April 24, 2009
By Adrian Ramirez
New America Media
As I marched down the streets of downtown San Jose with about 40 other pro-immigrant protesters, anxiety was building inside of me. About 1,000 protesters were gathered at Plaza de Cesar Chavez. The demonstration was one of more than 300 Tax Day “tea party” protests held across the country to demand an end to tax increases and bailouts.
I might have been a perfect candidate to demonstrate at the San Jose “tea party.” Like colonists more than 200 years ago, I could have held a sign that said, “No taxation without representation.” That’s because I’m an undocumented immigrant, and a taxpayer. And I don’t receive any of the taxpayer benefits, including the right to vote.
But when I joined in the “tea party,” the anti-tax rally became an anti-immigrant rally.
What was framed as a protest about government spending became an opportunity to yell at us immigrants who need to “go back home.” It was easy for the protest to shift gears because the anti-immigrant sentiment was already there. It just needed a jump-start to be vocalized.
I have been in this country since the age of five and I don’t feel that I have ever been a threat to this country, but if paying taxes and starting a small business that employs U.S. citizens makes me a threat, then we all have to re-think what we are really threatened by.
Throughout the protest I was approached by marchers who were confused by my sign that read, “No human being is illegal.”
“What does your sign mean?” they asked. My response was, “Exactly what it says”: no one has the right to classify human beings as illegal. They screamed at me, “Go home if you don’t like it, then. We don’t want you here, illegal!”
An 11-year-old girl was so angry about my sign that I thought she was going to punch me in the face. “You don’t belong here,” she said. “People like you are why we are overtaxed.”
“Show me your birth certificate,” one woman dressed in American flag apparel asked me.
Their comments didn’t make me mad. I just felt sorry for them for having to see the world from that point of view.
The people who were enraged by my sign knew nothing of my history and the struggles that I have faced just to one day call myself an American.
I left the protest in shock as to how much blind anger people had inside. I hope that one day that hate will transform itself into a desire to find out more about the people they fear.
There are a huge numbers of undocumented immigrants who follow the laws of this country, pay taxes, and try to be good citizens in the hopes that one day a path to legalization will become available. They do this because they know that a clean record and up-to-date taxes will help their chances of one day achieving the ultimate American dream: becoming an American.
Photos by Tiburon F.B. and G. Melesaine