BLSO panels discuss rights of undocumented immigrants and latinx identity
Brandeis Latinx Student Organization celebrated the end of Latinx Heritage Month last Saturday with “FuturX”: a three-event showcase of Latinx identity. “FuturX” culminated in “Incendio: Golden Touch” — BLSO’s fourth annual culture show according to the Facebook event description. The first two events were smaller, focusing on two important issues that the Latinx community faces: the legal status of undocumented immigrants and the controversy over the term Latinidad due to its narrow interpretation of Latinx identity.
In the first event, the “Know Your Rights Workshop,” BLSO explained the rights afforded to undocumented immigrants when they are approached by police in various settings. If the police knock on the door of an undocumented immigrant’s house, the best course of action is to keep the door closed and ask for a warrant. The BLSO members explained that opening the door counts as an invitation to come in, whether the police have a warrant or not. In addition, different warrants afford the police different powers. The members pulled up examples of an arrest warrant and a warrant of deportation, explaining that while the arrest warrant allows the police officer to enter a home, a warrant of deportation does not.
Next, BLSO covered the rights of undocumented immigrants when they are approached by police in a public area. According to BLSO, immigrant officers in the past had customarily refrained from approaching undocumented immigrants in religious centers. However, due to changing political trends under President Donald Trump’s administration, religious centers are now becoming equivalent to other public areas under the law. Other settings covered were the immigrant’s workplace and their car. BLSO stressed that in any situation, undocumented immigrants have the right to remain silent, because “even if you’re undocumented, you have the same rights as citizens with regards to police.”
After the presentation, there was a period for questions and comments. One student remarked that this presentation went against what she was taught growing up as an undocumented immigrant. Her family often told her that “if a police officer is near you, keep quiet and do everything they say.”
The second event was called “Deconstructing Latinidad.” To generate conversation about identity, the participants were told to fill out identity wheel papers. First, they specified eleven aspects of their identity including race, socioeconomic status, sex and national origin. Next, the participants answered questions specifying the importance they attach to each identity, each identity’s impact on how they perceive themselves and their impact on how they are perceived by others.
Many people identified race and ethnicity as the most significant aspects of their identity, but the other aspects of identity were not far behind. For example, many participants identified socioeconomic status as something they often thought about, especially in the winter when economic status can be seen in the quality of winter clothing. Age was identified as an aspect of identity that many students think about the least, due to living in an environment where the 18 to early 20s age range is standard. However, some students remarked that Brandeis students have different levels of maturity despite being around the same age. Multiple participants said that when growing up, they often had to perform important tasks, such as taking care of a five-year-old at age ten, or translating important documents. These are things that many children in America would not have experience doing.
Latinx Studies Lecturer Maria Duran, the Florence Levy Kay Fellow in U.S. Latinx Cultural Studies, facilitated the next portion of the event. As a segue into the discussion on Latinidad identity, Duran gave an overview on the origins of the umbrella terms for the cultures of Latin America. She explained that the first term, Hispanic, came from the Latin term “Hispanicus,” the word for individuals from the Iberian Peninsula. In the 1980s, during President Richard Nixon’s administration, the term was introduced for the first time in the U.S. census. However, the term is criticized due to its colonial history. The next term was Latino, which is seen as more encompassing, yet over privileging to males due to the -o ending. The compromise is Latinx. This term was introduced in 2004, but has been quickly gaining popularity over the past four years, according to Duran.
Duran explained that Latinidad, another umbrella term, has recently been strongly rejected due to its erasure of the indigenous and Black experiences. The participants primarily agreed with this viewpoint. One person remarked that “there is no one race that [Latinx people] can identify as … you have all of these identities somewhere in your history, but you can’t pinpoint them, so it becomes complicated to find a way to express that to people.” Duran concluded this portion of the discussion by arguing that “as problematic as this term is … it is always evolving” and explaining that she “is not convinced it does us no service.” She challenged the group to think about how the term Latinidad can be more inclusive by identifying the institutions engaging in “acts of erasure” and considering how this term can be used to counteract such erasures.
The discussion transitioned into the concept of colorism. Participants talked about how a distinction has developed between Latinx and Afro-Latinidad identities. One attendee remarked on her sense of privilege from being a “socially acceptable Latinx skin color” and her worries that when Latinx people with darker skin view the BLSO Executive Board, they might be discouraged from joining because they believe that the club is only for the “white Latinos.” In regards to the term “Mejorar la Raza,” or “improve the race,” students shared stories about family members who wanted them to find lighter skinned partners to lighten the skin of future generations of Latinx people.
The event ended with Duran promoting her spring 2020 class, Latinx Futurisms, which examines sociopolitical issues through Latinx “science fiction aesthetics,” according to the Brandeis course catalog.