Commentary, reports, & reflections.

Passing the baton

October 29th

Saturday morning I left Foley early. I passed by Gabby’s workplace to say goodbye and to thank her for how welcomed she and her family had made me feel in their home.

The Coalition staff had asked me to give the new organizers arriving in Birmingham an overview of how to do the Know Your Rights presentation, so I planned to get their an hour before everyone else. On the way to Birmingham I had a blowout. I always thought having one would be much more frightening, but I hardly noticed except for seeing the tire fly off the car through the rear view mirror. At first I didn’t know what to do or whether to call a mechanic but I was able to figure out how to use the jack and I quickly replaced the shredded wheel with the spare. I still made it to Birmingham on time.

The new organizers were great. It was a nice feeling to feel like the one who had already seen it and done it and pass on tips and information to others. The new round included organizers from California, New York, and Arizona and organizations like CHIRLA and NDLON. After my chat about the Know Your Rights presentation, we had lunch and the rest of the organizers from round one slowly started arriving. After lunch we sat around on couches in a large room and talked about our experiences, things we noticed were different about organizing in Alabama, and answered the new organizer’s questions. We then had one-on-ones with the organizers assigned to replace us in our regions to pass on all the contacts we had collected and brief them on where we had left off. Jose from New York was going to replace me and I told him he would be focusing more on Mobile County where I had had less of an opportunity to organize. I also told him about the meeting with the Mayor of Gulf Shores I had planned for him and the Know Your Rights presentation which was already scheduled.

Around 5 pm we cleaned up the space and headed to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. It was a happy time. Afterwards a few of us got together at a bar for drinks and then we said our goodbyes.

October 30th

The next morning I drove down to Montgomery and flew back to California. I was very happy to be going home. Just boarding the flight from Dallas to San Francisco made me feel fabulous. Landing in San Francisco was beautiful. The plane descended right over the Bay with the Peninsula to the left where I could see from San Jose to San Francisco. The temperature was 69 degrees, sunny, and clear. I felt the love California was showing me and I felt welcomed home.

La Panaderia

October 27th

La panaderia (the bakery) used to be one of my favorite places to go to as a kid. You know the saying… I love whatever like a fat kid loves chocolate… well I was the fat kid who loved the gingerbread pigs and empanadas filled with pumpkin preserves. Anything else I loved was compared to how much I loved those Mexican baked goods.

I’m thinking about it now because of what a great choice it was to have the leaders meeting at La Panaderia la Mexicana in Foley. Everyone knew where it was, I didn’t even need to give people the address. Even better, a least six people who ended up forming an integral part of the conversation were only there because they had stopped to buy bread and had overheard words like civic engagement, community, leadership, unity, and dignity. Something we all could always use more of.

I started the conversation in typical organizing fashion, introducing myself and the coalition I was representing, and then asking everyone to introduce themselves and say a bit about why they had chosen to spend their evening with us and what they hoped to walk away with. At first we only occupied a table, but people continued to trickle in 15 minutes into the meeting and we had to spread out taking up the entire bakery dining space. To my surprise, the pastor whose husband had come close to kicking me out of their church for being with the ACLU showed up. I guess I was able to defend myself formidably after all and she managed to understand why I was there and why the ACLU isn’t as evil as some paint us. I worked upon the communities heart strings and desires I knew all too well myself. I talked about why we were so good at spreading information and how we weren’t exactly known for our unity amongst Latinos generally and even less as a people sharing many commonalities, but having different nationalities. I talked about why it was important for them to get involved as individuals in seeing through what they wanted to see in their community. I told told them that California, Illinois, and New York don’t have better laws just because… I reminded them that those communities have worked together and it’s been a long work in progress. I also made comparisons to the Asian, South Asian, and Anglo communities which strangely to Latinos… were always the ones who as a community created safety nets and helped others without ever asking for anything in return. I finished up saying that I was a visitor in their community and that my job was to make them have a conversation. I would leave the next day maybe never to see them again. I asked them, “What are you going to do now? What are you going to do to help yourself?” With that, I told them I was excusing myself from the rest of the meeting and I stood up to take pictures.

I had no certainty my theatrics would work, but what came next was beautiful. They sat in silence for a few moments and one by one began making suggestions, putting forth ideas, and asking questions. By the end of the night the group had decided to create a formal entity to respond to the community’s needs in Baldwin County. They even set up a steering committee to guide its inception and a president, vice president, secretary, and “vocals” whose job would be to spread the word.

My job as an organizer was done. I had accomplished what the Coalition had invited me to Alabama to do. It all happened at the panaderia and my joy was finally greater than any baked good I could have asked for.

Shrimp Basket

October 26th

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.

