S01 E06: Immigration – Keeping Families Together

07.2,19

Pod for the Cause host Ashley Allison and film director, author, and activist Paola Mendoza discuss immigration and family separation. The conversation includes experiences of families on the border who are seeking asylum and safety, as well as the importance of immigration reform.

Interview Guest

Paola Mendoza Film Director | Author | Activist

Our Host

voting rights, human rights, civil rights Ashley Allison Executive Vice President of Campaigns and Programs The Leadership Conference

Contact the Team

For media inquiries or if you would like to be a guest on the show, please contact LaGloria Wheatfall, producer, [email protected]; or Kenny Yi, production assistant, [email protected].

Episode Transcript

[Music 00:00 – 00:08]

Ashley: Hey, what’s up everybody? Welcome to Pod for the Cause – the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, where we expand the conversation on the critical civil and human rights challenges of our day. I’m your host, Ashley Allison, coming to you from Washington, D.C. Everybody say what’s up to the Pod Squad, where we always discuss pop culture and social justice topics while incorporating our issue areas of concern. I am so excited to have two of my friends here with me today, and also awesome, awesome organizers: Jonathan Jayes-Green, who is the co-founder and Director of UndocuBlack Network, UBN. What’s up, Jonathan?

Jonathan: Hi.

Ashley: Hey! And my homegirl Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, who is the Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, also known as BISC. What’s up, Chris?

Chris: Hey girl.

Ashley: Hey, I’m so happy to see you, but I will tell you, I’m kinda on one today, and y’all know what it’s like when I’m on one. I’ll tell you why: because babies are in cages, because the president wanted to incite fear by talking about raids, and I’m just like, “Arrgh.” Maybe you have better words than I do, than my grunts, but what’s on your heart? What are you feeling? Let’s start with you, Chris.

Chris: Every morning when I drive Olivia, my daughter, to school, we listen to NPR. She’s listening to all this this morning talking about the detention centers and what’s happening to children, and she’s just like, “What in the world is going on?” This is insane. That doesn’t make any sense. As a mother, what’s on my heart is how dare we put babies in cages. These are our children – biologically or not – and this is the stuff that our children have to listen to. This is the world that they are hearing about other children being in, so that very much is in my heart, and just thinking as a queer, Latina, these are mi gente. Even though I’m not a Mexican-American, these are my people. That very much is in my heart right now.

Ashley: Yeah. Jonathan, tell us what’s on your heart, brother.

Jonathan: There’s so much. One of the things that is on my heart – it’s really a reflection of who we are as a country. I would love to talk about and pretend what’s happening at the border, in these cages, is new, but it’s not. I would love to say that this is not who are as a country, but history reminds me otherwise. What’s on my heart is a deep anger and sadness that this is who we still are in 2019, and also deeply carrying the stories, the lives of the people, my people – I’m still undocumented – and really thinking about how my community is being played, is being used for political gains, that he’s actually banking on the terror that he’s inflicting in our communities to be able to get more money for his wall and for his agencies that are responsible for what’s happening.

This does not have to be what’s happening today. That’s what on my heart, is just anger and sadness.

Ashley: I recall almost a year ago, working really hard on the Families Belong Together rally, and I’m pissed because it’s a year later –

Chris: We’re still here.

Ashley: And we’re still here. They’re just – the babies aren’t in just cages, they don’t have basic, common needs that people should live with dignity and respect. We are better – I am better.

Jonathan: Yes, that’s right.

Ashley: I am better than this, and so my country should be too.

Jonathan: Even when we talk about detention, I think there’s multiple folks on the spectrum around what is detention, whether it should happen or not – and I think, for me, even if they had toothbrushes, and toothpaste, and soaps, a kid should not be in cages.

Ashley: Not be in cages.

Jonathan: Period.

Ashley: That’s right.

Chris: Period.

Jonathan: Period. That’s just it, but the fact that even the stage that we’re at – and it’s not because they don’t have money. Let’s be clear. This is a crisis that is being manufactured from the highest level of the land all the way down through these agencies, Customs and Border Protection and ICE – this is a political crisis that’s being manufactured, and our people are being traumatized for life.

Ashley: For life.

Jonathan: Even when they get out – I’m so sorry.

Chris: Oh no, it’s true. Just being there, you get released, you go back to your family – that’s not the end. That is trauma you will carry with you –

Jonathan: Forever.

