The air conditioner was too noisy, so someone shut it off and let the hundred or so people packed into the cafeteria sweat it out. The heat is on in the immigrant community, anyway. Already controversial, the subject of immigration boiled over in May, after a Mexican dishwasher in this country illegally and working at one of the mayor's restaurants allegedly killed a cop and fled south.
Black, brown, red, white and yellow faces gathered at Escuela Tlatelolco last Thursday, July 21, to talk about building a united front to stop the immigrant-bashing and protect immigrants' rights. Talk shifted from English to Spanish and back again -- out of respect more than necessity.
"We need to put a positive face on this project so we can stand up and say, 'This is how we affect this country,'" said Edward Romero, a native of the United States who heads a public-relations, marketing and advertising firm. Immigrants and industries alike are breaking the law, he pointed out, "and everyone's breaking it together with the consent of the American government."
The law-breaking is a sensitive subject, an older white gentleman responded, warning everyone to consider "the other side." The other side sees the criminal element of the immigrants' presence, not the struggle to be law-abiding residents. The other side sees the cost of immigration on society, not the benefits. The other side is going to blast this new group as illegal sympathizers, not as a voice for the voiceless. And the other side, he warned, is going to use that word: "illegals."
A girl's brown hand immediately shot up. When her turn came, she issued a warning: Keep the language in the room correct to keep everyone in the room safe. She echoed the "no human being is illegal" argument to a couple of applauding hands, and then the meeting's leaders tried to bring the discussion back.
Focus, they said. The meeting wasn't about the dozens of Denver groups and individuals represented in the room, all working for causes in their communities. It wasn't about agreeing on definitions or agreeing on immigration policy.
It was about acknowledging the immigrant presence in this town. Regardless of whether immigrants have the government's permission to be here, they're here, they've always been here, and they're going to keep coming. They're human, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. This meeting was about those principles.
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Michael Miera stood up. A program specialist with the city, he was born in this country. And he's chosen sides in the immigration debate. "What they're motivated by is hate," he said, "and there's some passion to that hate. But what this group is motivated by is love, and there's a lot of passion with that love, and we can defeat their hate with our love."
If not their passions. The discussion continued so intensely, so passionately, for two hours that no one even suggested naming the new united front.
Afterward, someone broke out ice cream to cool things down.