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Aug 3, 2011
On the one hand, I understand that there will always be racism in America. Immigrant women are scapegoated precisely because they are often women of color — poor, young – and often living at the margins in society.
So yes, racism is a problem — but it isn’t the entire problem.
The real problem, however, is that the rest of the progressive community allows immigrant women to remain an easy target of this ongoing, cultural bullying. Immigrant women remain vulnerable not only because of social, economic, and institutional barriers — but because the effects of racism are not met with a unified response from the larger progressive community. They are scapegoated simply because we as a movement don’t call out racism every time we encounter it in all its forms. We don’t understand that attacks on immigrant women are, in fact, attacks on us all.
The people who go after immigrant women for political gain are the same people who want to deny all women access to reproductive health care, including abortion. They are the same people who demonize the LGBT community and want to deny them basic human rights. They are the same people who attack the entire Muslim community for the work of an extreme minority. They are the same people who want to deny services to the poor. They are the same people that want to cut access to Pell grants, Head Start and other education programs. They are the same people who want to make it hard for people (especially the poor and the young) to vote by ending same day registration and/or reinstating voter ID barriers.
We cannot expect immigrant rights and Latinos organizations to be the only national groups defending immigrant women and fighting back. With every attack that goes unanswered, the larger progressive movement loses. We can’t forget that immigrant women are also part of the LGBT community, members of religious minorities, poor, young and yes, women who want to access reproductive health care services including abortion.
Luckily, the future holds some hope. Through efforts by those like the DREAMers, a new generation of young people that really understand how issues intersect is growing. At Advocates for Youth, a national youth sexual health and rights organization, we were pushed by our own young people to rally for the passage of the DREAM Act. They have been fighting alongside us for sex ed, gay rights, and contraceptive access on the state and national level and, oh yeah, some happened to be undocumented. While it felt like a big deal amongst other national groups to step in immigration fights not directly through a sexual health angle, our youth activists (both citizens and undocumented) showed us that we were doing the right and just thing. How could we not have their backs when they’ve had (and will continue to have) ours for years?
Until the larger progressive movement really owns up to our own internalized racism and stands up to the continuing racist, homophobic and classist attacks that we all face in America, we will to continue to lose and wonder why. Until we really unite on behalf of immigrant women and youth, those who would exploit our differences to divide us will continue to have the upper hand.
For more info on the Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice, click here.