Parents: Hispanic kids being bullied

Parents: Hispanic kids being bullied

ACIJ reaction to Napolitano

Secretary Napolitano: DHS Will Not Help Implement Alabama Law
Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice Reacts:
“Actions Speak Louder than Words.”
Montgomery, AL – Janet Napolitano, secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told a Congressional committee this week that her agency is not helping Alabama officials enforce our state’s new discriminatory anti-immigrant law. The Secretary said that she is concerned about reports of racial profiling, and that her agency is cooperating with the US Department of Justice to investigate these and other abuses.
The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice appreciates Secretary Napolitano’s remarks. However, given the documented cooperation between local authorities and DHS since the implementation of the law, and the experience of Alabama families with immigration authorities, the Secretary’s declaration is being met with justified skepticism. Contributing to that skepticism is the Department’s failure to implement its announced new policy directing its agencies to exercise prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases.
In Decatur, Alabama, four immigrants were arrested during traffic stops and subsequently turned over to immigration authorities, who placed them into deportation proceedings. These individuals remain in proceedings despite the Secretary’s statement.
In addition, over 3,000 calls have been made to an emergency hotline set up by national and local legal organizations since the implementation of the Alabama law. The hotline has uncovered an extensive record of civil rights abuses, as well as cases of individuals being put into deportation proceedings by federal officials—again, despite the Secretary’s statement.
Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama and Steering Committee member of ACIJ said, “We know of at least one woman who was arrested under one of HB 56’s ‘papers please’ provisions who is currently in deportation proceedings and fighting to return to her Alabama home. We call upon ICE to release her, and stop putting those ensnared by this unconstitutional law - which the administration is challenging - through the deportation pipeline.”
Victor Palafox, Steering Committee member of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and leader with Alabama Dreamers for the Future (an organization of undocumented and allied youth) said, “I am glad that Secretary Napolitano finally acknowledged that the civil rights of our families are being violated on a massive scale. Many of our friends have disappeared from school and their families have fled the state, afraid of being ripped apart by immigration authorities. I hope that Secretary Napolitano is telling our families that we have nothing to fear—but we will have to see it to believe it. Actions speak louder than words.”
Napolitano’s latest statement follows another pronouncement by DHS, made in August of this year, that many immigrants who were deemed no threat to public safety—including young people eligible for the DREAM Act—should not be deported. However, those words have not resulted in relief to immigrant communities.
Said Mary Bauer, Legal Director from the Southern Poverty Law Center, “The new guidance about prosecutorial discretion from DHS has not been implemented. Immigration lawyers in the Southeast and across the nation are waiting for direction from DHS on these memos, but thus far it has remained business as usual in the immigration offices and courts that cover Alabama.”
Zayne Smith, Coordinator of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said, “It is time for the Department of Homeland Security to take bold and public action to assure our families that they will not be ripped apart as a result of HB 56. Statements from Secretary Napolitano in Washington are welcome, but relief in Alabama is what we need. The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice asks that DHS publicly direct immigration authorities in the field to stop cooperating with local law enforcement in Alabama, who are being forced to implement a law which even Secretary Napolitano herself acknowledges is discriminatory. We also request that DHS headquarters review every deportation case coming out of Alabama to ensure that the Secretary’s words are enforced.”
ACIJ is a network of individuals and organizations which seek to provide a united voice dedicated to ensuring the social, legal and civic rights of all immigrants in Alabama.
ACIJ’s members work to promote justice for all of Alabama’s immigrants.

Letter to Gov. Bentley and Judge Blackburn


Patricia McGovern Armour
Foley Elementary School –
Baldwin County ESL Resource Teacher

October 9th, 2011

To: Governor Bentley, Judge Sharon Blackburn, and To Whom It May Concern,

I am a teacher.  I was born to be a teacher, as my sweet mother used to tell me.  I have now been teaching longer than most of my students’ parents have been alive! 

It is with tears in my heart, I report that with the passing of HB 56 teaching and learning has stopped in my classroom.  You see, I am an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for Baldwin County, in the great state of Alabama.  No longer are our school hallways, buses, and classrooms filled with many of our happy, innocent American children. 

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"Open Letter to all Americans"


Patricia McGovern Armour
Foley, Alabama  

October 13th, 2011

An open letter to all Americans…

I believe as many Americans do, that if you have a good education, many doors of the world can be opened for you.  You see, I have lived it.  I grew up in a poor but proud Irish-German family.  It was through the sacrifices of my parents and the education my teachers instilled in me, that I am now living the American Dream.  I went into teaching many years ago to give back what was given to me. I am proud to call myself a teacher. I spend my days with young children and young minds.  I plant “Alleluia’s”, dreams, and hopes into their hearts. 

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"Seeing the faces of the children"

What follows is a letter being circulated in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. It’s from a teacher, to her colleagues and friends.

When others think of the passing of the new strict Alabama Immigration Laws they may envision an illegal sneaking over a fence, but this is not what I see.  I see the faces of sweet innocent Hispanic-American children flashing through my mind and faces of their hard-working, faith-filled Latino families.

I see my Francisco’s face with his sweet smile and deep dimples that always made my day when he walked into my classroom.  Full of pride, because not only was he learning a new language, but he was also being very successful in his first grade class.  Now his desk sits empty.

I see my Lizbeth so timid, shy and small, crying on her first day of kindergarten.  It was the first time she had to go “anywhere” without someone in her family being with her.  It was her first time to survive in an “English Only” environment.  I see her face frightened, with tears running down her cheeks, clinging to a Raggedy Anne doll that we gave her to comfort her…crying the first three weeks of school because she did not know how to communicate with her teacher.  I see her happy, busy and learning with her kindergarten class, but now her family too is making plans to leave our state.

I see my “English Second Language” students standing on our school stage at the end of the year, receiving many awards.  I see their proud parents with “throw-away” cameras, cheering for them with tears in their eyes because they are so grateful for the opportunity their children have to get a good education in America.

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