Things That Matter

How Working In Ecuador During The Venezuelan Crisis Helps Me Understand The Central American Asylum Seekers

Courtesy of Urooba Jamal

“Señorita! Puedo preguntarle sobre—”

“Ah, lo siento, no hablo español!” (“Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish!”)

Conversations during my first few months in Ecuador often took this tune: brown-skinned and dark curly-haired, I certainly looked the part. But I didn’t yet speak it.

Once my Spanish grew conversational, I could answer the confusion — somewhat. Always in a cab, the taxista would begin his string of rapid-fire questions, beginning with, “Where are you from?”

“Canada,” I’d respond with a knowing smirk, expecting the next comment.

“But I was born in Pakistan,” would be my eventual answer and the driver’s quizzical expression would shortly dissolve out of sight.

I spent two years living and working in Quito, Ecuador, never had my identities challenge me, or take on new meaning, as they did during my time living in South America.

There were, of course, strange — and comedic — blips in this journey. My first friend there, who I met through work, was Indian, and we took on the label of desi gringas together. Desi, the general grouping of South Asians, and gringa, women foreigners in Latin America. Or so we thought.

“You don’t want to call yourself gringa,” my friend from Costa Rica told me one day, stifling back laughter. Gringo and gringa, she explained, were “annoying white people from the U.S.” We dropped that label quick.

A foreigner, but not white, brown but not Latina.

CREDIT: Courtest of Urooba Jamal

I was slowly falling in love with Latin America but I craved something familiar. So, I took refuge in Quito’s desi restaurants. Surprisingly, there were several.

There was Sher-E-Punjab, the biggest one that always came up first on Tripadvisor searches, with its fancy decor, cloth napkins, and smiling waiters. I’d have to reassure several times that I did indeed want my food “extra, extra, extra picante” (spicy) because I was Pakistani and could certainly more than handle it. It was important to add “extra” many times because Ecuadoreans add tomate de arbol — or the tamarillo fruit — to their aji, or hot sauce.

Then there was the one owned by Pakistanis, where the chefs added literal sugar to their mild curries, I assume to make them more palatable to both Ecuadorean and gringo palates.

Finally, there was the one by my workplace, which was, in all honesty, quite average, with most patrons rarely ordering Indian food, opting instead to sip on cervezas and eat a fast-food staple, papi pollo (fried chicken and fries).

I returned often because of the woman who owned the place. She had fled her abusive husband in India almost a decade ago, working as a cook and chef in many different countries before eventually settling in Ecuador.

She lived above the place she owned and had learned Spanish simply by getting to know her customers. She was so happy to speak to me in Urdu-slash-Hindi every time I came in.

On one of my early visits, I asked the restaurant owner why she had chosen to stay in Ecuador. She smiled, then replied with a laugh, “Because they don’t think we’re terrorists here.”

CREDIT: Courtesy of Urooba Jamal

A decade ago, under the former government of Rafael Correa, Ecuador ended visa requirements for foreigners, earning the credit of having one of the most lenient visa policies in the world. Many South Asians, including many Indians and Pakistanis, as well as people from the rest of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, began migrating to the equatorial country for the first time.

According to Ecuador’s National Immigration Office, while only 92 Pakistani citizens had entered Ecuador in 2006, shortly after the policy came into effect in 2008, 178 had entered. By 2010, 518 — an increase of 550 percent in just four years.

Just last year, the UNHCR applauded Ecuador for its then-new Human Mobility Law — which regularized status for all refugees, asylum-seekers and trafficking victims — but it now appears that the new government of Lenin Moreno is set on reversing many of these policies. Blaming an influx of Venezuelans migrating to the country, it still stands to be seen what this means for migrants to Ecuador from other parts of the world.

While I met many migrants from many places in the region, such as Cuba and Colombia, it wasn’t till more Venezuelans started arriving in 2017, that I became aware of a changing tone in the country.

I was taking Spanish classes at a local university in Quito, one of them a conversational class with a fiery, expressive professor who was half-Colombian and half-Ecuadorean. Always impeccably dressed, she led our class — often just me and another young woman from Norway — with no structure. Instead, she would incite class discussions on hot-button topics from abortion to the death penalty. It was hard to place where her own opinions lay, as she wove in tales of everything from family members kidnapped by guerillas in Colombia, to the first time she snuck out from under her Catholic mother’s eyes to go party at a discoteca.

