindsay, CA despite having a population where over 90 percent of the population is Mexican or Mexican-American, and 33 percent are Mexican immigrants. In fact, a few days ago, I saw one Lindsay’s council members in public and asked why the city is not a sanctuary city when it clearly should be because of our massive social support of undocumented immigrants and the fact that the vitality of our economy is dependent on them. Her response was that with her being the only exception, the city council is afraid of losing federal funding by declaring itself a sanctuary city.
Growing up in Lindsay and in Tulare County, and being the son of formerly undocumented immigrants, I never felt a sense of being afraid of immigration enforcement, although I have had family that has been deported, and in fact, while I was child my mom faced a deportation hearing. Perhaps there is a passive sense in my community that living as undocumented and facing deportation is part of the American dream. Even though there are ten of thousands of Mexican-American citizens in Tulare County who intimately known the struggle of undocumented immigrants and have had personal experience with this dynamic, there is no significant push for structural and systemic protection of this demographic. I am friends with Louie Campos, an activist and the last person that ran against the county’s current and Trump supporting congressman Devin Nunes. Louie has explained better than anyone the problem that is going on in our county; atino community in Tulare County does not know its own power. It does not realize that it does not have to settle for structural and systemic forces that discriminate against the undocumented community. In fact, so powerful is the Latino community in Tulare County that they have the voting power and physical numbers to overrun every decision-making position, cabinet, city council, and board of education. In fact, if every member of the Latino community and every immigrant-friendly ally realized how powerful they are, Tulare County itself would be a sanctuary.
In this county, every person, whether Mexican, Latino, White, Muslim, and Black physically sees undocumented immigrants hard at work everyday. We know, whether conservative or liberal, that the rhetoric about undocumented immigrants by our current administration is reckless, false, and unwarranted. In fact, some of the most conservative and influential farmers will actually tell their undocumented workers not to show up to work if they know ICE will be questioning people in their property.