I started the day with a sense of calm because the previous days had been so intense and I had made a good number of contacts. I had planned to drive down to Gulf Shores to meet with the owner of a real estate company that lost many employees both legal and undocumented after HB 56, but our meeting was cancelled at the last moment. I hadn’t driven south down to the coast so I decided to go anyway to check it out and see what kind of business establishments I could hit up for flyering. Highway 59 ends at a public beach where I stopped to take pictures. To my extreme surprise, the sand on the beach was white and the water clear blue. Had I woken up there after being unconscious I would have thought I was in Cancun. Who knew that Alabama could be so beautiful. The weather was perfect and had I been wearing shorts, I might have indulged myself and taken a dip in the water.
After snapping a few pictures I decided to grab lunch somewhere where I could write a few emails and do a bit of work. I came across the Shrimp Basket and a good choice it was. I had the best seafood étouffée I had ever tasted an a basket of all-you-can-eat fried shrimp for $9.99. The same food you can eat anywhere else definitely tastes very different in Alabama. I don’t know why, it’s just that much better.
I left the Shrimp Basket and found the nearest Starbucks, which happened to be inside Target in order to be able to sit down and watch the CHIRLA video to get ready for the Know Your Rights presentation scheduled later that evening. I ordered a large iced coffee and sat down to review my materials. This was the first time I was really sitting down to take things in rather than make phone calls or meet new people. As I started watching the video the scenes that came up including the factory workers being detained by ICE in a raid and the agents coming to a family’s home in the middle of the night filled me with intense sorrow. Everything I had heard up until then was magnified by the visual aid provided by video and it all started sinking in. I felt completely alone and I felt the pangs of the reality immigrants wake up to everyday. I felt the fear, the hurt, pain, and the loss of dignity inflicted on people who are simply doing what they can, out of necessity, to get by. I couldn’t help it; tears welled up and rolled down my cheeks. The white woman who had sat at the table next to me in front of a lap top wearing business attire became an anonymous symbol where I directed my anger and sadness out of the corner of my eye. In my mind I thought… “you don’t even know, you have no idea what people are going through as we’re sitting here, you have no idea who I am, you have no idea why I’m the only Latino in this entire store.” I wanted to turn and tell her that people were being ripped out of their homes and children being separated from their parents. That her state had passed a law targeting less than 200,000 people with the hate and vitriol of all previous historical instances of discrimination combined. I wanted her and everyone in that establishment to know why I was crying. I thought about my aunt and uncle being deported at separate times when I was 11 years old and my parents driving my new born American cousin to Mexico to reunite him with his mother. I thought about how fourteen years later my aunt and uncle had returned to the US and, still, any day my cousins could finish a school day only not to find my aunt waiting to pick them up and my mother having to explain what had happened. I thought about what it would be like for them to have to move to Mexico if my relatives were deported and how they would be strangers in that country, never having grown up there and not knowing a single person.
I calmed down and finished reading the handouts I was given through the tears blurring my vision. I gathered my things and walked outside and stood outside my rental car for a long while listening to music through my earphones.
When I had picked up the pieces I drove to La Michoacana market in Foley to meet up with two lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Gabby and Romina. We briefly talked about what the Know Your Rights presentation would look like and proceeded to talk more generally about the law and to the market’s owner who recounted the hardship Latino businesses were experiencing losing not only their employees but also their customer base.
We all drove to United Methodist Church an hour before the presentation to set up. Gabby knew I had been upset earlier and tried her best to cheer me up telling me that I needed to drink a Redbull for the presentation. I knew I needed to be animated and engaging but I couldn’t shake off the numbness I was feeling. As people started arriving I was able to move into the zone and focus on the matter at hand. I welcomed people I had met before at the congregations I visited and spoke to the service providers, leaders, and the Foley Police Department officer who had shown up. The presentation went well. I used to get nervous, but now it’s second nature. At some point the video skipped scenes and it wouldn’t rewind without skipping back to the very beginning. I simply turned the video off and improvised from my knowledge of what needed to be covered and the many times I had given the same spiel before. At the end I invited Gabby to speak so she could address her community as the leader we had been cultivating. She made a call for leaders to emerge from the audience and join us the next day to create a plan of action. All in all we were there four hours that evening. The presentation re-energized me and I felt like a million dollars.