On one particular day, she started off class sharing news of a taxi driver murdered in the country by a passenger. The man who had stabbed him, she explained, was Venezuelan.

“Since Venezuelans have started arriving here,” my professor started off slowly. “Crime has gone up.”

CREDIT: Courtesy of Urooba Jamal

I sat there stunned, unable to string a sentence together in Spanish — or any language for that matter. This story would be the topic of discussion in my grammar class the next morning, where my other professor implied the same. I began noticing headlines from local papers, eyeing newspaper vendors as they snaked through Quito’s traffic, and their use of the same alarmist tone about Venezuelan migrants.

For the restaurant owner from India, along with many other migrants from around the world, Ecuador was a chance to start over. The country that is Latin America’s largest refugee-hosting country became their refuge.

Elsewhere in Latin America, thousands from mostly Honduras and Guatemala are currently fleeing their homes, hoping to escape poverty and violence by seeking asylum in the United States. Their own governments have long been allied with the country they hope to reach, with the United States having backed military dictatorships and coups there. These coups are as recent as 2009 in Honduras, and as early as 1954 in Guatemala. The migrants stay stranded, having been met with tear gas by U.S. border patrol agents, amidst threats of deportation.

Before the migrants had even reached towns bordering the U.S. in Mexico, where thousands are still awaiting their destiny, U.S. President Donald Trump made inflamed remarks against them, chastising the caravan as one “full of criminals.” Residents of Tijuana, Mexico have also marched against the migrants’ arrival — with even Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum echoing Trump’s comments.

As I follow their journey, I often flick through my Canadian passport, stamped with visas from Latin America and the world: my own family immigrated to Canada when I was two years old, leaving Pakistan forever.

Getting my Ecuadorean visa with my Canadian passport my first year was as simple as gathering my forms and picking it up four days later. By my second year, it required several more trips, many more forms, and a couple hundred dollars more; I got it four months later. The lines and wait times had multiplied: many were Venezuelans who may not receive visas at all, in not four days or even four months.

I think about these Venezuelan migrants, fleeing Central Americans, the Indian woman, about my own experiences.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Urooba Jamal

I’m finally reading Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America,” the classic 1971 literary indictment of five centuries of pillage and plunder on the continent. Galeano once said: “We must not confuse globalization with ‘internationalism’…We know that the human condition is universal, that we share similar passions, fears, needs and dreams, but this has nothing to do with the ‘rubbing out’ of national borders as a result of unrestricted capital movements. One thing is the free movement of peoples, the other of money.”

Despite the despair in his writings, Galeano remained hopeful all throughout his life. On this (open) vein, I probe: What if we never had to escape to find refuge?

This New Border Wall Mural Features QR Codes That You Can Scan To Hear Emotional Stories Of Deported Migrants

Things That Matter

This New Border Wall Mural Features QR Codes That You Can Scan To Hear Emotional Stories Of Deported Migrants

pdtmuralproject / Instagram

Deportation is a reality that many people living in the United States face in some way or another. It is an unfortunate consequence of immigration and the policies that are currently in place.

Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana aims to shed light on those who migrate into the United States as children and are deported as Adults.

De La Cruz Santana is a Mellon Public Scholars Fellow and is a UC Davis Ph.D candidate. Her project titled, “Who Are the Real Childhood Arrivals to the United States?” is influenced by her family. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States and were later granted permanent residency.

The mural is located at Playas de Tijuana, where her father crossed in order to enter the United States, and took a total of 9 days to complete. It focuses on the stories of 6 different people who came into the United States as children, some of which were deported later in life or are currently at risk of deportation.

The people represented in the mural are Karla Estrada, Monserrat Godoy, Jairo Lozano, Isaac Rivera, Andy de León, and Tania Mendoza.

CREDIT: Credit: pdtmuralproject / Instagram

Estrada and Lozano are DACA Recipients. Lozano’s first experiences working was in the fields with his family. During the summer, he continued working because he was not eligible for financial aid or loans. He went on to receive his Bachelors in Sociology and his Masters in Marriage and Family therapy.

