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Latino (Im)migrants in Ohio: Opportunities and Changes

On Wednesday evening at the Hispanic Roundtable event, we encountered Ms. Magda Gomez, Director of Diversity and Inclusive at Tri-C who invited us to a program on Thursday, October 12th, at the Westshore Campus entitled "Latino (Im)migrants in Ohio: Opportunities and Changes" which was billed on its literature as being a "panel discussion with local experts to learn more about Latinos in Ohio, the opportunities and challenges they face, and the contributions they make."

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We were torn between attending this event and two other ones taking place at exactly the same time on the same date. After much consideration, we decided that the panel discussion was the one most related to the work of "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" so we opted to go there and we were glad that we did because we found the conversation to be very informative because the panelists really knew what they were talking about and the moderator asked pertinent questions.

Another reason that we were glad that we went was that we got to meet Dr. Terri Pope, the President of the Westshore Campus, for the first time and had an excellent talk with her about health care in the United States (a subject that she is well-versed in) before the program began.

As the biographies in the program guide we were given read, the panelists were:

*** Dr. John H. Flores, Assistant Professor at CWRU who "specializes in Mexican American history. His research interests include modern Mexico; the history of immigration and citizenship in the United States; multinational political and labor movements; and racial and national identity formation."

***Ms. Veronica Dahlberg, the Founder and Executive Director of HOLA Ohio who has been "an advocate in Northeast Ohio's Latino immigrant community for more than 20 years."

***Dr. Elena Foulis whose "research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, heritage language, digitial oral history and service learning." We learned that Dr. Foulis has recorded the oral histories of Latina/o immigrant in their own native languages.

The panelists were queried by Dr. Rebecca A. Carte, Assistant Professor of Spanish at Tri-C, who asked questions regarding immigration and labor history; how the current U.S. immigration system actually works; whether or not the advancement of immigrant labor comes at the expense of United States-born workers; how people whose main language not English are now being targeted by immigration officials; and how the U.S. is now divided in terms of people taking a multicultural/globalist approach as opposed to nativists.

In the course of answering the questions, Dr. Flores said that one of the things that the current political discussion has not focused on is the longtime involvement of the U.S. in matters pertaining to Mexico and Central America and how these policies have contributed greatly to the situation that we currently have today. He didn't believe that we could have an honest discussion about immigration without taking this history into consideration. As far as more recent times, he certainly did not like President Trump but he was quick to point out that some of the policies of President Clinton and President Obama were very repressive towards undocumented immigrants too.  In terms of immigrants taking jobs away from citizens, he cited examples of how the United Farm Workers invited people out to work alongside them in the fields to understand how tough it really was and very few of the invitees could keep up with the seasoned workers.

Ms. Dahlberg, who has first-hand experience regarding the deportation process having helped many people, spoke of the increasingly more oppressive tactics/methods of the border patrol and ICE that she has witnessed including the increased use of ankle bracelets which might have a harmful affect on those who wear them.  Another thing that she mentioned is how much bonds have gone up for detainees. As terms of the realities of working conditions, she shared what she knew about how difficult conditions for those working in the fields and in local nurseries and how badly immigration reform is needed if for no other reason the number of H2A visas allotted per year is far too low.

Dr. Foulis talked about how the Spanish language and the ability to speak it without fear is and has been a very controversial and divisive issue in the United States even amongst Hispanics. Certainly she believes, as do we all, that using a person's struggle with the English language or having a strong accent as grounds of suspicion that he/she is undocumented is quite dangerous. Dr. Foulis, herself, regards a language as a link to one's heritage and culture and is very supportive of bilingual programs. Afterwards, we talked for a while and she shared with us information about some excellent bilingual education programs in Texas for young children.

During the discussion and the Q and A, one point that figured prominently was the fact that our many of our principles of action toward the undocumented by both government and businesses are very hypocritical because on one hand we wish to keep them out and/or deport them but at the same time we welcome them as a labor force and one that will not complain. Unfortunately, with some exceptions, if a worker is found to be undocumented very rarely will his/her employer step forward to help.

The discussion ended with Dr. Carte praising the panelists for their commitment to social justice and how necessary for them to continue their work and how vital is that we support them because it is very easy for strong people to experience moments of weakness at times and they need our love and encouragement in order to stay strong.

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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