Alabama to Arizona: Ain’t I A Human?

By William Anderson

Interviewer: Would you agree that’s you’re on the lunatic fringe of the American Negro movement?
Malcolm X: “Well I think this, America’s whole situation is a lunatic fringe, any time you have a country that refers to itself as the “free world” and a “democracy” and at the same time has 22 million of its citizens who aren’t permitted citizenship; why that in itself reflects lunacy. A collective lunacy on the part of Uncle Sam. And you almost have to be insane, to deal with an insane man on an insane situation.” [London 1964]

Two weeks ago I was at a march against Sheriff Joe Arpaio organized by Peunte Human Rights Movement. M.E.Ch.A was having their national conference that weekend and I was in Arizona riding around with my friends from the Puente Human Rights Movement. They were showing me the ropes of the state that had influenced my life quite dramatically. At that march I found myself standing with a bullhorn in my hand. I looked out over a crowd of five to six hundred Mechistas and thought, “How do I say this? How do I explain that I am one with their struggle?”

We had marched for miles and I was becoming exhausted. I decided to talk about the United States’ addiction to cheap labor and slavery. I spoke about the world we live in; how our country seeks out populations it can exploit. The prison industrial complex rips into the heart of the debatable statement “All men are created equal”. Apparently some men and women have always made better laborers and slaves. I closed my speech by talking about how the Alamo was a staple in U.S. history exposing how the empire would fight tooth and nail to maintain a slave state. Today we’re still fighting slavery and exploitation in the USA. Private prisons like CCA and the Geo Group push for anti-immigrant legislation and take advantage of prejudiced politicians.

When Arizona passed SB1070, I felt enraged in ways I had never experienced before. As a black male, I was more than familiar with being racially profiled in my local Alabama suburbs. So, being on the ground in the capitol of immigrant oppression made me question: Why are people of color always under attack? Why are poor people always under attack? What do marginalized groups have to do to fix this? I was horrified by Arizona’s bold intolerance. With an ethnic studies ban, a bill to sponsor state militias, and a self-proclaimed “immigrant concentration camp,” you begin to wonder if you’re viewed as a human being by those in power. This sentiment was echoed by posters all around me by the artist Ernesto Yerena Montejano that screamed, “We Are Human!

I realized something in Arizona. The scariest thing any oppressor can see is the oppressed working together. I took joy in seeing how much the black community had in common with the chican@ community. I am a straight black male from Birmingham, Alabama. I organize black and brown, queer and straight, abled and differently abled, atheists and believers to fight injustice. I saw the blood stream of hatred flowing in the desert and it only inspired me. That’s what Joe Arpaio, Jan Brewer, Russell Pearce, Mickey Hammon, Scott Beason, and any other venal anti-immigrant politician does not realize. You can ban and oppress all you want, but you are only uniting us. I bought a La Raza book in Tucson. I would not have bought that book unless you had created the incentive by banning it. I love it so far, thanks! People of color have been disenfranchised since this country’s inception. If boarding schools, slavery, Jim Crow, prison leasing, genocide, and stolen land have not broken us, do you really think any legislation you pass will? I cannot imagine the naiveté that you must embody to think any prison can break the spirit of those who Stokely Carmichael said were “born in prison”.

In the spirit of Tecumseh, Toussaint L’Ouverture, John Horse, Harriet Tubman, and all those I consider my founding fathers/mothers; in the spirit of those that saw the greater picture of the marginalized rather than just their own group, I will continue to work with the people of the sun for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow where we all learn our histories, speak our languages, wear what we want, worship who we want, love who we want, and live with our families in peace. From the sweat dripping off of a child laborer in the fields of North Carolina and the rebirth of slavery in Alabama , to the undocumented youth trekking the nation and the uprising that has been taking place across Arizona. We are one and we are stronger together.

This is dedicated to Greater Birmingham Ministries, PUENTE Human Rights Movement (Sandra, Orlando, Diane, Jovana, Maya, Ericka, Carlos, Westli, Ernesto, Jennifer, and everyone who showed me love), and to all the undocumented youth in AZ who are changing the world with their bravery. Love.


7 Responses to “Alabama to Arizona: Ain’t I A Human?”
  1. sigan hasta la victoria! we have so many fronts to fight, education, immigration, hatred, bigotry and racism. we come from full warrior blood. we will not be defeated. fight the good fight, fight it with all your might!

