By Lore Sosa
One of my fondest childhood memories was making Fanesca, a traditional Ecuadorian soup served around Easter. Preparing the ingredients for the soup was a lengthy process, as it required beans to be soaked, vegetables to be finely chopped, and balls of dough to be rolled for topping. Nonetheless, my family and I always found joy in the tradition of making the soup. Passed down from generation to generation on my mom’s side of the family, it was a symbol of unity and communion in my home. Every year, it would symbolize a time for us to gather to share a meal with one another.
I am proud of my Ecuadorian identity. Who could not, with the beautiful whistles of the rondador heard through its music and the diversity of its coast, Andes region, and the Amazon? This pride coexisted with my identity up until I entered the outside world; my pride would be replaced by silence.
During primary school, I was a quiet and extremely well behaved student. My parents hadn’t realized this until an open house with my teacher where she described me as “nice and quiet.” Instantly, my parents both stared at me with their eyebrows raised, an expression of “que?”
Two years ago, if you asked me why I was so shy, I would have told you that it was personality. I now realize my silence was an exchange for acceptance from my peers. I was taught that the best thing you can do to be loved by others is be kind and humble; however, I equated this behavior as conforming into a little mold where I couldn’t arouse trouble or speak up in class. I chose to be silent about everything to fit in.
With my silence, I traded my home’s cultural norms for those of America. My arroz con carne (rice and beef) was replaced with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my te de anis estrallada (anise tea) concealed in a matte water bottle so my classmates would no longer ask if it was pee. My silence suppressed my identity.
Most of all, wanting to fit in meant silence about the things I cared the most about.
That changed in 2015, when a close family friend told me about her experience at a peaceful protest against a local rally, where a bypasser told her “To go build a wall”. This sort of behavior has been normalized. She shared this story to ensure that no one else would approach an individual the same way.
A few months later, during my seventh grade civics class, my teacher had asked the class if there was “proof” of an elected candidate being racist. At that moment, I decided to part with my silence. I retold the story my friend had shared with me. She simply shook her head in disagreement and blamed it on his supporters. I was in shock. How has our country reached a point where we have become so desensitized to verbal injustice and discrimination?
Proud is an understatement for my feelings of my Ecuadorian-American identity. I will never forget my tie to the immigrant background of my parents. For someone to stereotype my ethnicity to attack is extremely infuriating. These stereotypes have concerning impacts on immigrants. We must continue to fight for undocumented and documented immigrants and share their experiences of discrimination within the United States.
As Karen Caudillo, a Mexican native and DACA recipient who moved to Naples, Florida when she was four years old, stated, “Immigrants are fighting for survival.”
And that’s where our first fault as allies falls. In the midst of misinformation spread about immigrants, we have lost sight of the fact that immigrants are people that are fighting for a better life. As immigrants continue to be called criminals, misinformation on immigrants has perpetuated discrimination towards them. Not only are immigrants less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans, many come to the U.S. fleeing gangs, domestic violence, or inaccessibility to food in agricultural communities affected by climate change. Nonetheless, when we look toward hubs of immigration, like detention centers, their well being does not matter, and extreme mistreatment is all too common.
The Otay Mesa Detention Facility is operated by CoreCivic, the nation’s second largest private prison operator. Immigration detention centers owned by Corecivic are responsible for the disturbing lack of medical attention and cleaning supplies that have caused COVID-19 to ravage detainees. As Tristyn Thomas, Founder of Youth for Border aid, shared with me, detainees are at extreme risk to the coronavirus. In Otay Mesa alone, 18% of about 987 detainees have been infected. While “guards are given masks, detainees are given nothing while held in close proximity.”
This occurrence has sparked protests to demand that detainees at the Otay Mesa detention facility and others be released. While organizers still wait for ICE’s response, it’s imperative to recognize that this treatment stems from a much larger issue: the discrimination and bigotry towards minority groups remains prevalent within our nation.
It is our job to speak out against every injustice immigrant communities face. Whether it’s at a grocery store, workplace, or school, we need to fight the supremacist behaviors exerted towards immigrant communities and prevent further discrimination.
If I had the opportunity, I would tell my childhood self to be bold and honest about underlying tones of bigoty and discrimination. But I cannot. As climate activists, we need to have a conversation demanding behavioral changes in immigrant stereotypes. The key is learning more about the immigration experience.
Reading more on immigration policies and moving past misinformation are the first steps. Immigrants from the Caribbean and the Northern triangle are imperative to the unique identity of our country and are not a monolith from one country. They seek refuge from all parts of the world.
Non-profit organizations like the ACLU, Youth for Border Aid, and Border Angels are expanding their efforts to protect immigrants at risk of deportation and provide food and shelter to asylum seekers at the border.
You have a voice and duty to actively fight for the lives of others. When we choose to advocate together, we will find our impact greater than what we could have ever expected.
Lorena Sosa is a rising high school student within Orlando, Florida. Inspired by all the change-makers in her community, Lorena is proud to serve alongside like-minded individuals as a Logistics member of This Is Zero Hour and the chapter lead of Orlando Zero Hour.