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Re­mod­el­ing the quinceañera for im­mi­gra­tion re­form

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - NEWS - By emilly prado

Re­mod­el­ing the quinceañera for im­mi­gra­tion re­form.

Some kids in­herit their mom’s dim­ples or crooked smile. Virid­i­ana Sanchez San­tos says she has in­her­ited her mother’s will to make change.

At age 16, Sanchez San­tos has or­ga­nized a school-wide walk­out against ICE raids, trooped along­side her mother dur­ing the na­tion­wide Day With­out Im­mi­grants march, and most re­cently stood with 14 other teenage girls don­ning sunny ball gowns in protest of SB4, a law that di­rects lo­cal po­lice re­sources to iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple who are un­doc­u­mented. Al­though she had been po­lit­i­cally ac­tive with her fam­ily since grade school, Sanchez San­tos cred­its Cristina Tz­intzun, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Jolt Texas, with help­ing her find her own voice as an ac­tivist.

“I knew that it was time for change when my com­mu­nity wasn’t speak­ing out,” says Sanchez San­tos. “When I saw that my com­mu­nity was scared of Don­ald Trump and his hate­ful sup­port­ers, I wanted to be more in­volved in help­ing out, so I just stopped be­ing afraid.”

With the sup­port of Jolt Texas, Sanchez San­tos played a key role in an hour-long demon­stra­tion dubbed “Quinceañera at the Capi­tol” that quickly went vi­ral. Equipped with quinceañera dresses and sashes that read “No Racism” and “Ac­count­abil­ity,” the girls per­formed chore­ographed dances to Los Ti­gres del Norte’s “Somos Mas Amer­i­canos” and Lin-manuel Mi­randa’s “Im­mi­grants

(We Get the Job Done)” on the steps of the Texas State Capi­tol in down­town Austin, a pop­u­lar set­ting for quinceañera photo shoots. Af­ter their dance, the girls spoke with leg­is­la­tors who backed SB4 to ex­plain how the law would per­son­ally af­fect them and their fam­i­lies. They also re­minded leg­is­la­tors of their im­pend­ing sta­tus as el­i­gi­ble vot­ers.

Fif­teenth-birth­day cel­e­bra­tions honor a girl’s tran­si­tion into wom­an­hood in Latin Amer­i­can tradition, but Sanchez San­tos says the sig­nif­i­cance of her quinceañera gown shifted dur­ing the rally: “This time I was not wear­ing my dress for my life—i was not [tak­ing] an­other step into my life. This time it was be­cause I wanted my whole com­mu­nity to [take] one more step into the next step of their lives. I did it for my com­mu­nity.”

When Trump was elected into of­fice, Tz­intzun was six months preg­nant. As a na­tion­ally revered ad­vo­cate for the Latino com­mu­nity and former ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Work­ers De­fense Project, a group she co­founded at age 24 ded­i­cated to up­hold­ing la­bor rights for con­struc­tion work­ers in Texas, she planned to launch Jolt af­ter her ma­ter­nity leave, but couldn’t wait any longer. She called for a Love Trumps Hate rally the same week of the elec­tion and ex­pected about 100 at­ten­dees. In­stead, 2,000 showed up.

Tz­intzun at­tributes Jolt’s unique ap­proach to or­ga­niz­ing as the root of success for its cam­paigns. She says, “There are two kinds of power that drive change: there’s power of in­sti­tu­tion and power of in­spi­ra­tion…. I think [for] a lot of the work that [in­volves] im­mi­gra­tion and race, the Latino com­mu­nity tries to say, ‘We’re just as Amer­i­can as ev­ery­body else,’ and tries to hide our cul­ture in the process. At Jolt, we say the ex­act op­po­site.”

Af­ter wit­ness­ing the im­mense level of change that came from work­ing with mostly un­doc­u­mented con­struc­tion work­forces for more than a decade, she wanted to ex­pand on these lessons to reach a broader Latino com­mu­nity. Though the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate en­cour­ages Brown peo­ple to re­treat in fear, Tz­intzun is fo­cused on em­pow­er­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers who are boldly Latino. “We put our cul­ture and who we are front and cen­ter. Peo­ple want to see them­selves em­bod­ied,” she says. “The quinceañera [protest was] about our cul­ture and our pride and who we are, and that is what made it so pow­er­ful.”

Sanchez San­tos im­mi­grated to the United States from Mex­ico at age 6, and has lived in Austin ever since. Un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, she be­came el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals (DACA), which granted her pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion, the abil­ity to get a work per­mit and driver’s li­cense, and the right to go to school. The fate of DACA is un­cer­tain un­der Trump, who moved to end the pol­icy in Septem­ber.

