Celebrating 10 years of La Voz Latina
By John Newton
Hard to believe it's been 10 years since we published our first issue of La Voz Latina. Sometimes it seems like we've been around much longer. Especially when I think back on milestone events like the huge Hispanic rally we helped to organize in Savannah's Forsyth Park back in the spring of 2006.
Those were exciting times when comprehensive immigration reform seemed to be just around the corner and that event was as much a celebration as it was a protest rally. It was especially sweet to hear local conservative talk show hosts complain about the American flags waved by an immigrant community they had vilified as being anti-American. The Mexican flag had apparently been a prominent feature at earlier rallies in California and these local pundits were hoping for an easy target.
Six years later, it's pretty depressing to see how polarizing and politicized the subject of immigration reform has become. How conservatives reject even modest reform proposals like the Dream Act whose goal is to give immigrant students educated in our public schools the chance to continue their post-secondary educations and become productive U.S. Citizens.
Looking back, I realize I was very naïve about how difficult this struggle would be and how easy it was for fear-mongers to exploit populist sentiments in their quest for political power. But I must admit that some things have definitely changed for the better.
I remember driving up Hwy 280 to Reidsville Georgia in the spring of 2002, traveling deep into the heart of sweet onion country in search of anyone who could help me make my first connections with South Georgia's growing Hispanic population .
Today I possess a business card and email address file that is bursting at the seams with the names of hundreds of people deeply involved in the lives of the readers we serve. And I'm especially thankful for all the small businesses who have invested their hard-earned advertising dollars in La Voz Latina over the past ten years. Without their continued support, we would have folded long ago.
I think about a young Mexican mother named Reyna who I met in 2005, shortly after she gave birth to a daughter in a stuffy little tenant shack within shouting distance of the Port Wentworth city hall. She did it all by herself, cutting the cord, cleaning up the afterbirth, swaddling her infant, then lying on her sofa and waiting for surprised family members to return home.
Reyna is a great example of the courage, strength, and self-reliance represented by millions of immigrants who travel here under difficult circumstances to make a new life for themselves and their families. These are the same people that right-wing politicians condemn today as lazy, shiftless leeches on US society.
The sad thing is that this view, illogical on its face, has found a steady stream of new adherents as our national economy continues to limp toward a slow and painful recovery.
As various state legislatures continue to step into the breach created by the unwillingness of our national leaders to address immigration reform, the dialogue coarsens and people find it easier and easier to use our immigrant population as scapegoats for all that's wrong with our country today.
When the Georgia legislature passed HB87 last year, the term “illegal alien” was codified into law. History has shown us that anytime a group of people can be labeled as “other than human”, it is so much easier for the haters and racists among us to speak up and add their own vitriol to the debate.
So it was last month that an Atlanta-area carpet-cleaning company felt it was perfectly acceptable to use racist language and illustrations in coupon advertising distributed by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Bearing the tagline: “no one wants to be called a pig”, the ad featured a pig wearing a Mexican sombrero flanked by a cactus and the Mexican national flag. The implication was impossible to ignore and further proof that, thanks to a Georgia legislature hell-bent on vilifying their presence in the state of Georgia, Hispanic immigrants are now considered fair game for any bigot who wants to take a potshot at them.
Only knowledge and understanding can defeat this kind of unreasoned hatred and we should all be thankful for organizations like the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR). GLAHR representatives will be in Savannah on June 30th at a public information forum hosted by Pastor Samuel Rodriguez and the First Hispanic Baptist Church (1 Gamble Rd., Savannah) at 6pm.. See page 31 for more details.