Thursday, May 03, 2007

Demanding and Organizing for Our Rights and Our Communities - Initerview with Hamid Khan

Demanding and Organizing for Our Rights and Our Communities

An interview with Hamid Khan of the South Asian Network by Arnoldo García

What do you believe were the root causes of the 2006 mobilizations?

Hamid Khan: The 2006 mobilizations reflected the ongoing assault on immigrant communities, the overt racism, the enforcement issues and how people were experiencing them, with different communities experiencing them differently, and the fightback.

In the post 9/11 climate, South Asians faced harsh enforcement measures. Citizenship lost its sense of security itself and got diluted. The South Asian community was moving differently – getting a visa and passing through while other communities are crossing the border on foot. With the border fence in San Diego and going across the land, the physical aspects have gotten more difficult. The structural aspects of enforcement have made things more fearful but also communities began organizing themselves at a higher level.

At the level of the Latino community, there was a new sense of political power. There has been an emergence of Latino power, with a Latino mayor in Los Angeles and Latino officials throughout the state. The faces of power are also Latino. We have to also be wary of this, like when the Irish became white for example.

Another cause has been the overt racism and xenophobia, people saw it coming. The Minute Men were one expression of this.

The Sensenbrenner bill shouldn’t be seen as the key reason but a catalyst for the mobilizations, the criminalization piece of making the undocumented a felon, but also hitting the documented community. This also played a key role and with the racism, regardless of status, put us in the opposition. Then, over a period of time, the community came together.

This begs the question of whether the mobilizations and the community upsurge gave us any results, any hope.

While they were a huge success, it was a colossal failure on the part of the organizers themselves. What was the basis of the mobilizations [for the organizers]? It was a plea rather than a demand of “taxpaying, good immigrants” who were asking on the basis of goodness, “forgive us and let us stay.”

This also goes with the indoctrination in the broader social justice movement – of non-violence and civil disobedience – as a result, the demand was very watered down and was a plea for goodwill, instead of demanding our rights. While we can argue that that requires a long-term organizing, demanding our rights would have exposed the dominant culture of xenophobia and white supremacy.

This goes back to the logjam in Congress – being at the mercy of the lawmakers – this is where the failure of the movement lies. The slogan “Today we march…” became a plea instead of a demand for our rights.

What are the key alliances that need to be built?

To build true alliances within our communities, we need to be truthful with them and lay out the problem. The message has to be very clear and then the alliances can be built. The messages have to look at the white supremacy and then build the alliances on this basis.

Unless this is looked at, they will be very superficial alliances, looking more like the foundation world’s version of building collaboratives.

Unless out language is challenged and clear, our alliances will continue to be like they have the last thirty years.

We have a lot of work in our communities; it’s not just about education. It’s about having a deep conversation and the clear messaging we need. Our communities feel betrayed by the lack of this.

We need to continue the momentum and deepen the work for social justice, build trust, realize that we are under siege and that there’s no other way to look at it.

What are some of the key issues we need to address to build on the mobilizations of 2006?

Service is critical to build trust with our community, as a process of political education. We need to expose how racism and xenophobia works, how war and occupation can be exposed through access: why has a clinic shut down? How is money is being pilfered by war and occupation. Then we can have a discussion.

It has to be learned through their lived experiences and day-to-day life. There is tremendous opportunity to build trust through service to expose the deep inequities and injustices.

We can come up with legislative proposals; but they would be for naught if the community does not support us.

Along with the day-to-day existence, what has to be at the top of our work, what good is a green card if you can’t take your child to a health clinic and she will die?

They are the root causes of stress in our communities; we completely overlook the traumas and stress that are caused by the lack of reforms and services.

This has to be incorporated into our daily work, to build trust with communities.

It would be through the lived experiences, the denial of access to services, that you could pull in a family. This is working for us.

We can do all the analyses about Sensenbrenner, which is fine. But when you bring people without ID together, can you access health care without it? What do you mean, this is about a sick child?

What we see, speaking for myself in the immigrant rights movement, as critical as we are, is that we are also getting caught up in the traditional western way of organizing, which is highly compartmentalized. We need to look at organizing in a holistic way.

That’s how it’s worked in anti-colonial struggles all over the world. We have to be looking at the community as a whole, not just looking at it through the workers rights lens.

Class by itself, while extremely critical, becomes expediently used as an access to power. Organized labor, on top of that, is an alien concept. Trade unions, organized labor, are not a common experience for our communities, which are agricultural-based communities and not lived through the main breadwinner, but as a whole community.

Our thinking has to be changing with the changing demographics, we have to be very direct and demand that your organizing cater to this. They’re not hard communities to reach, they communities that are hardly reached. This thinking has to change has too.

Hamid Khan is the executive director of South Asian Network, based in Artesia, California.

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