Living Latino in the USA: Cultural Values "Why do they come?" - A series by Sue Smith, D.Min., MSW, Executive Director

When asked why she had emigrated to the United States from Nicaragua, a friend once told me, “Someone in my family — an aunt, an uncle, a cousin — has always gone north [to the U.S.] to work, to earn a decent salary and to send money back home to help support the rest of us. Especially the children, so they can stay in school and get a good education, and the ancianos who are getting older and can no longer earn a living. It was my turn, and I came.”

It is sometimes difficult for us in the U.S. to understand what compels Latino immigrants to come here, to leave behind their families and everything familiar, to come to a new place and start over. But these decisions are deeply rooted in cultural values and meaning, and a worldview that is often quite different from our own. The decision to emigrate is rarely just about what an individual wants from life. It more likely is made out of a sense of responsibility to do what is best for others, for one’s spouse, children, and parents. For North Americans, what may seem like a selfish decision to abandon one’s family is, to the immigrant, an act of self sacrifice to care for those he or she loves.

A starting point for understanding differences in worldview and culture is to look at the way we raise and socialize our children. As Americans, we value independence and self-sufficiency. White anglo parents emphasize self-esteem, autonomy, and self-confidence, while traditional Latino parents tend to place more emphasis on respect, obedience, conformity, and one’s place within the family. The most important message my parents instilled in me was this:You can go anywhere you want, be anything you want to be. And for my Latina friend, that message was:Never forget where you come from, or who you are.

And so when my friend says it was her turn to come to the US, her decision was not based on a selfish desire to come here and get a good job, buy a car, or live in a nice house. It was made because of her sense of responsibility to la familia, a way of giving back to those who enabled her to finish school and attend the university. Many immigrants cannot find work in their home countries to adequately provide for their families, and emigration is seen as their only hope.

As you hear the stories of Latino immigrants, take a moment to stop and ask yourself how that person fits into the bigger picture, into their familia. Did they embark on the journey to the U.S. as an adventure, an escape, or to get away from home? And what are they giving up? They may never see their parents alive again, and their children grow up without them. What sacrifices have they made, what losses have they experienced along the way?

A Senator’s Aide Comes Knocking By Greg Smith, Administrative Coordinator

On Sunday, September 28, Sue and I hosted Mr. Marvin Figueroa in our home to talk with Latino and non-Latino colleagues and friends about immigration and immigration reform. Marvin serves in the office of Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) of Virginia in the areas of immigration, education and workforce development. Being a senate staffer as well as an immigrant from Honduras, Marvin offered an insider perspective into the challenges that face immigration reform and the immigrant community.

Marvin stated that immigration reform would probably not be taken up again before the new session of Congress in January 2015. But at that point, the Senate immigration bill adopted in the spring of 2013 becomes null and void, and the process requires starting over again. While there is still energy in the Senate for immigration reform, the process during the new session would probably start in the U.S. House of Representatives and not in the Senate. And with the presidential election taking place in 2016, there is realistically little hope that immigration reform will be passed during the next session of Congress.

Marvin addressed President Obama’s upcoming executive order regarding immigration, scheduled to be announced after the 2014 mid-term elections. While the president hasn’t specified what will be included, Marvin indicated that it could provide some relief for current undocumented immigrants. At the same time he cautioned us, explaining that an executive order is very limited in what it can do, and that it can be reversed by the next president. Every president understands that a “going-it-alone” approach can make it difficult to work with Congress, and in this case it could affect real immigration reform. Even Obama’s June 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) order doesn’t guarantee long-term relief. Only Congress can provide real immigration reform.

The recent surge of unaccompanied minors and family members, almost exclusively from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, hits close to home for Marvin, who emigrated from Honduras with his mother when he was 5. He expressed disappointment that the Lawrenceville, Virginia community did not allow the abandoned facilities of St. Paul College to house some of the children. These recent arrivals are admittedly “resource-heavy,” placing a burden on the services of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and others. He invited us to help Senator Warner find ways to integrate these children into U.S. society smoothly, for the children’s sake.

Several of the Latinos at the meeting said that many immigrants feel attacked by the anger and animosity generated by the immigration debate. One person stated that undocumented immigrants feel as if they are “disposable,” used by the system for what they can provide and then thrown away as unwanted. While immigration has many political, economic and sociological factors that must be considered, above all it is a moral concern, with the dignity of the immigrant as a person being of utmost importance.

Marvin thanked us for advocacy on behalf of immigration reform. While LUCHA’s group represented individuals of all political stripes, we are ready to work with anyone striving toward immigration reform. Overwhelmingly those in attendance felt very positive about their time with Marvin and that it was a constructive dialogue. Many expressed they would welcome future opportunities for such gatherings as we all work toward change.