Saturday, February 13, 2010

Looking into the Blind Spot
Posted on FEBRUARY 3, 2010 by felipe post comment
Tags: Felipe

From Mayo, Fl.

Little by little, we saw the Floridian scenery changing. First, we climbed our first hill in Apopka, then we saw lakes as we passed Tavares and Mount Dora, but after Gainesville... all we could see were huge farms. We never imagined that hidden in the peaceful expanse of grass fields, the same nightmare ocurring to immigrants nationwide, was present there and intensified by the reality that few, if any, ever take a close look at humble farm towns like Mayo, Fl. I always heard various, random, horrific stories from North Florida about abuses against immigrants, often feeling rather incapacitated, seeing our maps of allies and not being able to identify groups to work with in this area to address these problems. But today, as I looked into the eyes of a victim from the local community and heard his anacdote first-hand, I felt outraged.

As we approached the town, we noticed its small and cozy infrustuctre that had already become familiar to us. It wasn't until dinner that we heard many of the brutal cases that make up the harsh, but unmistakable reality of the immigrants in this community. We ate dinner with community members in the local Virgen de Guadalupe Church, where about ten individuals joined us to share a few words about their daily experiences. We heard about the 2006 mobilizations for immigration reform in Ocala, where more than 4,500 immigrants came out in favor of immigration reform. I was surprised since the towns around here are so small, and apparantly, even many of the local residents were shocked that so many Latinos existed in this area. Profe seized this opportunity to ask the community leaders what they felt the reason was for the local movement to have entered a dormant stage shortly after that effort. "Fear!" A local Colombian resident responded. He told us of the great backlash from local enforcement that led to diminished participation of the community in the movement. In fact, workplace raids started happening and the community was terrorized by sudden waves of deportations, when these immigrant workers were vital for the local economy and the success of the farms.

Finally, through the discourse, we heard the voice of Maria, a fragile-looking woman who raised her voice to tell us the stories of the many violations in the nearby counties. Her voice trembled from an array of emotions that varried from desparation and sorrow to anger. She told us about the crimes that have been happening to Mexicans in the area. They have been targeted by criminals from the area that continue to take advantage of them due to their lack of status. A man, Don Francisco, had been one of the many victims in the area. He was attacked outside his house while speaking on the phone with his family back home in Mexico. As she was sharing, I felt my face turning red out of rage. I imagined this man talking to his family about his day when he felt the first punch: a loud scream on the other end of the receiver followed by complete silence. What kind of an impact must that have had on his loved ones, thousands of miles away? He was in a coma for several days from a skull fracture and had to get five brain surgeries. Maria told us how the hospital and local police were waiting for him to come out of his coma in order to deport him.

When Maria sought help from the local authorities on behalf of her friend, they said that he was an "illegal", therefore, he did not have any rights. She emphasized that was the norm on a nearby town- Live Oak in Suwannee County. Many men and women were victims of burglary and extreme violence in the area that always went UNRESOLVED. What impressed me the most was the fact the local police was trying to instigate hatred and conflict between the immigrant and African American communities, by not only ignoring the crimes inflicted upon Latinos by African Americans, but also by repeatedly telling the Latinos that if they are ever attacked by African Americans, they should just carry a gun and shoot them. She said that the police preached "an eye for an eye" law in communial meetings about the issues. It outrages me how police can think they can just take these issues off of their hands and brush them off, only to escalate greater division and animosity amongst communities of color. The community is even fearful of ethnic wars breaking out in this area. Both of our communities have historically been scapegoated and taken adavantage of for so many generations, and it isn't fair or right for us to continue permitting these abuses to keep happening. I knew that many times the African American and Latino communities were pushed against one another in strife due to systemic forms of oppression, however, the level of violence here was beyond what I had seen in the past.

When we asked Maria why she was fighting so hard for change, I was moved as said "they are all part of my people, I have to do what I can to defend them." Her vision led us to join her fight and meet with the local sheriff to highlight what is happening here, which rarely gets its deserved attention.

Back home we would look at the state map and always see many "blind spots" in the Northern region of Florida, sometimes hearing people make assumptions about there not being many immigrants here. On the ground, we see that this is not the case at all, and many of these horrific stories seem to be the norm. We will be meeting with Sheriff Tony Cameron, of Suwannee County about the human rights abuses in the area this Friday.

Please help us by calling everyday starting today until 3 PM Friday at (386) 364-3443 and ask him to stop the abuses against the immigrant community, to respect the rights of workers, to know that this town will no longer remain in the shadows, and WE WILL keep watching.

-Felipe Matos

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