CHICAGO — Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Donald Trump and his racist, hateful speech has been drilled into our reality like a railroad spike. Mainstream and local media outlets paint his picture across television and computer screens every hour, spreading his rhetoric and misguided agenda. Try as he will to tag the Muslim community, build a wall around the Latino community or beat down the black community, Trump’s opposition is working tirelessly to shut him down.
Chicago’s Latino community has a long tradition of coming out to the streets to make their voices heard. The rise of the Chicano Movement in the ‘60s saw muralists from Pilsen and Little Village, Chicago’s two predominantly Latino neighborhoods, take to the streets to defend their community. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s their organizing efforts took a more traditional form.
Groups like the Spanish Coalition for Jobs and the Latino Institute worked to improve housing and education for the community in the ‘80s. All while simultaneously battling social discrimination and a fair and equal shot at finding stable employment. A steep, uphill climb persisted. Their efforts culminated most notably on May Day in 2006 with a beautiful explosion of community demonstration demanding equality. Historically this day in 2006 has been seen as a turning point for the Latino community politically in the U.S.
Ten years later, the fight hasn’t faded and now a new evil has surfaced with the hopes of rejecting the many different communities that have given America its identity. Today, a young, ambitious group of organizers has emerged in Chicago alongside local politicians. And as always, la lucha sigue.
One University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) graduate student has taken it upon himself to voice the concerns of marginalized communities. In March his efforts ensured that Trump’s demeaning rhetoric did not make an appearance on his college campus.
Jorge Mena is an undocumented and queer immigrant living in Chicago. Originally born in Guadalajara, México, Mena moved to the United States when he was 8 years old, later settling in Chicago at age eleven. Mena was conscious of the fact that he was undocumented throughout his upbringing, but that never stopped him from having high expectations for himself.
While in college at UIC, a close, also undocumented friend of Mena’s was routinely stopped by police on his way home from work and placed under deportation hearings. This moment would prove to be a turning point for Mena as it ignited the unknown activist that rested within him.
“This ignited my activism,” Mena said. “A collective of youth from across Chicago came together to organize and end his deportation. Some of these youth continue to organize with me after we stopped his deportation.”
With the drive and passion of Mena and his friends, the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) was formed in 2010. The Chicago-based organization is led by undocumented organizers working towards full recognition of the rights and contributions of all immigrants through education, leadership development, policy advocacy, resource gathering and mobilization. In March of 2010 the group organized one of their first major events.
“We organized the first Coming Out of the Shadows Day in March 10, 2010,” Mena said. “The youth declared themselves ‘Undocumented and Unafraid’ in downtown Chicago.”
Despite little to no experience with organizing and activism, Mena and his colleagues “learned slowly about tactics that would help” them organize effectively. In March of this year, Mena put these lessons to work.
Friday, March 11, was supposed to mark Donald Trump’s rally in Chicago at the UIC Pavilion on the university’s campus. However, organizing efforts led by a large, diverse group of UIC students and supported by the Latino, Black, Muslim and Arab communities, eventually lead to the cancellation of the event.
“We found out about the Trump rally exactly a week before it was supposed to take place,” Mena said. “So again, it ignited us to respond.”
Mena explained how the announcement of the rally quickly generated feelings of being unsafe amongst students on campus. Mena, a teaching assistant at the time, even had some of his own students talk about not coming to campus on that day as a safety precaution.
Leading up to the rally, with help from the Latino and Chicano organizing group Mijente, Mena circulated a petition that reached all over Chicago to demand that the Trump rally be cancelled because UIC should not “be host to hate.”
“I did not want him (Trump) to spew his xenophobic and racist rhetoric in the same space where I was currently attending school and where I was a teaching assistant,” Mena said. “UIC had represented such a safe haven for me and having Trump and his supporters on my campus would have negated so much of this.”
More than 51,000 people from Chicago and around the country signed the petition opposing the rally. Collectively, UIC provides higher education opportunities to working students, immigrant students and students of color. For the student body, hosting Trump would have represented a direct attack against themselves and what they stood for.
“We had already seen the levels of violence being perpetrated along his campaign trail, so the violence was not imagined,” Mena said. “It had been and could have been very real. It was a direct attack on our communities as Trump and his supporters have spread very anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, Black and Muslim rhetoric.”
Significant criticism was targeted at those opposing the rally, claiming that while protesters promoted their own right to free speech, they were shutting down Trump’s right to exercise his own free speech by promoting the cancellation of his rally. However for Mena and his supporters, it wasn’t about free speech itself, but the content of his speech.
“My response to those who say that Trump should be able to speak his hateful speech because of freedom of speech is to remind them that freedom of speech does not permit anyone to promote violence in the way that Trump has done so along his campaign trail,” Mena said.
“Violence has a direct impact on our (the Latino) community and has been shown to impact POC protesting at Trump rallies,” Mena said. “We’ve been spit on, shoved, kicked and had racial slurs yelled at us.”
If there’s one thing that’s overwhelmingly clear after the cancellation of Trump’s rally in Chicago in March and the organizing efforts that have followed, it’s that Chicago’s Latino community, along with its other marginalized communities, will not be silenced.
“Chicago is such a diverse city and has already shown that it will respond to Trump’s rhetoric and will continue to react,” Mena said. “Trump does not respect views other than this own, and this is not a quality that any leader should have. It will guarantee a hostile atmosphere in this country.”
A feeling of discontent still lingers in the air as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel occupies the position that challenger Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia failed to unseat him from in April of 2015. However, that’s only motivated Chicago’s Latino community to join together in the fight to make sure that another individual who is uninterested in hearing their voices occupies an important position of power.
“If I could say something to him I would share my story,” Mena said. “Trump is just a privileged, wealthy white male taking control of a country whose social fabric and demographics are quickly and continually evolving against him.”
By Parker Asmann for TYT
Parker Asmann is a Chicago based journalist and a 2015 graduate of DePaul University with degrees in Journalism and Spanish, along with a minor in Latin American & Latino Studies. He is currently an Editorial Board Member for a bilingual Chicago based publication, El BeiSMan, where he focuses on issues of social justice and human rights. Parker has lived and studied in Mérida, Yucatán.
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