Blog post

'False hopes and unattainable promises'—Alfredo Gutierrez Media Roundup

Marianna Reis 5 July 2013

Alfredo Gutierrez, US immigration reform activist and author of To Sin Against Hope, has been busy penning sharp critiques of US immigration policy and giving interviews relating his personal experiences as a Mexican immigrant to the larger political struggle for rights. In an opinion piece for NBC Latino, Gutierrez criticized a recent bipartisan immigrant reform bill, rejecting claims that it is a historic step forward. The bill, which will place only a small fraction of immigrants on the path to citizenship, denies those seeking legal citizenship access to important benefits such as healthcare, and prioritizes the militarization, securitization, and surveillance of the US-Mexico border.  Gutierrez writes:

Giving millions of immigrants false hope and unattainable promises is not what we need. We need congress to stop building fences in front of immigrants, and begin to build bridges among nations. This will help achieve true immigration reform, and not send us once again hurtling down the path to failure, and to failing this nation’s immigrants.

Similarly, in a FoxNews Latino article, Gutierrez laments what he sees as Congress' "distressingly long history at failing at immigration reform". As a former Arizona state senator, Gutierrez has observed first-hand Congress' missteps and missed opportunities over the years and into the present:

Watching the recent news about immigration reform, I feel like I’m stuck in a time warp. Unfortunately, while the Senate is making important progress, it seems almost certain that it intends to leave many of the underlying factors that created the immigration crisis unaddressed. Congress continues to treat Mexico like a distant neighbor, imposing unrealistic quotas and ignoring the realities of life along the border.

Gutierrez's experience as an immigration reform activist long preceded his time in office; he notes that his family experiences led him to a life of Chicano activism, and he was even expelled from Arizona State University for his political organizing. As the son of a US citizen who was deported to Mexico at the age of 17 during the Great Depression, Gutierrez has used his family history and his personal experiences to tell the story of the hardships faced by Latino immigrants in the United States. On PBS' Horizonte with José Cárdenas, he discusses the larger political signifigance of his recent memoir To Sin Against Hope:

I saw my life story as I related in this book, as the structure, using my life, using my family's life, as a chronological line on which to weave the story of Mexicanos in the United States, to weave in a very personal way what it was like to life under that cirucmstance of intense discrimination that was passed through in the 1950s, and how that final breakthrough took place ... 

In an interview with Culturestrike, Gutierrez recalled experiences of discrimination and hostility towards Latinos during his elementary school years—experiences that young Latinos still face today, particularly in states like Arizona where discriminatory laws continue to be passed:

Language and accents consumed a whole generation of Latinos. At Bullion Plaza Elementary School if you spoke a word of Spanish in the classroom the teacher would tape your mouth shut. The language of our mothers and fathers and the language that had preceded English by a hundred years was too foul and offensive to be spoken in a school ... Cultural dominance was about extinguishing us—our language, our history, our very being as a people. Sadly the Mexican-American leadership of the era had by then been cowed into submissiveness and endorsed the practice of cultural extermination.
Today language, accents and cultural traits are the means to identify the recently arrived and to stereotype, profile and relegate those people to their “proper” place. Arizona’s S.B.1070, as originally passed, required every police officer in the state to stop anyone who appeared to be “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented and demand proof to the contrary. Language, accent, music, and dress could all be taken into account. Had the court not limited its application, most Latinos in Arizona would have been stopped questioned frisked and detained by now.

While the fate of millions of remains unknown, Gutierrez remains convinced that change is possible, especially through creative means. He calls upon communities under distress to look to the arts as a vehicle for driving social change:

Can there be—or has there ever been—a social movement or a revolution, in thought or in politics in which the arts, writ large, did not first envision the future and then persuade a community to embrace that vision? Has there been such a movement in which the arts were not the weapons of human persuasion?

Shelley’s famous lines on the poets’ power of second sight are valuable here, “Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present… .” In ancient Greece, a hierophant was the interpreter of sacred mysteries. So according to Shelley, poets gleaned the unseen mysteries and reflected the future for the masses before a possible reality manifested itself.

In other words, without artists there will be no social change.

To view Gutierrez's articles and interviews, visit:
NBC Latino
FoxNews Latino

Filed under: interviews