Chris: For your entire life.

Jonathan: Actually for generations.

Chris: Yeah, for generations. Absolutely.

Ashley: That’s why the conversation that just happened in Congress around reparations is so interesting because the layers of this is that – one, the way people get confused on what is actually in the legislation, is a study on how reparations will be implemented, but the need, even, for reparations is because the trauma of slavery. We don’t even know generationally what we carry. I’m interested if you all have a take on any of that. Mitch McConnell said Obama was our reparations.

Jonathan: Ooh, father God.

Chris: I think it just continues to show that people think that it’s one and done. It’s just one thing that’s going to make everything better. This is continuous work that we will do for our entire lives, and not just the three of us, our life on this Earth, but my daughter’s life, so on and so on. It’s not a simple fix. It’s not simply nuanced because of the generational trauma around slavery – it just is not gonna stop here, and it requires all of us to continuously have these conversations even though it’s hard to just continue to have this conversation. Or as Jonathan told us, history will repeat itself, and it will continue to repeat ourself if we just let it go, and we don’t have these conversations.

Jonathan: I’ve been living in the United States for the past 15 years being undocumented. The day that changes – the day that either Congress gets it act together and passes a law so that I’m able to adjust my status, and I get a green card, none of these years of trauma will just magically go away. Thinking about how being undocumented today affects every aspect of my being, from how I’m in relationships to partners, how I think about my career, how I think about my friendships, how I think about safety, how even my timeframe – at times I feel like I can only plan in two-year increments ‘cause that’s how long my DACA lasts.

None of that is going to permanently go away, so I think all of us, everyone in this country who believes in freedom and justice, has the responsibility to daily interrogate themselves. What is the role they’re willing to play to be able to intervene, to be able to change the course of history ‘cause we need that more than ever.

Ashley: Jonathan, I will say, you and our other dear friend who also was on the show, Gracia, y’all have just been on my heart a lot, and I don’t know how you find your bravery. I don’t know how you find your courage not to just have a job, but to do the work you do. You’re not just fighting for yourself at UndocuBlack, you’re fighting for every undocumented person – black, brown, and every shade in between – to have a place here in this country.

All of our issues at the Leadership Conference – they’re all intersectional. They’re all overlapping. We are not individual issue person. Sometimes the way the news talks about these issues, like what’s happening in Venezuela, and how that plays into what’s happening on our border right now, and how that plays to what’s happening in our country right now, and how that will affect everyone. Chris, I don’t know if you wanna speak a little bit about what’s going on in Venezuela, but there’s a lotta trauma sitting at this table.

Chris: Oh, absolutely. I came to the United States when I was three years old. I’m a Venezuelan-American. It’s been really interesting having these conversations with my mom, who is a US citizen now, and I remember in the months leading up to the Trump election, and she was like, [speaking Spanish] – “They can’t see what’s happening?” She lived it in another country. Maduro was not the president when she grew up in Venezuela, but she has seen this type of thing happen before, and even when Trump became president, she was looking for her citizenship papers just to make sure that she was gonna be okay whatever happened.

We have four million Venezuelans who have left their country, my home country. I have cousins all over the world because there are no jobs. There is no food. There is no water. There is no infrastructure. It is violent. It is unsafe to walk outside of your house on a daily basis, and just two weeks ago, I got to see one of my cousins – the only one who has come to the United States since people have started leaving, and I haven’t seen her in 10 years because shortly after the last time we went, it became very unsafe to be a Venezuelan-born American.

Ashley: I wanna stop you there for a second, and just for all of our listeners – think about someone you haven’t seen in 10 years. For me, that would be when I was in law school, living in Brooklyn, New York. I haven’t seen them because of choice, and the agency I chose to say I moved from place to place. You didn’t have that privilege. You were separated from your family. The separation of families happens in so many different ways in this country.

Chris: So many different ways.

Ashley: Through the criminal justice system, through police violence, through immigration, through over-criminalization of black and brown communities.

Jonathan: That’s right.

