I suggested sending Mr. Trump a copy of our current book, Reyna Grande’s compelling memoir, The Distance Between Us. Surely reading about Grande’s traumatic childhood in Mexico and immigration to Los Angeles at age ten would spark compassion in the president-elect. What good is literature if it cannot create empathy and understanding about those we do not know? One of the students was cynical that even this compelling narrative would change Trump, and perhaps he’s right. In answer to the concern that “everyone will be deported,” I reminded students that the economy depends on immigrant labor and cannot sweep everyone away. We talked about comparable European situations such as the Brexit vote, the upcoming French election, and Merkel’s generosity to Syrian refugees, although it has been met with xenophobic opposition from some Germans. One student recounted that during her internship at a British law firm last summer, Black lawyers in the firm were publically harassed in the streets after the Brexit vote. Yesterday, others told me, a group of white males loudly chanted “Build the wall” outside a central snack bar on campus. Another reported that her devout Muslim roommates removed their hijabs before venturing to class this morning.
As we bemoaned the low moral ground and hate mongering that Trump and some of his followers proudly voiced, another confident, conscientious student remarked that in voting, he had struggled between doing the right thing morally and doing what he thought would be best for policy issues. I was glad he felt free to express this view since I had reminded everyone that no doubt there were some in the class who had voted for Trump. Wanting people to feel free to speak, I did not mention that this justification citing a perceived “policy” imperative can sometimes lead people down extremely immoral paths.
Dramatic stories also filled the beginning of my afternoon class on U.S. Latino literature Nov. 9. An articulate woman who identified herself as undocumented sadly cried as she expressed fear and anger about the hate expressed in the campaign that now may become official policy. Another student, Jackie, dramatically expressed her outrage as she chronicled the history of exploitation in the United States. How could Philadelphia have been praised as the birthplace of freedom in the Clinton rally when the U.S. sanctioned slavery after independence, took over half of Mexico’s land, and treated minorities as second-class citizens for hundreds of years? Her narrative was a dramatic performance that I urged her to video and post on YouTube. It would be well coupled with the simple personal testimony of another student who told of her 12-year-old brother phoning the night before in tears about the election, asking her what would happen now—a macro-narrative joined to a micro-narrative to express the pain so many of our students and their families now face.
About five years ago, a small number of our students began to quietly tell sympathetic professors and administrators that they were undocumented. Now dozens of students in my classes openly speak about their status since President Obama’s executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. Many such students in my classes are articulate, intelligent and committed to their work. They and their families feared that registering for DACA might make them sitting ducks for deportation later. Now that they have officially registered, what easy targets for deportation they would make for Donald Trump to satisfy his campaign promise and appease his supporters. What a loss for the U.S. economy deporting any of these talented young people would be! Can those who voted for Trump imagine what anguish would befall their family were their college student son or daughter to be deported?
As UC Santa Barbara has become a Hispanic Serving Institution with nearly 29% Latino students, our classrooms have blossomed with talented, articulate young people who are the seeds of future leadership in America. They will not remain silent or merely cower in fear after this election. Grass-roots action, education, and dialogue with people who have opposing views will take center stage. Inside and outside the classroom following the election, students across campus of all political persuasions had the opportunity to hear first-hand how hate mongering transformed into official government policies will poignantly effect other students and their families. Over a thousand students marched to the center of campus at midnight on election night, and hundreds gathered for a noon rally and an afternoon forum the next day. Activism in pursuit of fairness and equality for all in America is now the order of the day. For, while U.S. history has included slavery, expansionism, and inequality, Latinos in this country have successfully struggled to overcome oppression century after century.
Student demonstration, UC Santa Barbara, November 9, 2016