The 19th annual Social Issues Conference, “Inspiring Social Change through Education,” opened Tuesday evening with a program featuring the performance group In Lak Ech and a talk by Border Angels founder Enrique Morones ‘02, in the Hahn University Center.
A diverse audience of students, faculty and even one local member of the national Minutemen organization was on hand for the artistic Mujeres de Maiz performance by the all-female group In Lak Ech and heard Morones speak about activism, his organization and a need for immigration reform.
In Lak Ech is a Mayan concept meaning “you are my other me” or tu eres mi otro yo. The one-hour performance featured spoken word, singing, chanting and the six women performed while hitting a large drum in unison on stage. It was a passionate display that spoke to the audience.
“I really liked the performance and I think it’s something we do need on campus,” said Elyana Delgado, a senior and a member of MEChA. “It’s really different than other presentations we usually see here. It involves many cultures, not just the Mexican culture or Chicano culture, but it brought it back to the Native American culture in the U.S., the indigenous culture and that of other Latin America countries.”
Following the performance, Morones, who earned a master’s of science in executive leadership (MSEL), quickly demonstrated why he’s garnered national attention for defending the migrant community on issues such as immigration, opposition to California’s Proposition 187, Operation Gatekeeper, North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and HR 4437. He founded Border Angels in 1986, with a primary goal of preventing deaths of migrants by providing gallons of drinking water at stations in the Imperial Valley desert areas, San Diego County mountains and areas near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The number of reported deaths of people trying to cross the border is 4,500, but Morones estimates the true number closer to 10,000, or “two to three dying each day,” since the border wall was built in 1994.
“When you hear 10,000 deaths, that’s 10,000 human beings, with 20,000 parents. There are brothers and sisters dying every day,” Morones said. “Ten thousand deaths? That’s not what we’re all about. It’s a very sad situation.”
The Border Angels’ efforts have influenced many people, including members of the USD community, to join Morones and his group on their frequent trips to the water stations.
“I thought it was great,” said senior Gigi Garcia, a member of MEChA. She and other students volunteered with Border Angels in September, placing water at the stations. “I’m very inspired by Mr. Morones and the work that he does.”
The immigration issue has been pushed into the background as a main presidential topic because of U.S. economy woes, but Morones and others continue to push for a humane solution. Morones has met both current presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
To his critics who view people crossing the border as lawbreakers, Morales notes, “They’ll say ‘why not just come in legally? They should just get in line.’ There is no line, but there is a lot of ignorance. What we need to do is let people know that there is no line. If you’re poor you cannot get into this country through the front door. When Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were built, people used it as a place to check in, not to say ‘OK, you get in, but you don’t.’ We don’t have that anymore. Now we have a situation where the people are saying if we don’t qualify or don’t have enough money, you don’t get into this country. However, we do need your work. We do need you in the fields, in construction and the service industry. It’s survival of the fittest. If you can go through the desert and live, we’ll give you a job. Well, that’s wrong. That’s immoral.”
Morones said a Gallup poll revealed 67 percent of the people in the U.S. do support humane and comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. And, he adds, that doesn’t mean the other 33 percent don’t support it.
“Most favor a type of immigration reform. The reform we’re talking about is when you come into this country and you check in. If you’re a criminal, you don’t come in, you go to jail. The comprehensive part is for the 12 million undocumented people who are here now to give them a pathway to legalization. There’s no line for that right now. They just want something saying I’m undocumented, but that I don’t have to freak out if the police is behind me and I get pulled over that I’m going to get deported. I don’t have to freak out when there’s a knock at the door at 3 a.m. and I’m going to be separated from my family. These are human beings. The law needs to be changed. There’s a double standard here. A lot of times we have to do the moral thing, which might not necessarily be the law.”
Co-sponsored by the Trans-Border Institute and the Social Issues Committee, the program was part of a continuing Latino Heritage Month celebration organized by Associated Students, United Front Multicultural Center, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) and Association of Chicana Activists (AChA).
— Ryan T. Blystone