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Immigration Policy Debate

Independent Lens
The New Americans

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Destination America

5.12.06
Politics and Economy:
Latinos Now: A National Conversation
More on This Story:
Maria Hinojosa Between Two Worlds
NOW Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa, born in Mexico and raised in Chicago, gives her views on the debate about illegal immigration.

"This is the new civil rights movement," a fellow journalist said to me excitedly. I could tell he felt as if he was witnessing real history being made. As a journalist that's the kind of stuff you live for. He was pleased with it, happy to see hundreds of thousands of immigrants taking to the streets from Taos to Tennessee.

But his sentiments also gave me pause.

I have always lived in two worlds, being a Mexican immigrant who grew up in Chicago. But over the past two months those two worlds have never felt more apart.

That was in and of itself a strange feeling. I have learned to navigate my two worlds...the Latina and the Gringa (in my book "Raising Raul," I refer to myself as a Gringa Latina). But I have also learned to navigate my two separate worlds of radio and television. Or the world of being a mom as well as a working woman. I have learned to swim in the soup of a full and complicated life, dabbling in many different worlds, juggling parallel realities and age spans.

Here's an example: It's typical for my family to watch the Spanish language network evening news. But later we will watch Nightline. Among those two mediums, there are always differences but not like today. Something has changed and shifted and is finding it's own place. Ever since the immigrant demonstrations the worlds of Spanish language media and English language media now seem worlds apart. It is fascinating to me.

The Spanish language network media covered the protests and boycott as a straight-forward news piece. The local news featured more touchy-feely pro-immigrant stories while many talk radio stations in Spanish were rallying the people to dress in white and join the marches.

At first, the English language media was nowhere near the story. But Spanish language media covered it not just as a story or an event. It was a new day for Latinos. Wow.

As much as the rallies brought immigrants out to hit the pavement in public, they also brought out a very real sentiment among many people.

"Who do these people think they are?" they ask. "This isn't about their civil rights. These are lawbreakers who don't have any rights."

So much for this being the new civil rights movement.

Later that week I ended up flying to San Antonio, Texas on Cinco de Mayo. This is where the "two worlds" phenomena of my life reared its head again. This time the worlds of mother and working journalist. It so happens that my daughter turned eight this past Cinco de Mayo. I had planned on being with her but with all of the immigrant rallies a group of producers asked me to anchor a live town hall event. And I needed to fly into San Antonio on May fifth.

I tried to explain to her that it was simply because we were living in a special moment in time...a moment when history was playing itself out and as an immigrant and as a journalist I was being called to task. She knew well about the immigrant rallies. She frowned.

"Are you saying, mommy, that history is more important that your own daughter's BIRTHDAY?" she said, play acting and yet entirely serious at the same time.

"Ay m'ijita," I said to her, crunching up my brow. "Don't make me have to answer that question..."

That was the downside. The upside was that the beauty of the co-production in San Antonio was that we were going to be making history too. It was the first time the local public television and radio stations would collaborate. And it was the first time that my two other selves, my radio self and my TV self would come together as well in a co-production of Latino USA which I host on radio and NOW on PBS.

In San Antonio, the town hall event had great characters and high drama (one guest, the writer Sandra Cisneros cancelled the day of the event) but it was a seamless hour of live television.

Emotions were high. One guest, D.A. King, insisted we needed to close down the border and start fining employers. Dallas Morning News columnist Macarena Hernandez, armed with honest stories as a daughter of immigrants, was his nemesis. The elder statesman Henry Cisneros talked about finding common ground. In the end he said, "These are stories of 12 million families. They are real people with real emotions and rights." And Michael Eric Dyson had everyone calling each other brother or sister.

That night, to celebrate the production, many of us went out to a restaurant coincidentally called the Liberty Bar. In three short days, we had become regulars and they welcomed this motley crew of Texans and New Yorkers, radio and television people, Latinos and non-Latinos, immigrants and non-immigrants into their fold. And we all got on famously.

There was D.A. King having a tête-à-tête with Macarena. They agreed to exchange numbers. They agreed to keep the conversation going. To find a place of respect and total disagreement.

And that's what democracy looks like, right?


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