My Thoughts on So-Called “Allies”

Since Trump’s decision to end the DACA program a week and a half ago, my phone, email, and social media have been blowing up with outpourings of love and support. I can honestly say that I have the best of friends, allies, and fellow undocumented movement leaders. I have had no less than two media interview requests a day since the announcement, from national broadcast media in the Philippines to a worldwide debut on Al-Jazeera English to an AJ+ video that garnered a half a million views, almost 3,000 shares, and over 4,700 Facebook reactions worldwide. Several years ago, I decided to go public with my own struggles as an undocumented immigrant in this country to put a human face on an issue that, oftentimes, is abstract if it does not directly affect you. Now, it makes me incredibly happy to know that the world knows what it’s like to be undocumented.

Now to my actual reason for this post: With all of the love and support, it is inevitable to have a fair share of people who don’t agree with our approach to this issue. I want to take a moment to address the reasoning for my own approach to the issue of Trump and his decision to end DACA. To preface, check out some of these exchanges I had recently with some of these people (their names are redacted to protect their identities).

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Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I’ve struggled with my sense of belonging in the Filipino community. Even though I was born in the Philippines, I’ve never truly felt “Filipino enough,” much like I’ve never felt “American enough.” After years of working in the organizing space within the Asian American community, I can honestly say that I’ve never encountered as much anti-immigrant sentiment and general opposition to the approach of undocumented movement leaders than within my own community. After all, according to a National Asian American Survey conducted during the 2016 Election, as many as 1 out of every 3 Filipino Americans voted for Trump. I walk into the many, many events the Filipino community hosts (and often emcee them), look around, and think to myself, “Wow! A third of these people probably voted for a man who would deport me in a heartbeat.” These are the same people that look at me and say, “Oh, Raymond. Just trust President Trump—he’s not going to deport you. We need more people like you.” I internally roll my eyes when I hear this.

Now, if you voted for Trump, I’m not saying you’re a bad person, but I question the truth and validity of your claims of being an ally to immigrants and refugees (and frankly every single historically marginalized group) in this country. Have people already forgotten his rhetoric on the campaign trail? Have people already forgotten about him mocking a reporter who was handicapped, how he bragged about “grabbing pussy,” and how he called out a whole country for sending rapists and murderers to the United States? Have people already forgotten about his failed attempts to ban Muslims from entering this country? Those who continue to support this man are complicit in his white supremacist agenda and I am often puzzled by how people of color can support him (READ: My fellow Filipino-Americans, HOW CAN YOU CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THIS MAN?)

I am unapologetically undocumented. I am unapologetically a person of color. I will unapologetically lead my community in defending ourselves from Trump and his white supremacist regime. We cannot just sit idly by while Congress decides our fates. If the fact that us rallying in the streets, sharing our stories in the media, and engaging in civil disobedience to draw attention to the issue is “being downright confrontational” as this one gentleman so succinctly described, then so be it. “I don’t think your confrontational voices helped the cause. I think it even alienated lots [of] people,” another person said. Non-violent direct action and organizing (which is what we do) is what brought the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If you’re alienated by us simply sharing our human stories and fighting to be able to stay in the only place we’ve known, then you’re not on our side and you can stop pretending to be.

We will continue to pressure our Members of Congress to act on this issue and to act quickly. We will continue to march and rally in the streets. We will continue to risk arrest in selfless acts of civil disobedience. We have a multi-faceted approach to this issue that affects us most directly. Those who are not directly impacted have no legitimate say in how we formulate strategy. There are almost a million DACA recipients in this country. Beginning March 5th, 2018, over 1,400 of them a day will lose their DACA protections over the next few years. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants that live in this country. What are we going to do for them? These are the questions we must answer.

In summary, if you’re not undocumented or a DACA recipient, pass the mic. You can support and you can be an ally, but approach one of us about what that should look like. Criticizing our strategy and making your support conditional upon us succumbing to respectability politics is not being a good ally and you can go on somewhere with that. I will not respect a man who seeks to tear my community apart.




New Beginnings and Reflections on Organizing

When I started this blog last November, I had high hopes for it. I thought I had the personal capacity and the time to write regularly and share my thoughts on what was going on around me. Man, was I wrong. It turns out – trying (and sometimes failing) to live a balanced life while working around 60 hours a week at a small nonprofit, serving on the board of a very active Filipino-American association, and still making time for my hobbies (like golf and woodwork) and for friends and my then-girlfriend didn’t offer very much time for me to sit down and write.

