Monday, January 18, 2010

Unfinished work

"Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free." MLK Jr.  

It's Martin Luther King's Jr birthday today, and I gotta share what's on my mind. You know this maaaannnnn. This past Sunday, I attended a town hall meeting titled, "Lincoln and King's Unfinished Work." The discussion, which featured Stedman Graham, Andy Anderson, Richard Dreyfuss, Assemblyman Warren T. Furutani, Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr., Rev Eric Lee, Suzan-Lori Parks, Dr. Darline Robles, Gary Ross and Ronald C. White. Google any single one person and you'll see that this is a distinguished panel. I wasn't aware of who was going to be there so I was taken by surprise when everyone was introduced one by one. The focus of the discussion was on what freedom means today in current society and how it ties to the work laid out by both men in the past. Everyone gave their two cents, with tremendous in sight and addressing issues of how this is something that is instilled and conditioned with all of our lives. The social system and how it ranks different races and the values that it places on them. A lot of identity politics stuff. Nothing monumental or historic, but still a great discussion because I agreed with the majority of the statements they made, so I guess I'm making progress.

Toward the end there was a Q & A Panel and I of course got up to the mic. I told the panel I that I was a reflection of them all. That I am the best of them combined and recreated into something new. I brought up the point that the struggle for civil rights is one that Dr. King progressed and died for as well as Cesar Chavez, Tienanmen Square in China and other names and locations that go unrecognized. I looked them all in the eyes and said that I stand there before them, the face of the newest generation of leaders in the fight for civil rights. I straight out told them I am that new generation of undocumented residents living in the shadows of L.A. I told them about being brought here through no accord of my own the struggle of trying to give back to the country that doesn't want to accept my help.My question to them was what could we, as the next generation of civil rights leader do to continue fighting on and keeping up the good fight ? I mentioned to them how my brothers and sisters are marching from Florida to Washington, the march in Arizona and the multiple defeats of the DREAM Act. For the better part, they all commended me for my courage to go up to the mic and say what I said, people in the crowd kinda gasped and cheered as well.

I got a few answers. One was to keep acknowledging how the movements in the past connect to each other and how this is the incarnation of all those. I was told to continue putting a face behind the issue and that as a reporter, that I should continue telling stories that need to be told, hence this blog. Jessie Jackson Jr. said that we need to have a solid front with other movements in the sense that we shouldn't be going to them, explaining to them that are causes and fights are one, but that we all have to recognize that the issue of civil rights is one that crosses borders, genders, classes and ethnicities. Dreyfuss said that we need to continue to remind America that we are the future because they have obviously forgotten that.

Nothing monumental of course, but still inspiring none the less. Mind you that I got quite the reaction from the audience. I like to think that I threw them off key when I said what I said, being dressed in black pants, wearing my '80s Heavy Metal jacket, unshaven and an LA Dodgers hat. Appearances are certainly deceiving. As I took my seat, people shook my hand and gave me that, "you done good work" vibe. A girl sitting behind me tapped my shoulder and shook my hand fiercely telling me that her family is undocumented. An interesting town hall to say the least. I left early shortly after that because I didn't like the last part of it. They interviewed a notable historian. I like to think that I made some difference there. When I put my face behind the issue, in an audience that is certainly conservative and older. Thinking back on it, I only wish that I would have emphasized the point that when they hear or think of immigration reform, that they think of me. An undocumented resident trying to do right by his community, going to college, giving back and creating growth. That, would hopefully would help them see things differently. There's always next time.