Ashley: I’m here today with two of my dear friends, and I’m sorry y’all – usually the Pod Squad is a little lighter, and we might get there, but there’s some real stuff happening in our country, and we – this is a place to have real conversation and talk about it. I’m here with Jonathan Jayes-Green, co-founder and Director of UndocuBlack Network, and Chris Melody Fields, the Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

We been talking about what’s been happening, but I’d like to talk about some of the work you all are doing. Chris, you go into states and run ballot initiatives. How do you think your work can connect to some of the issues we’re seeing happen in our country right now?

Chris: Absolutely. One of the things that I believe so much to our core is ballot measures are people power. It is the opportunity for people to take issues that are impacting their communities and their lives, and take it directly to them, and vote on it. For me, just looking at the history – ballot measures have been around a hundred years, and they were created because our state legislatures, our government, was not representing the people, and the people needed a new way to challenge corruption, corporations – everything we are seeing now.

It’s like we have come full circle, so for me it’s like this is our way to take on these systems of oppression that don’t allow us to be free, and we have to not just think about it in a policy-focused way. How are these really going to transform people’s lives, and in the same way build real power, and community, and activate and motivate people to take this power to make changes in their lives.

I’m an organizer, so that’s what gets me riled up is giving people the agency to determine their freedom.

Ashley: Jonathan, what about you? You do a lotta work. You started this organization. And could you actually talk a little bit about – you’re Afro-Latino.

Jonathan: That’s right.

Ashley: You look like you’re a black man.

Jonathan: Because I am.

Ashley: Because you are a black man.

Jonathan: That’s right.

Ashley: But you also are Latino, and how the complexity of that is interwoven into your story and the work that you do.

Jonathan: One of the reasons why we – and it was me and a few other folks – started UndocuBlack three or four years ago is that we really felt this deep gap of how we as a country thought about immigration, how we talked about and defined who is undocumented and who is impacted. What we knew from our lives, and also from data, is that black immigrants tend to be more likely to be criminalized in this country, when we look at the detention and deportation numbers, we’re over-represented in the detention center system because of racial profiling.

We exist in this country in the context of the experience of African-Americans, so we’re more likely to be picked up by police, we’re more likely to be accused of being criminal offenders, and when we touch the immigration system, that means that we’re more likely to be fast-tracked to deportation.

For us it’s really talking about black immigrants, but also all the other identities that our people hold. A lot of our communities are Muslims. When we talk about he Muslim [inaudible], we’re talking about immigration issue. We talk about queer and trans folx who are also in detention centers and really awful conditions. We always talk about immigration being a black issue, and it’s really a call to have a deeper conversation about who is undocumented in this country, and how are folks being impacted, and then also how can we use our communities and our experiences to ground bigger demands.

What I want is not just to talk about black immigrants. What I want is for us to talk about and build towards the ending of the criminalization of our communities. What I want is to see an end to the detention and deportation system in this country that is literally killing our people across this country. What I want is a world where our people are able to live free, to be well, and to live in their dignity, and that’s what we want.

Ashley: I’m gonna pivot a little bit. This is the Pod Squad, but it’s connected because it’s about identity, and there recently was this woman named Marijuana Pepsi, who refused to change her name, and she recently earned her PhD. One, I’m glad she earned a PhD, but I don’t even know why this has to be a news story because she should be able to have her name, live fine, and not be all the things that she’s being, which I think are a lot of anti-blackness, but it’s her name. It’s her name, and she obviously is a brilliant woman getting her PhD, and yet she was almost demonized because of her name, and told to change her name because it probably made people feel uncomfortable.

Jonathan: That’s right.

Ashley: Just like black people make people feel uncomfortable.

Jonathan: Every day.

Ashley: Just like immigrants make people feel uncomfortable or just like the LGBTQ folx make people feel uncomfortable.

Jonathan: Don’t be at the intersection of those things.

Chris: Oh honey, boo boo.

Ashley: Child. It’s a wrap. And when we say that, we mean for me, I am a black woman who has multiple identities, has multiple ways I like to be spoken to as a person. Chris has multiple identities. I’m not just someone that you can talk to and say, “Oh, you’re black,” so listen here 2020 folks, I’m not just one of those people that you can say, “This is your issue.” This stuff happening on the border, it’s my issue, and I am not an immigrant.

Before we close out the Pod Squad – sorry – I’m just telling y’all. This stuff is real. This is our country, and recently the BET Awards was on. My girl Mary – I’m doing my little Mary walk. Meth came out ‘cause that’s my – that’s my karaoke song. I don’t know if y’all knew that. The BET Awards always have purpose, but this one in particular had purpose because of other stuff going. Nipsy’s passing – he got the Humanitarian Award. The exonerated five were honored. I just said Mary was honored. And then Lizzo showed up and showed out with “Truth Hurts.”