Godoy and Mendoza are DREAMer Moms. Both Godoy and Mendoza are strong mothers who want to see their children more than anything. After living in the U.S for some time, Godoy was threatened and ordered by her husband to go back to Mexico. She took her 2 daughters with her because she feared for her life, but they struggled in the Mexican education system. The father of the two girls successfully arranged to have them brought to him in the U.S, but he denies Godoy the right to see them. Similarly, Mendoza has not seen her daughter in years after getting deported due to her daughter’s father not wanting to give her custody rights.

Rivera is a Repatriated Childhood arrival who came into the United States at the age of 6. He was then deported after being stopped at a border checkpoint in Temecula, California.

De León is a U.S Veteran and a Repatriated Permanent Resident. He lived in the United States for more than 50 years until he was deported after his green card was revoked. He is a senior citizen who has lived in United States his whole life and struggles to live in Tijuana.

Each face that is painted is accompanied by a QR Code to engage the viewer and allow for them to interact with the mural.

CREDIT: Credit: pdtmuralproject / Instagram

It’s easy to passively watch art, but the QR codes allows these murals to come to life and tell their story without being interrupted or  without fear. Viewers can learn more about the stories behind the faces first-hand and admire the mural at the same time.

The goal of the mural is to create awareness for undocumented folks living in the United States and to obtain legal help for the individuals showcased.

The project was personal for most of the people who worked on the mural with De La Cruz Santana. For instance, Mauro Carrera and Robert Vivar.

CREDIT: Credit: pdtmuralproject / Instagram

Carrera is the muralist who brought the De La Cruz Santana’s idea to life. For him, the project has been filled with emotions because he was just a child when he came to live in the United States. He was born in Veracruz, Mexico and migrated with his family when he was 4 years old.

Vivar, who has born in 1956, immigrated with his family from Tijuana, Mexico to Riverside, CA in 1962. He grew up in the United States, his experiences shaping his childhood and adolescence. He held a variety of jobs in California, got married, and started a family. However, he eventually got deported after ICE came to his home. Vivar has lived away from his family and the country he has ever known since 2011. In a video that is part of the Humanizing Deportation project , Vivar recounts his life and says, “[I am] Proud to have been born in Mexico, but I am also a proud American because the United States is where I grew. It is my home and no deportation and no government will take that from my heart.”

The mural emphasizes the fact that the stories we hear about immigrants are not all the same. Every immigrant has a story that deserves to be told and shared.

If you would like to visit the mural, it is located in Playas De Tijuana

More Than 100 Protesters Were Arrested In New York City For Blocking One Of The Busiest Streets In The City

Things That Matter

More Than 100 Protesters Were Arrested In New York City For Blocking One Of The Busiest Streets In The City

@gilgetz / Twitter

About 100 people were arrested in New York City after protesters demanding an end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) forced the closure of a major highway.

Protesters shut down parts of the busy West Side Highway on Saturday, in an attempt to demand the closure of the federal agency.

More than 100 protesters were arrested in New York for blocking traffic along the city’s West Side Highway.

Those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct for obstructing traffic, NYPD detective Sophia T. Mason said. 

Calls for the closure of ICE have intensified since the Trump administration last year implemented its “zero tolerance” policy on immigration, which resulted in thousands of families being separated at the US-Mexico border.

Criticism reignited last week after 680 undocumented workers were arrested in Mississippi in a record-setting immigration sweep on the first day of school. The raids happened Wednesday at six food-processing plants. More than 300 of the detainees had been released by Thursday, an ICE spokesman said.

The protesters took to the streets including to the busy West Side Highway.

Protesters packed the area near West 26th Street, linking arms and holding signs that said “Abolish ICE” and “Close the camps,”.

“We DEMAND an end to all detention and separation of families at the border and everywhere,” event organizers wrote. “We DEMAND dignity, respect, and permanent protection for all undocumented immigrants.”

This is what it looked like from inside the march.

More than 1,000 people turned out for the event as they marched from Midtown Manhattan to the West Side.

Many New Yorkers took to Twitter to share how proud they were of their city and community for taking a stand.

In a city that leans heavily Democratic and that supports several pro-immigrant policies and politicians, many were thrilled to see that the community was still speaking out and demanding justice And compassion for immigrants.

While others on social media wished good luck to demonstrators.

For many, it was a reminder of the positive forces at work in the country demanding an end to hate, white supremacy, and racism.

READ: Just Days After Latinos Were Targets Of A Mass Shooting, ICE Conducts The Largest Raid In A Decade

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