Yet in the face of fear, Sanchez San­tos says her brav­ery is in­her­ent. “I just hate see­ing white [su­prem­a­cists] step all over Lati­nos. They don’t even know us and they treat us badly, but we don’t de­serve that. We have done noth­ing wrong to them. We come here to work, to help our fam­i­lies fi­nan­cially, and they have no right to just want to kick us out of this coun­try be­cause we’re still help­ing out their coun­try. We’re work­ing for them. We’re do­ing jobs that they don’t want to do. We’re here,” she says. She also ad­mits she fights to main­tain her courage. “I do get scared some­times with what’s go­ing on, like with what hap­pened in Char­lottesville. That did frighten me a lit­tle bit, but it just made me even stronger be­cause I know that what we’re do­ing and what we’re work­ing hard for is piss­ing them off. It’s work­ing.”

As an or­ga­nizer, Tz­intzun says it’s her duty to help ac­tivists nav­i­gate their con­cerns. “We live in a time when un­doc­u­mented and im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties are re­ally un­der threat,” she says. “We have to honor that fear but we also have to move peo­ple be­yond fear to courage and con­vic­tion. That’s our job as or­ga­niz­ers; ac­knowl­edge where peo­ple are at, and then talk about the power of com­ing to­gether. Al­low­ing fear to ar­rest us from ac­tion is ex­actly what these leg­is­la­tors want, and that’s [how] we let them win, so we need to move be­yond that.”

In Texas, Lati­nos cur­rently ac­count for 40 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion and are es­ti­mated to be­come the de­mo­graphic ma­jor­ity by 2030. Jolt’s long-term vi­sion is en­gag­ing all el­i­gi­ble vot­ers; cur­rently one in three is Latino.

“We see this mo­ment as a real cross­roads for Latino and im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties in Texas,” ex­plains Tz­intzun. “While we’re go­ing to fight back against SB4, we’re also go­ing to build the real power needed to trans­form Texas. Where we’re re­ally wag­ing our bet is on young Lati­nos [who] we be­lieve are the fu­ture of Texas.”

Sanchez San­tos speaks in af­fir­ma­tions and hopes to be­come a doc­tor one day, open­ing low-cost clin­ics for peo­ple with­out ad­e­quate re­sources or ac­cess to med­i­cal care. She says ac­tivism is im­por­tant be­cause “it gave me a voice and it made me un­afraid.” For other young peo­ple in­ter­ested in ac­tivism, she urges them to just get in­volved. “Think of all the bad things that are hap­pen­ing now and lit­er­ally ev­ery­thing that we’re get­ting put through—think about it and act on it,” she says. “Don’t just let peo­ple step all over the Latino com­mu­nity. Don’t be scared. Do it for what you love and what you care for.”

As for Jolt’s fu­ture, Tz­intzun says she hasn’t had the chance to take her ma­ter­nity leave yet, but she is in­vig­o­rated by the fu­ture. “We look for­ward to the long-term fight. Not just to beat back SB4, but to beat back a slew of leg­is­la­tion that has at­tacked lgbtq com­mu­ni­ties, that has at­tacked the rights of women, that has been an as­sault on poor peo­ple, and re­ally any­body that doesn’t fit into the elite fi­nan­cial interest of the Repub­li­can party and a big­oted mi­nor­ity that cur­rently con­trols the state,” she says.

THOUGH THE CUR­RENT PO­LIT­I­CAL CLI­MATE EN­COUR­AGES BROWN PEO­PLE TO RE­TREAT IN FEAR, TZ­INTZUN IS FO­CUSED ON EM­POW­ER­ING A NEW GEN­ER­A­TION OF LEAD­ERS WHO ARE BOLDLY LATINO.

“We have tremen­dous power,” says Tz­intzun. “We know what the quince girls rep­re­sent and what our com­mu­nity rep­re­sents is the fu­ture. The hate and the big­otry of the leg­is­la­tors cur­rently in power rep­re­sent that past, and that’s why they’re so afraid of al­low­ing our com­mu­nity to have full rights and equal­ity. They rec­og­nize [that] when we fully rec­og­nize our power, they will no longer be in power them­selves…. We’re com­ing for you be­cause this is our state, our home, and we’re not go­ing any­where.”

In­ter­ested in sup­port­ing Jolt? You can help by fol­low­ing them on so­cial me­dia, spread­ing the word on up­com­ing ac­tions, and shar­ing your artis­tic skills to tell Jolt’s sto­ries through a va­ri­ety of medi­ums. Send an e-mail to info@jolttx.org.

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