Chris: That’s right.

Ashley: Y’all got anything to say to any of the folks at the BET? Maybe Mary’s listening.

Chris: First of all, it started with a statement. Regina Hall, DC native talking – playing –

Ashley: Don’t mute DC. That Go-go.

Chris: Starting with Go-go music, which is so the fabric of Washington, D.C., and we’d had this whole movement around Don’t Mute DC, so it started with a statement and a purpose, and she was fully living into who she is and what she was proud of, so to make that statement from the beginning –

Ashley: On a national platform.

Chris: That’s right.

Ashley: I remember the first time I heard Go-go. I was like, “What is this?” The drops.

Jonathan: For me there are two things. One, I love Lizzo so much. Everybody streams “Truth Hurts.” Please support her. Just for her to be out there, unapologetically beautiful, talented, singing, playing the flute, twerking. I just love her so much. That meant a lot to me.

I think the second thing is that I think I also – while I loved it, I also would have loved to see some reference to it being Pride month. That’s one thing that I’m like, I would’ve loved to see something related to that particularly, thinking about “Pose,” how ground-breaking “Pose” has been for our community – black, queer, and trans folx. That could be something y’all could work on next year.

Ashley: Okay. We all got ways to grow.

Jonathan: Yes, that’s right.

Ashley: You know what I mean? That’s a good point ‘cause sometimes the LGBTQ person or identity is left out of the black experience, and we need to be inclusive of all people. Before we close out, I just wanna say – there’s a lotta ways that people can get involved. If you could give folks 20 seconds, one thing they can do between now and the end of this week, to make a difference in what’s happening in our country right now, what would it be?

Jonathan: For me it would be calling your members of Congress and asking them not to give a single penny to ICE and CBP. I know there’s a lot of conversations around passing a bill that would help fix the crisis, but I also really want people to think critically about what the strategy is of this president. They have the money, they have enough money to be able to fix this today, but they won’t, and they’re asking for more money, so if they’re gonna give more money, they need to figure out where exactly it’s going, and making sure that, unlike last year, when Trump raided other funds to be able to fund his border wall, that that doesn’t happen again.

Call your members of Congress. Demand that they are not feeding this deportation and death machine that’s happening on our border.

Ashley: What about you, Chris?

Chris: I think about it from a community-building perspective, and not something specifically about legislation or direct action the way we do in DC and are doing out in the field, but just something simple that you can do on your street. Walk up to somebody and say hello, what brings you joy?

We started in a very heavy place, and there’s just so much going on right now, and we have to remind us as we’re fighting what brings us joy, and what brings other people joy. That is where I try to center my purpose and my heart, and I think as we’re gonna continue to fight, we gotta remember that.

Ashley: What brings you joy. Absolutely. I am here with Chris Melody Fields Figueredo from BISC, Jonathan Jayes-Green from UndocuBlack Network. I love you all.

Jonathan: Love you too.

Chris: Love you!

Ashley: You all bring me joy.

Jonathan: Thanks for having me.

Ashley: I hope Pod for the Cause and the Pod Squad brings you all joy.

Jonathan: Yes.

Ashley: Coming up, we have a special guest with us today: Paola Mendoza. So don’t go anywhere.

[Music 18:30 – 18:48]

Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. Today we are talking all things immigration, and we have a special guest with us today, film director, author, and activist Paola Mendoza. Thank you so much for joining us today, Paola.

Paola: Thank you for having me.

Ashley: We’re talking today about a pretty heavy subject that’s happening in our country, and honestly has been happening for quite a while around family separation and the treatment of migrant families on the border and in detention centers across our country. You have done a lot around immigration rights, and you’re a creator, you’re an artist, and you have done great work in telling the stories of immigrant families. I learned that you went a couple months ago down to Mexico to travel with a family and document the story of migrant families. Can you tell us what you saw when you were on that journey?

