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My Boys, "the Immigrants"

"When my sons were babies, white people on the street couldn’t stop cooing over them. But as they move into childhood, we rarely get approached." By Skila Brown

As the mother of three Guatemalan boys, all under the age of seven, I am accustomed to challenges. Manipulating Transformers, finding missing shin guards, and keeping enough snacks in the house are tough. But by far, the most difficult aspect of raising my Latino children is how to do so within the current climate of immigration debates. With the presidential election upon us, it seems everywhere we turn people are talking about immigration. And they are talking with fervor, no matter which way they lean.

Sadly, I have found that people are using this national conversation about immigration as a forum to air their prejudices against Latino people. As an example, I recently had a conversation with a friend of a friend about the Spanish-language immersion school in our district. After telling her that we were considering it, she balked and gave me an earful about how that was unacceptable, saying, "I’m not against children learning another language. I’ve been trying to teach my daughter some French. But I have to draw the line somewhere. These immigrants are taking our jobs and ruining this town!"

So...she was opposed to the Spanish part of the school, and used that as an opportunity to launch into a political rant. Unfortunately, this kind of interaction is becoming commonplace. I hear people calling all Latinos "immigrants." Although they are usually trying to make a point about undocumented workers, the tone of their conversation drifts from issues about taxes and welfare to blatant prejudices: "Nobody speaks any English!" or "They’ve taken over the neighborhood!" And I hear this talk in front of my own Latino children.

When I read stories about the crazy ranch owner in Texas who started holding Latino people at gunpoint until authorities could come and check their papers, I wonder what life will be like for my sons when they become Latino men. Will they constantly be asked to verify their legal status? Will they continually be criticized for "taking the jobs" of their peers?

When my sons were babies, white people on the street couldn’t stop cooing over how cute they were. Strangers approached me daily with compliments for my children. Usually, people would begin with an excited, "Was he adopted?" As my sons move into childhood, I rarely get approached. Instead, I feel looks of disgust bare into my sides if my children and I speak Spanish in public. And when people ask about one of my children, they usually say, "Is his father Mexican or something?" They don’t seem particularly happy about that thought.

Because of the immigration debate, our society seems to have some large issues with Latinos today. And it will certainly be something that our Latino children will face head-on as they grow into young adulthood.

Skila Brown lives with her family in Lexington, Kentucky.

What to Do
In today’s political climate, your child’s citizenship may be questioned. Here are three tips from C.J. Lyford, an immigration attorney:
  • Explain to your child that he is a full U.S. citizen, even if he was born in a foreign country. (He became a U.S. citizen upon adoption.)
  • Make a copy of the first pages of his U.S. passport and/or his Certificate of Citizenship. These documents include your child’s photograph, and offer official proof of citizenship. They can be carried in his backpack or wallet.
  • If you’re traveling across state or international borders, bring a copy of your child’s state birth certificate. (You can reduce and laminate it to make it easier to carry.) This certificate has both your names and your child’s, and officially identifies you as his parents.

  • Voices
    When I became old enough to go out without my parents, I noticed that people looked at me differently. The first time this struck me, I was shopping with a childhood friend, a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. We walked into store after store, and, each time, I was watched closely, as though I were going to shoplift. No one looked at my friend; she could have stolen anything, because the salespeople were so focused on me! Finally, at the sixth store, I blurted out, ‘You know, I hate when people just assume that, because I have brown skin, I’m a criminal.’ The cashier and the customers waiting in line all put their heads down, and refused to look my way. They were afraid that I might confront them for being racist, and for thinking that, just because someone is tan, she is a thief."

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