On Apologies

Gaby Pacheco got me thinking about apologies.

Her piece, published last Friday (“In God We Trust On Immigration Reform”) got the wheels in my brain turning over the last few days, and I found myself going through all five stages of grief and loss, a reaction that I honestly did not expect to undergo. It was weird.

I wanted to write a timely response to that travesty of an opinion piece, so I wrote a draft a few days ago. It was a kneejerk one, a piece that overwhelmingly came off as severe and condescending, written while I was seeing red. I left the document open and minimized on my computer screen in the way that folks write letters when they’re angry and then put them in a drawer to sleep on them a couple of days before deciding whether or not they want to follow through and send them out. This morning, upon reading what I had written, I realized that I had to make more of an effort to separate her political public persona from who she is as a singular private person. I had to draft a response with a more sincere and intentional approach. So I decided to trash what I had written and start clean. With a cooler head.

My initial anger with Gaby’s God-fearing DC-apologetic tone came as a result of my inability to not take what she said/did personally. The whole undocumented experience, though a political one, often crosses over into our personal lives. With 1,000 people being deported every day, thousands of families being torn apart, and the climate of fear and stress that many of our community members live every day, this undocumented affliction looms large in all of our daily lives. So when Gaby took it upon herself to speak on behalf of undocumented people (with all her “us” and “we” talk) and apologized to legislators for having broken an arbitrary law, I felt betrayed.

Gaby Pacheco, a self-professed and assumed leader in the undocumented movement, let me down. I would even argue that she let ALL undocumented people down in a really spectacularly huge fundamental way. It made me realize that Pacheco’s voice is too disproportionally large and loud based on her approach and political platform. It made her disconnect from the movement painfully clear, as though she were suffering from a severe case of Stockholm syndrome. It became apparent that she’s more interested in making friends with DC staffers than maintaining real connections with undocumented people. I believe that this, in the long run, will hamper all the work that so many undocumented activists have been doing for many years.

Perhaps she didn’t realize it at the moment, but with two words, Gaby effectively rendered the whole “Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic” movement as primitive, savage and backward, full of people incapable of understanding their place in this bureaucratic system that she believes is too big to fail, reformed or not. I mean, why on earth would you be apologetic for having a political misidentity pressed onto you by something entirely external from you? We didn’t choose to be undocumented. There are too many complex factors to consider when talking about this whole immigration debacle, and chalking it up to the will of God is just a new way of accepting the whole notion of modernized Manifest Destiny as the architect of this situation of ours. All the God talk effectively muzzles us from addressing the large scale pillaging that’s been happening all around us for centuries by other God-fearing and adhering folks.

I can’t say that this experience of ours is God’s will, but if it is, I know I won’t be standing silent, pretending that this is one of God’s plagues to test the faith and will of our people. God helps those who help themselves. I’m not going to pray to God that he bless politicians with a positive mentality when they talk about undocumented immigrants and vote on immigration reform. I’m no sitting duck, and I’m certainly at nobody’s mercy.

Her apology to those DC folks also disrespects the experience of what it means to be an immigrant without a home, what it means to be pushed/ripped from our countries, what it is to become politically bastardized by this system that she believes is too big to be disrespected. That DC staffer, along with everyone in that room that day, walked away with this reinforced idea that there should be no more commotion, chants, nor civil disobedience actions. Undocumented folks should all just take heed from the new precedent –set by Pacheco- to shut our pieholes and learn to ask this God they trust for forgiveness. To apologize for overcoming our traumas and challenges. Apologize for surviving. Apologize on behalf of our parents and family members who came to the U.S. to do right for their families.

In that same vein, it effectively lets all those do-nothing legislators off the hook for their inaction and misdeeds, for their cruel apathetic stance regarding the lives of millions of people, for their selfish and greedy misinterpretations of forgiveness and humanity. The suffering of our people was muted in that awkward exchange between Gaby and those legislators, and I get the sense that they felt vindicated by the letter of their absurd law books by having an undocumented person apologize for breaking the law of the land. Gaby willingly took upon the role of a happy-go-lucky good immigrant role model citizen (without the rights and privileges), abiding by the U.S. double-standard of culpability, apologizing to people who also make decisions on the economic and military imperialism of other countries, warfare (on immigrants, drugs, poverty, privacy, terrorism, non-white folks, etc.), and the erosion of our civil rights and liberties.

In essence, she sold out all undocumented people for the possible acceptance of one single DC staffer.

I get it. She was trying to open up and engage legislators who haven’t been particularly open to talking about immigration reform. She was trying to speak in their language. But if you start off the conversation vindicating their views on immigrants by apologizing on their behalf, you’re already at odds with the rest of your community. You’re on your own.

In the days that followed, a lot of commotion was stirred via Facebook and Twitter as undocumented activists began to grapple with what Gaby had written. I read through several threads in which she engaged certain critiques, and it gave me more insight to her mode of thinking. I came away realizing two things:

1. She’s completely at odds with a significant percentage of the immigrants rights movement, emulating status-quo points of view and politician talk. I read through a thread in which she responded to a critique saying that we should all stop seeing color and start living in a world void of hate, completely overlooking the idea that maybe folks ain’t talking about white people as much as they’re talking about White Supremacy and racism –both which are written directly into the fabric of this country’s basic legislative structure. How someone so involved in the inner workings and dealings of the DC agenda around immigration reform could so easily adopt the Utopian white-feelings Kumbaya type vibe about this simple apparent fact is absolutely beyond me. And frankly, it terrifies me.

2. Though she engaged people in conversation, I got the sense that she feels justified in having done what she did. To date, I haven’t seen her respond to other people asking her why she felt it necessary to speak on behalf of undocumented people. She has God on her side. Even though she says she respects the opinions of others, as everyone is entitled to be as wrong and out of touch as they want to be, she felt it necessary to refer to the backlash as “crab mentality.” In other words, anyone who called her out was disrespecting her position.

Both of these observations unnerved me, as she is someone many people look to for inspiration and guidance. And if the practice of lowering ourselves to this tier of political existence becomes a trend within the folks in DC, what chance do we have that REAL immigration reform for ALL 11 million people is truly actualized? Are we selling ourselves and our dignity short at the feet of our oppressors, all for scraps that fall off the table that we then must fight and mangle each other over?

I don’t mean for this post to take the form of an exposé or a personal attack on Gaby. I don’t intend on adding any fuel to the bullying that she’s experienced. I know that she’s put in a lot of work and dedication to get to where she is now. Respect is given where respect is due.

But. In all honesty, the only apology that I feel Gaby should be issuing is one to all undocumented people. You know. For throwing all of us under the bus.

In solidarity,
Jesús

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