Needless to say, my life has calmed down quite substantially since then. One benefit of starting this blog when I did, though, was being able to put my story, in my own words, in a place easily accessible and easily shared. Since November, my site has been visited by over 800 unique visitor and has been viewed over 1500 times. People would ask me all the time why life in the United States has been so challenging for me as an undocumented immigrant. This made it immensely easier for me to share my own personal story in the hopes of lifting up millions of undocumented voices. Here is my pledge to write more regularly—not for anyone else, but for myself.

LIFE UPDATE—these last few weeks for me have been full of new beginnings. In the last month, I transitioned out of my beloved role at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta in the pursuit of new adventures. Transition is tough. I wondered: how drastically would my life change after leaving my passionate world of nonprofits for the big, scary world of private sector America. Add on top of that closing another chapter of my life—I exited a very deep, meaningful relationship at seemingly the right time. Doors closed and others opened.

Let me be clear. I didn’t leave my job because of any negative energy at Advancing Justice. The place was great! I was able to live somewhat comfortably whilst making a difference in a community that remains incredibly important to me. I set out looking for a job with a more consistent schedule than what nonprofit law and advocacy was able to offer me. At Advancing Justice, I found some of my best friends, the best coworkers, a family, and the most passionate people anyone could ever ask for.

I’ve now transitioned into a new role at Kuck Immigration Partners, LLC—a nationwide immigration law practice that has become a household name in many immigrant communities. I work as an Immigration Paralegal in its Family Immigration Practice Group, handling simple and complex family immigration matters before the USCIS, BIA, EOIR, CBP, ICE, and other decision-making bodies with some of the best immigration attorneys you can find anywhere. I am loving it!

I fit in quite nicely. My new work family is incredibly supportive and has been with me every step of the way. My clients make the work so meaningful. Transitioning from large-scale advocacy efforts to direct one-on-one client service was definitely an experience. I feel like the fruits of my labor are much more tangible and come much more quickly. We can advocate for years and years for policy change, but when it comes down to it, there are individuals and families who are suffering through our broken immigration system every day who need personal advocacy. Assisting a client through their Green Card process or their Citizenship Process and seeing the looks on their faces when I tell them that we are here for them, every step of the way, is the most gratifying feeling.

Now, all that being said, here’s my dilemma: How do I continue to be a part of the movement to change our broken immigration system whilst working in the private sector? Here are my thoughts on that:

When I left Advancing Justice, I feared being labeled a “sell-out” by some of my friends and colleagues. I feared that I would become part of the machine, nothing on my mind but cranking out the cases, hitting my bonus, and leaving the real policy advocacy for others to do. For my own sanity, I couldn’t let this happen. Yes, I strive to be as productive as I can be in my new job, taking on as many cases as I can comfortably handle, but I have to remember that on the other side of that conference room table is a human being that hired us for our expertise in providing them the best representation possible. Every single client is a life touched by our efforts and there’s no denying that that work is meaningful too, just in a different way.

On the side, I wear a number of hats to continue to do my part in lifting up the voices of our communities. I now use some of the valuable skills I learned after working in nonprofits to consult for nonprofit organizations looking to build capacity and technical expertise in mobilizing voters. Additionally, I consult for candidates for public office that I truly believe in. I still serve on the board of the Filipino American Association of Greater Atlanta, lifting up the voices and needs of my own community.

All of that to say that, even though I no longer work in nonprofits, I’m still trying to be intentional about giving back to the community in the ways I best know how. This is important now more than ever. With the most recent events happening in Charlottesville, VA and all over the country, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Confederate-sympathizers are emboldened to stand up and revert the progress that our country has made over the last few decades in terms of racial unity and equality. And our “President” has done virtually nothing to quell this uptick in white nationalism and has, instead, helped to amplify it.

Intersectional organizing work is crucial to moving our society along. We can no longer work within our silos if we intend to bring collective liberation to all of us. It is important for us to recognize that, as oppressed peoples, we have more in common with each other than we think. Immigrant-rights activists, LGBT-rights activists, food justice activists, racial justice activists, and other so-called progressives, need to come together and develop some real strategy for resistance. Without a truly intersectional approach, we will accomplish nothing. Let’s have a conversation. Let’s advocate, resist, and organize.

Until next time, my friends.