Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Jersey Guys

Last Thursday, I traveled to Newark (known affectionately as “Brick City”) to attend a press conference called by New Jersey State Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo. Caraballo, who along with other Hispanic members of the New Jersey Assembly, is calling for the end of “La Cuca Gotcha,” a promotion by the Jersey Guys that asks listeners to report undocumented residents to the radio station, imagine that, or federal authorities.

The name of the campaign plays off the Spanish word for cockroach, mention of the campaign is often accompanied by Mexican music, and it is scheduled to end on one of Mexico’s most important holidays, Cinco de Mayo.

As would be expected by most reasonable people, Hispanic leaders like Assemblyman Caraballo are incensed by the program’s intent and name. I mean, really, how does anyone look at someone and know if they are undocumented?

After the press conference, which was attended by a diverse array of English and Spanish language media (from small Spanish newspapers to CNN), I listened to “The Jersey Guys” on the ride back home. Several things struck me as they defended themselves from “La Cuca Gotcha” critics. First, it was amazing to hear the Jersey Guys act surprised that Hispanic leaders and other Latinos who are legal and speak English would come to the defense of immigrants. It also amazed me that they sounded pretty genuine. The Jersey Guys do not see Latinos as we see ourselves: as a family. The great immigration debate over the last few years makes it clear that a lot of Latino citizens feel a part of the same community as recently arrived immigrants, even if they have lived very different experiences in this country.

Another thing that surprised me was that the more I listened to “The Jersey Guys,” the more I understood that they are not card carrying racists. This makes “La Cuca Gotcha” even more maddening. The Jersey Guys think so little of their audience and Hispanic immigrants that they think playing to the lowest common denominators of discrimination and classism will make for good ratings at the expense of people who cannot fight back.
I am happy to report from New Jersey that the Hispanic community is putting The Jersey Guys and everyone in the Garden State on notice that we will not tolerate attacks on the defenseless and certainly will not let others define our familia.

Rafael Collazo

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Congressman says Immigration Legislation Coming This Week

Comprehensive immigration reform legislation is scheduled to be introduced in Congress this week. It was one of the immigration reform-related tidbits I picked up this past weekend at the United States Hispanic Leadership Conference where some of the most prominent names in immigration spoke.

The conference, titled “Empowering New Leaders and Shaping a New Latino Century,” focused on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Speakers included such luminaries as Rev. Jesse Jackson; activist and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta; Frank Sharry, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum; Rosa Rosales of LULAC; Illinois Senator Dick Durbin; and Chris Dodd, Connecticut senator and Democratic presidential candidate.

During Saturday’s “Defining Elements of Comprehensive Immigration Reform” session, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois announced that he would introduce his Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill on Thursday, March 22 along with Congressman Jeff Flake, R-Arizona. The session was co-headlined by Sharry who spoke eloquently about the need for reform and urged us all to assist the immigrants living and working here. “When people tell me immigrants need to go home, I tell them that they already are home,” exclaimed Sharry.

Another session that I particularly enjoyed, “Building a Black and Latino Alliance Around Immigration Reform,” featured Rev. Jackson, Rosales and Arturo Vargas of NALEO. It was refreshing to see national Hispanic and African American leaders speak honestly about challenges that we face in working together. It was also good to hear the African American leaders in attendance pledge to educate other black leaders on the need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Vargas announced that NALEO is working with more than 40 national African-American and Latino organizations to form a coalition that would lobby Congress for immigration reform.

The conference culminated Saturday evening with Henry Cisneros receiving the conference’s National Hispanic Hero Award. A Hispanic political icon, Cisneros is the former Mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Rafael Collazo
Democracia Ahora

Frank Sharry (back left), Dr. Juan Andrade (back right) and Henry Cisneros (speaking) on need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform during USHLC

Congressman Xavier Becerra and Senator Chris Dodd at USHLC

National leaders Discuss Black and Latino Alliance around Immigration Reform.

Dolores Huertas (right) with conference participant Yolanda Bueno

The DJs’ game

The Jersey Guys, the radio DJs who are encouraging listeners to report undocumented immigrants in an effort they call “Cucha Gotcha” and Rat-a-Rat, claim they don’t understand why Hispanics are upset, after all, they insist, they’re only after people here illegally.
Let me tell you why I’m upset. I listened to Craig Carton and Ray Rossi’s show Tuesday and a man called in saying he had just been cut off on the highway by an undocumented immigrant. How did the caller know that the driver he had a run-in with on a highway was undocumented?
Undocumented immigrants don’t have vanity licenses that distinguish them as such. They don’t wear a certain uniform. They don’t have any distinguishing features such as a third arm. The caller simply couldn’t have verified the person’s immigration status in the seconds their encounter lasted.
What most probably happened was that the caller saw a brown face behind the steering wheel. Maybe the person who cut him off was driving an older car. And the caller assumed it must be an undocumented immigrant.

That’s the biggest problem with the DJs’ game. You can’t tell someone’s immigration status by looking at them. When you ask people to identify undocumented immigrants, it’s a task that will inevitably cause suspicion to fall on all Hispanics, because as the largest group of immigrants, we have become the face of immigration. How would the DJs like it if at every turn they had to prove they belonged in this country simply because of their ethnic background? I was born here, and I shouldn’t and don’t want to prove to you or anyone that I belong here.
The Jersey Guys say they started this campaign because they feel undocumented immigrants are disrespecting our country’s history of welcoming immigrants. Huh? What’s disrespectful is comparing people to cockroaches and rats. What’s disrespectful is ignoring the contributions immigrants, documented and not, have made to New Jersey and the U.S. What’s disrespectful is targeting more than 15 percent of New Jersey’s population to get a few laughs.
by Mary Moreno