Paola: I went down to the caravan in November, specifically because – this was pre-election, and we were able to see how Donald Trump was using this caravan as a political football, and he really wanted to try and stir up his anti-immigrant base in order to get them to come out and vote around the midterms. It seemed pretty clear to me, and I’d spent a lotta time working in immigration communities, specifically in the undocumented community, and I had done a lotta work around family separation, so I imagined who these families were and how they were getting here.

I was also doing a lot of reading in the Spanish-language press, trying to capture a more balanced story and so I decided to go down there because the story that was being told in our media just was inaccurate, and Donald Trump was leading the way on that storytelling, and we were falling in line – the media – unfortunately.

I went down there, and I took many trips to Mexico, but I spent some time with them – about five days – with the caravan when they were in Oaxaca. What I saw there was – at that time it was about 7,000 people, and it was a mixture of both young men and a ton of families. It was impossible to say what the breakdown was because it was so chaotic.

I saw mothers walking that were breastfeeding children that were two, three months old. I saw four-year-olds walking with blisters all over their feet. I saw fathers carrying their children on their backs. It was so much chaos with 7,000 people, and yet somehow, at some point – they had been traveling for already a month, and so in this chaos, they were able to keep moving forward. There was a lotta sick people, and in my first hour of being with the caravan, I ran into one specific family. They stopped my in my tracks, actually.

I was walking to an area where they were going to be sleeping for the night, and I saw a young woman breastfeeding a tiny baby on the side of the road underneath some shade, and she was surrounded in kids. At that point it was the first woman that I had seen that was actually breastfeeding, and so I went up to her, and I started talking to her, and I found out that she was a single mother of four, she had a four-month-old, who when she left for the caravan was actually three months old. She had an 18-month-old, a five-year-old, and a 10-year-old. She was traveling to the United States because she was fleeing horrific, horrific domestic violence.

As a mom, I was amazed, inspired, heartbroken that she was able to travel in these horrible conditions, and that her kids were so resilient, and so strong, and able to literally walk a thousand miles by that point. I thought to myself, this is the type of person, the qualities that the American “Dream” want – resiliency, grit, self-determination, imagining and doing the impossible. And yet, this woman and so many like her are being demonized in ways that are almost beyond the imagination, that we couldn’t have imagined that in our lifetime, a group of people could have been demonized in this moment in time in such an explicit, and crass, and clear way for political motivations.

Ashley: And really just seeking safety.

Paola: Seeking safety in a legal way. Asylum is a legal right. She wasn’t doing anything illegal. She was actually, and tried to, abide by the law. That family was a family that I followed throughout the entire journey and are now here in the United States asking for asylum, but her journey was not by any means easy.

Ashley: So they made it, luckily. Their case is still pending, is that correct?

Paola: Yes. She made it to Tijuana, and throughout the way her little four-month-old got sick and had to be hospitalized in Guadalajara, I believe, in Mexico, by the grace of strangers and the kindness of strangers, they were able to put the baby in the hospital for a few days. Someone along the way paid for it. She got herself to Tijuana. She was in Tijuana for about a month, living in a tent outside, and at this time in Tijuana it was raining a lot, so it was constantly flooding, and the little baby was getting more and more sick, so much so that at one point she called me. It was midnight in Tijuana, and she was like, “He’s very sick. It’s flooding.” From New York, I put her in a hotel in Tijuana for the night – for four nights.

Then I did a GoFundMe fundraiser for her, and was able to raise a good amount of money, again from the grace of strangers and the kindness of strangers. She decided – we had her in an apartment in Tijuana. She was no longer on the street, and she decided that she couldn’t wait anymore and she wanted to cross, so she crossed the border by climbing over the fence, on the wall, that already exists. She climbed over it and she asked for asylum. She’s now in asylum proceedings.

Ashley: The story you just told was one that still was hard, still has not been won, unfortunately ‘cause she’s still waiting to see if she can stay in the country, but most recently, last week – I think I actually learned about it on your Twitter feed, early in the morning – Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria did not make that journey successfully. It was a really hard photo to see, those two bodies laying facedown in the Rio Grande. Really desperate, trying to get to a safer place, and the story that I heard is just that out of pure desperation and lack of hope that they were going to be received by the United States official, they tried to cross via the river.

Did you ever encounter people who just – they didn’t believe that the United States was gonna help, but they were so in need of safety and asylum that they were by any means necessary, and if so can you tell us – other people that you might’ve met on your journey there?

