By Ellyn Fritz || Contributing Writer
This past Thursday, novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist, and activist, Sandra Cisneros spoke during Common Hour. Sandra Cisneros is the 2019 Mueller Fellow and is best known for her first novel ‘The House on Mango Street,’ along with her her subsequent short story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories.
The chair of the spanish department, Profe Ruiz-Alfaro, introduced Sandra Cisneros to the stage and recognized Cisneros’ fantastic work. Sandra Cisneros came on stage, bringing along her fantastic presence and what she deemed as her essentials: pens, water, handkerchief, and glasses.
Cisneros’ speech was in regards to her new book, ‘A River of Voices: Documenting the Undocumented.’ Cisneros’ speech was her first time presenting the material to an audience, a special treat for the Franklin & Marshall community. She recognized the scariness of reading something new that had never been read outloud and thanked the audience for listening, as listening is honoring the words of who is speaking.
A River of Voices contains more interviews than the six that Cisneros spoke about on Thursday; however, she said she wanted “to give us a stream, rather than a river” in the forty minutes she had the microphone.
The first interview Cisneros discussed was Bill, a retired businessman, who spoke about breaking the law, the consequences of the law, and the concept that politicians would rather keep immigration as an issue to discuss during elections, rather than solving the problem.
The second commentator she included from her book spoke on why the immigration bills of 2006, 2007, and 2013 failed to be taken up by the house, indicating that politicians care more about re-election and their own standing than the important bills that need to be passed.
Jason was Cisneros’ third person to interview. An anthropologist from Chicago and Professor at UCLA expressed his opinions to Cisneros about the legality of immigration. From his perspective, illegal immigration has been happening a long time, starting with the European entrance into native american territory. He told Cisneros that if Americas truly thought this was a crisis, they should stop consuming food grown by illegal immigrants. To Jason, the concept of illegal immigration is simply a smoke screen to avoid conversations about racial equality. Rather than putting up a wall, the United States should implement legitimate immigration reform by granting amnesty to people here so they can live without the fear of deportation, along with ceasing the provision of weapons to Mexico and eliminating the American consumption of Mexican drugs like cocaine. Jason went on to her tell her that considering that the United States is reliant and intertwined with Mexico, it is perplexing as to why America treats Mexico as inferior.
Jorge vocalized opinions to Cisneros similar to that of Jason; however, focused more on the push and pull factors of immigration: the push factors as fleeing violence and gangs while the pull factors are the opportunity to be with family and have opportunities that are unattainable in Mexico. The pull factors will continue to entice people to cross the border, wall or not. The solution is not the wall, it is comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes that humans are not illegal therefore they should not be treated as such.
The fifth person to be interviewed told Cisneros that the current economic system is not properly regulated by governmental structures. The result of NAFTA was the displacement of 3 million Mexican corn farmers yet Americans wonder why Mexicans cross the border looking for work. The competition is not fair: American agriculture is subsidized and politicians are owned by farm lobbyists, therefore they are in control of that aspect of American politics.
A more productive trade agreement would decrease pressure and create a more peaceful exchange on the border, along with allowing border officials to focus on criminals and drug pushers. According to the person being interviewed, a productive trade agreement would include the freedom to travel across the border with a work visa where people could remain in the United States as long as they were working, along with a hemispheric minimum wage. If there was a regional safety net for Mexico, workers would not have to leave in pursuit of better wages as they could survive off the salary in Mexico.
The final person Cisneros discussed was the only undocumented immigrant whose interview was shared on Thursday. She dropped out of ninth grade to begin work at a factory as a sixteen year. After nine months of assembling the plastic apparatuses used to pierce ears, she made the decision to cross the border in hopes of better opportunity. Her ultimate goal was to be a lawyer yet in Mexico, that dream would never become a reality for her as her parents could not afford the ‘voluntary’ fee needed for her to attend school. In America, she worked in a restaurant, sending money back to Mexico for her sister to attend school, and eventually obtained her GED online, learned english, married, and raised two children.
She said that in America, she was able to be independent and work for herself, while in Mexico, she would have been dependent on her family and stuck in a system with no potential opportunity. Her final point was addressing the politicians: immigrants living in the United States deserve the ability to stay here. Everything that she and others do is for the future of their children and in the hope that future generations will have better opportunities for education.
Sandra Cisneros was able to engage and connect with the Franklin & Marshall community by providing first hand accounts and perspectives of the current immigration situation in America. At the conclusion of Cisneros’ speech, she was honored with a standing ovation.
Senior Ellyn Fritz is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.