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I’m American, Just Not YOUR Kind of American: Fighting Racism with Rhetoric

ByAmanda Huber, MSW Staff Writter

My mother migrated to this country when she was 14 years of age. She remembers sitting in her high school class and people telling her she was not an American, and my mother being clever told them that she was an American just South American. This reframe empowered her and stopped the bullying she experienced in her public NY school.  Bullying based on race and racial ties has been a prominent factor in the debates about comprehensive immigration reform. How fantastic would it be if the Legislature could put a slight reframe on the argument at look at the issues in a new light?

When looking at comprehensive Immigration reform from a social work perspective, the language that is used is oppressive and marginalizing as it essentially bullies an entire sub-group of Americans. No human is “Illegal”, and  no human can be “alien”. These terms evoke science fiction images of little green men taking over the earth. Another term that has received a lot of press and it oppressive in nature is the term “anchor babies”. In a town hall meeting with his constituents, Paul Ryan used this term to refer to immigrant children born in the United States. This term was considered offensive in 2011, yet is still in circulation. He uses this as he explains a 13 year path toward citizenship after securing the border and making it difficult to obtain employment in the United States.

The problem is the language. If beeing bullied in the school setting is not enough for these children, they are attacked on a governmental level for being born in the United States. The implication of carrying that label of “anchor baby” dehumanizes the child. Political people in power are view the child as strategic occurrence to keep the family in the country, rather than an American child born to immigrant parents who care for that child in America.

The bullies are not just on the school grounds, or in the legislature, it is also in news media. Far too often, personal values are the ones being discussed by members of the media:

“I’ve got a quick message for illegal aliens if you happen to be watching. You better start packing your bags. And to the politicians in Washington who are soft on illegal immigration, start packing up your office, because when the terrorists strike, which they will, and we find out that they’re here illegally from some other country, we will be telling all of you to get the hell out.” — Glenn Beck, May 9, 2007

The voices of the people are not presented, yet somehow the worst case scenarios are always presented as truth. In the technological world we live in, it is easy to fall into an adult version of “he said, she said, I thought” preconceived ideas are  rarely challenged because somewhere out in the technological stratosphere there are people who believe the same as you.

Let the world reframe illegal to be undocumented or refugee as the conditions of their country of origin are likely hostile. Better yet,  let this subgroup be called American, for wherever they are from be it Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Poland, once they are here and decide to put roots in this country they fit into the mix with someone or some group because they are american immigrants. This sounds like a strange concept, but this was the case when immigrants were coming from European nations. What happened?

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Written by Amanda Huber

Amanda Huber is the Immigration and Social Policy Staff Writer for Social Work Helper. She is a bilingual social worker in clinical practice and a community organizer for Latino rights which includes issues of migratory status, institutional racism, racial profiling, and the ways these issues affect the people.

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