Paola: Everyone that I encountered was fleeing horrible violence. I would say horrible violence mixed with a tremendous amount of poverty, and if that horrible violence qualifies as asylum I don’t know because I am not a lawyer. I am not within the asylum process to decide that, but everyone was fleeing something. I know we hear this a lot, this idea to take your children and make them walk 2,000 miles, or to cross a river that is dangerous and could take your life. To do that, that should speak to the desperate and horrific circumstances they’re fleeing. They’re not being irresponsible. These parents are being the most responsible they can be by trying to save their child’s lives.

I often try and make people understand the desperation that many of these refugees are fleeing by telling one of the stories that I heard a while ago that has stuck with me forever. I actually heard this story in 2014, which was at the height of the unaccompanied minor crisis under the Obama Administration. They’re from the same countries, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. Those three countries were experiencing and are experiencing such incredible violence, the children started fleeing by themselves to get reunited with their parents.

I was down to the McAllen, Texas, which also was the epicenter of that, which is the epicenter of the current crisis right now, and I was talking to a mom who had just crossed. She was in a migrant shelter, and she was with her, at that time, her 12-year-old son. I was talking to her, and I asked her why she left, and she proceeded to tell me the most horrific story.

She said that she was from Honduras, and that she was in an area controlled by gangs, which is common, which that is the way in which life works in Honduras, and that she had an older son, a 16-year-old and a 12-year-old. She came home from work one day – she was a single mother – and she went into her house, and inside of her house, the gang members had her 16-year-old son tied to a chair and her 12-year-old son sitting in front of him watching. They sat her down, and she wasn’t able to pay the daily or the monthly fee that she had to pay the gangs because she just wasn’t able to get it, and they had been harassing her for it, and she wasn’t able to pay them.

In response to her being unable to pay, they skinned her 16-year-old son alive in front of her and her little boy. She endured and watched that, and that idea so hurts and was so violent that that very same night she took her one surviving boy and she left towards the United States. I think any parent would do that. There is no judgment on what this woman did because the act of what they did to her son is so violent and so horrific that she had no choice but to do this journey and to make this journey north.

Ashley: For our listeners, just to get some perspective – it’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around how far 2,000 miles are. That’s like walking from Washington, D.C. to Nevada. It’s not a short journey. It is hot, there’s no guarantee of security, so you’re fleeing one unsafe place and you’re just trying to save your life and seek a better life for yourself and for your children.

I’m so thankful for the work that you do, and have been doing, around documenting the stories, but you also do some things that are pretty creative to make sure that people find inspiration. You were the Creative Director around the Families Belong Together rally that we had to have last year, and you had those beautiful children with the I am a child poster. I still have one in my office right now. It’s just a reminder of the work that we do, and the faces, and the babies. Literally the babies that lives are at stake right now.

You also coordinate and are Artistic Director for the Resistance Revival Chorus. If you have not seen these women, they are phenomenal singers that travel around singing songs of inspiration. Can you tell me why you create these type of artistic expressions for the moment that we’re in right now?

Paola: I am an artist at heart. I studied theater. I have my Master’s in the theater, and I am a storyteller, I’m a filmmaker. Telling stories is what literally saved me in my personal life and where I came from. It gave me a hope, and opportunity, and a vision for the future that my community, where I live, did not give me. That is who I am in my heart, and this moment in time – while my art has always been socially relevant and political in its own way, this moment in time required something more of me, for me to be more explicit in its politicalization, but yet continue to have that very important artistic element, which is subtlety, and beauty, and truth.

I believe that this country at this moment is suffering from a mass contraction of the heart, and I think our hearts are contracting against the other, those that we don’t understand. It’s slowly contracting, and the job of the artist, and the job of art, is to actually tap into that heart and re-expand it. That’s how I try and frame my work. I do my activism, which is, to me, less so about opening the heart, and tactical, and strategizing, organizing, and my art is what is supposed to open that heart so that strategy and tact can function and change systematic oppressions.

I think as an artist and I feel at this moment as an activist and as an organizer, and I’ve been able to find partners within the scope of the activism world that understand, or wanna experiment, or believe in this concept of art as a mode of resistance, as a mode of change. The Resistance Revival Chorus burst out of – I was one of the founders of the Woman’s March and the Artistic Director. There’s a crew of us that were more artists than activists, and we came together, and we were like, “We are so burnt out. Our hearts hurt so much. We need something to revive our spirits to be able to do this work.”