  2. Chris says:

    I live another day to read/hear experiences like yours. Peace and blessings compà!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I just love how the immigrant rights movement constantly co-ops and appropriates phrases and strategy of the Black Civil Rights/freedom movement (e.g., the title of this article mimics Sojourner Truth’s cry of “Ain’t I a Woman”) and is itself such a non-inclusive, non-diverse, insular, sometimes even racist movement. As a Black male in the movement, you know I’m telling the truth. And they wonder why they have such a hard time building bridges with non-Latino communities, or why they’ve been fighting so long with little to no wins.

    • Jesus says:

      Not sure if you read the entire entry, or just the title… But this article was a contribution from an activist/organizer in Alabama. He also happens to be black.

      The article was about bridging experiences together for the purpose of creating common goals for our communities to work towards together.

      Though your comment has some validity to it, to make such a blanket comment about the undocumented movement further reinforces the need for pieces like this one. The real question is whether folks like you would bother to read through the whole article and investigate, or skim through it, make assumptions, and disregard a voice from your community.

      After all, skimming through pieces like these is the downfall of movements, the root of miscommunication, and the fissure that creates division.

      • Anonymous says:

        Oh, but I did read the entire article, very thoroughly. I’ve experienced the movement. I know about which I speak. Instead of being dismissive of critical issues by assuming I merely skimmed the article, it would’ve been nice to have actually engaged in a solution-based dialogue. Your response is typical of many in the movement.

        Yes, the author is Black, but he invokes remnants of the Black civil rights movement in the title and body of the article. Black or not, I criticize this constant appropriation of the Black freedom struggle by a movement that at best makes little to no effort to forge alliances with the Black community, and at worst perpetuates and engages in the racist American racial hierarchy. It’d be one thing to appropriate the Black Civil Rights movement if the immigrant rights movement were more inclusive, but as an African-Americam, I take issue with the misappropriation of my peoples’ struggle by a highly insular, ethnocentric movement. It isn’t the first time it’s happened; learn about the disintegration of the Asian-Latino alliance during the Farmworkers movement.

        • Jesus says:

          Dearest Anonymous,

          Sorry if my response sounded dismissive. I often hear these critiques of our movement, often in passing.

          I can’t and shouldn’t make any assumptions about your experience in whatever movements you’ve been involved with. What I can say is that all historical progressive movements have had internal issues, and under a critical lens, moments of hypocrisy. Some problematic internal issues have been divisive; some have been blatant while others more subtle.

          I understand your concerns regarding the appropriation of instances from the Black Civil Rights movements. It’s something that many of us in the immigrants rights movements consider. But I do wish that you consider the following: maybe it’s not appropriation as much as inspiration. In the same way that the African-American population faced crazy odds during the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, our movement today faces its own set of odds and limitations. I look at what was accomplished during those very important years, and it gives me hope that our movement becomes as strong and accomplished.

          The DREAM movement isn’t perfect. But neither was the Black Civil Rights movement. There were sections of the Black Civil Rights movement that were exclusionary, homophobic, misogynistic, etc. Same with Chicano movements. None of our movements are impervious to scrutiny. Your critique of our movement isn’t too far off-based nor far-fetched; it’s something that many of us discuss and have been working on. That’s not to say that others feel the way that we do. And if that’s been your only experience with our movement, I lament that. I can assure you that not all of us 12 million undocumented folks conduct our politics in that same demeanor.

          When I read William’s piece, it gave me hope that this could be the beginning of opening up our space here to forge the beginning of an online conversation about these issues that have kept our communities separated, in spite of the fact that we tend to live in many of the same neighborhoods under similar living conditions. Many of the problems that plaque the African-American community today are also very prevalent in the Latino community as well.

          Reading through your comment, you talk about engaging in a discussion to build towards a solution, but you also offer very little to go on aside from your disapproval of a black man allegedly appropriating African-American history when talking about immigrants’ civil rights.

          So… where do we go from here?

          • I dont think you read the piece, it seems you just commented. How did I co-opt from my own family/people’s struggle, that may family has fought and died in? I take high offense to that accusation. Furthermore, I am pulling from the imagery of the abolitionist and anti-slavery movement. John, Harriet, & Toussaint worked with natives and indigenous to fight white supremacy. That was not the civil rights movement. Black people can migrate to the USA you know? Haitians, Brazilians, Dominicans, etc. Rather than complaining about the bridges, go out there and try to create them. That’s what I was doing when I wrote this & that’s a big part of the work I am doing surrounding immigration. You’re going to run into white supremacy everywhere….deal with it and fight it. We all know it exists in the chican@ community, just as it exists in ours. AIM modeled their whole struggle after the panthers. THATS GOOD. People should be copying what we’ve done, we’re powerful people. Help the people trying to make the connections or step aside and complain.

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