Mendoza: ‘It doesn’t matter your race or color’

Cassie LaJeunesse, Campus Carrier Copy Editor

Speaker Roberto Mendoza creates an imaginary map and invites Spanish 290 students to stand where their families  are from. Many students described their heritage as “una mezcla,” meaning “a mix.”

Last Thursday, a group of Berry students, faculty members and ESL students joined speaker Roberto Mendoza on the Evans auditorium stage as he turned the auditorium into a map. The stage represented anything south of Georgia, while the back of the auditorium was Canada. Everyone was told to find and stand where they were from, then where their parents were from, and finally where their grandparents were from. The group quickly divided and people were eventually standing in every corner of the auditorium.

The activity was repeated in a Spanish 290 class on Friday. When asked what one word they would use to describe their thoughts after the activity, the Spanish word mezcla, meaning “mix,” was the predominant answer.

Soy una mezcla (I am a mix),” freshman Olivia Leviton said.

Roberto Mendoza is an activist who works with Dignidad Inmigrante in Athens, Ga. The map activity served as part of his presentation, entitled Social Activism in the Hispanic Immigrant Community. The activity was intended to show the diversity of the group, and related to a story that Mendoza shared. He said that a few weeks prior, he was asked where he was from. He responded that he lives in Athens, to which the questioner asked, “But where are you really from?”

Mendoza said that this is a question comes up almost daily for people who have an accent or skin of a different color, but that this is not the case for people with white skin.

Mendoza gave his presentation primarily in Spanish. He began by asking everyone in the audience, especially those who were members of the ESL program, to repeat the phrase “I have rights.” After everyone chanted this phrase, Mendoza explained that one of the goals of Dignidad Inmigrante is to make immigrants aware of the fact that they do have rights in this country.

La constitución de los Estados Unidos protege a la gente que vive adentro del país (The Constitution of the United States protects the people that live within the country),” Mendoza said. “Sin importa su raza, su color, su país de origen y su estatus en migratorio (It doesn’t matter your race, your color, your country of origin or your immigrant status).”

Dignidad Inmigrante and other groups that are part of the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition are working to build relationships and communication about immigration within the community, especially with police and elected officials.

Mendoza said that is important for the police to have confidence in the community, and for the community to have confidence in the authorities. He explained that it is important that all citizens are protected, but that it is also important that those who are not citizens still have the confidence to report crimes to the authorities if something happens.

Mendoza said that the dehumanization of undocumented immigrants is a serious problem in the United States. He explained that certain immigration laws, as well as common words such as “illegal” and “alien” are contributors to this dehumanization. He pointed out that when citizens of the United States commit unlawful acts, the acts are characterized as illegal, not the person. However, we use the word “illegal” to describe anyone who  crossed the border without documents, characterizing that person, rather than their actions, as illegal.

Dignidad Inmigrante is working to combat  this dehumanization through facts, stories and cultural events.

During the presentation on March 2, Mendoza showed pictures from one of Dignidad Inmigrante’s demonstrations. These pictures featured people holding signs with slogans such as “Brown is not a crime,” “Georgia doesn’t grow without immigrants,” and “Alto a la separación de las familias (Stop the separation of families).”

Ximena Gonzalez-Parada, visiting assistant professor of Spanish, helped organize Mendoza’s visit to Berry. She believes it is important for perspectives regarding immigrants to change, and that making connections with shared human experiences is the way to change those perspectives.

“We need to see these people as humans,” Gonzalez-Parada said. “They have rights, not only as an ethnicity or a nationality, because that’s not what we are. We’re such complex individuals.”

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