The importance of Latinos in politics

Fernanda Herrera, Columnist


Courtesy of Fernanda Herrera

About 19 years ago, my family ate homemade tortillas for every meal because the one brand of tortillas that was available tasted like cardboard. Now, there are Mexican stores within at least 50 miles of every town in Alabama.

Sixty years ago, my family would have been forced to drink out of the “colored” fountains. Now, we simply have to be sure our cars cannot be identified as “Mexican” so we are not pulled over each time we drive. That means no Latin American flags, no Guadalupe stickers, no rosaries hanging on our rearview mirror.

Latinos in Alabama must be innovative and courageous or, if not, be willing to be pushed around. In 2011, I realized the truth of that.

A copycat law of Arizona 1070 had just passed and Alabama was now the proud enforcer of the strictest anti-immigration law in the nation: HB-56.

My mother wanted to keep me home from school for a couple of days because it was now legal—and required—that teachers inquire about citizenship status.

Fearful hundreds, if not thousands, of Latinos fled the state and many cities became ghost towns. Whereas some of us decided to brave the storm, many sold their properties for pennies and never looked back.

A group of courageous immigrants in the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama—both down the road from Samford—fought back so hard that several pieces of the law were blocked within the year. The Latino community was brought together by the very thing that was meant to decimate it.

The next year, President Obama’s executive action changed many lives. As a result, many undocumented students were able to attend college, obtain a driver’s license, open a bank account and work legally.

This summer I learned that although I felt that I was alone in this process, I truly was not. Through my internship on Capitol Hill with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, I became close with 37 other Latinos across the country who faced similar obstacles in their home states.

We shared our experiences and talked about what we would do upon our return after the summer to create change at our universities and in our friend groups and states. We talked about how we could use our stories to encourage younger generations to follow in our footsteps.

By sheer luck, hard work and the support of many I am in my final year of college. I still cannot vote, but I can assure you that by what I have witnessed, our communities across the country will push back against anything that comes our way.

Building on our history in the United States and in the state of Alabama, Latinos will need to work hard to make a name for ourselves in all that we do. The damaging rhetoric of this election cycle reminds us that we need to speak louder than the opposition, the hurtful slogans and the uneducated chants of the masses.

Whether by voting, marching in the streets, studying hard until we get degrees and more credibility or running for office ourselves, Latinos will not be pushed around in Alabama or elsewhere.

Herrera is a senior international relations major.

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