We thought of a chorus, and we were like, yes, let’s do this concept. We were read a quote by Toi Derricote, and it said “Joy is an act of resistance” and we thought that was it. That’s what we wanna do. We gathered women to sing, and to resist by singing and being joyful. It has been a grounding, beautiful presence, and people have really gravitated to the chorus because that idea of joy and art is critical, and it doesn’t actually take away anything from our organizing work. It makes us stronger, and it gives us more strength, and ability to keep on fighting.

Ashley: I have just one more question. I’m here with Paola Mendoza, who is a activist, artist, author, and just overall movement leader. One year out from family separation we find ourselves with the babies sleeping on concrete, people still in camps. If you could vision in a year from now where we are – and hopefully it’s in a better place – where do you hope we are as a country?

Paola: I want to say from an immigration perspective that we would be in a better place, but the reality is that next year we’ll be in the summer of 2020, which means we will be right before the elections. What we have learned of Donald Trump is that he has used immigrants and the immigration community as his punching bag. He started off his campaign saying that Mexicans were rapists and murderers. He’s done the most unthinkable and unheard of things as regards immigration. He does that every time he needs some sort of political points, which he’s gonna be needing a lot of political points in the summer of 2020.

Unfortunately, I feel that our immigrant communities will not be in a better place in 2020. I can’t imagine where we’ll be because this man has brought us to places that I didn’t think were possible, but what I have told my communities, and what I tell people all the time, is we have to prepare, we have to educate ourselves, we have to know our rights.

We don’t know what’s gonna be happening with DACA, but I do firmly believe that we will rise against this hate, and this xenophobia, and this racism, and we will come out stronger in the end of not having everyone, but stronger and more determined to make sure that when we have a government that is capable of taking care of those that are most vulnerable, we will demand, and push, and we will be less willing to compromise on any other community.

One of the things that I have been so heartened by in this time with regards to immigration is that Donald Trump has tried to turn so many communities against immigrants.

Ashley: That’s right.

Paola: Specifically black people, specifically DACA recipients. He’s tried to turn them against the most vulnerable – in this case, the asylum seekers. I think in 2020, I believe the hopeful aspect of this is that we will stand in solidarity with each other. We will make sure that we are all taken care of when we win again. We will make sure that our communities are respected and loved, and we have equity. Really at the end of the day, regardless of him, I’m talking about the next administration. We will hold them more accountable than I feel we’ve held any administration accountable because we will have survived through a very, very dark time.

Ashley: Thanks again to the incredible film director, author, and activist Paola Mendoza for speaking with us today. Coming up, I’ll hit you with some real talk during our hot takes segment, where I get a few things off of my chest in three minutes or less.

[Music 34:35 – 34:57]

Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. Today we’ve been talking all things immigration, and between the Pod Squad and Paola Mendoza, I have a few things to say. Look, this hot take is simple. Take the kids out the cages. Take the adults out the cages. Treat people with dignity.

What is happening in the detention centers around our country is simply unacceptable. You can try and debate me, but guess what – you’re wrong. If your solution isn’t take the kids out the cages, take the adults out the cages, and treat people with dignity, I don’t wanna hear it.

We have Trump threatening raids, DREAMers still living in purgatory, and Oscar and Valeria lost their lives trying to come into this country. Enough is enough. Listeners, a time will come when someone will ask you, “What did you do when families were being ripped apart and sleeping on concrete?” I hope, for your sake, you have a good answer. You don’t know what to do? Well, good luck. I’m gonna tell you.

You can go to closethecampsnow.org and find out exactly how to get involved. They’ll let you know where to find a protest. Oh, you don’t like to protest? Okay, then they’ll tell you where you can donate aid and make a donation. Oh, you don’t have extra coins to help that? Guess what, they’ll also tell you how to do free advocacy to protect families.

You have to be on the side of justice. You have to be on the side of dignity. You need to be on the right side of history. This is a country of immigrants, and this is a country for all.

[Music 36:35 – 36:46]

Ashley: Thank you for listening to Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information, please visit civilrights.org, and to connect with me, hit me up on Twitter, @podforthecause. Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five star review. Until then, for Pod for the Cause, I’m Ashley Allison, and remember, a cause is nothing without the people.