For the entire 21 years that I have been living in Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the anti-immigrant official who calls Donald Trump his “political soulmate,” has been in office. Throughout my childhood, I never knew that a role of community organizer or human rights activist existed, that it was a thing, or that people like me could be part of making a change. But two events changed that.
Ten years ago, immigration authorities deported my uncle. And now my young cousin, his son, goes to sleep in a cell, after spending the past year in one of Arpaio’s cold juvenile detention facilities. Every night, I get to come home to a comfortable bed, light a candle and rest in a place I can call home. But that’s not true for the rest of my family. My own family hasn’t just lived its life in fear, we’ve been torn apart.
I probably would’ve thought that there’s nothing that I could do for either of them, accepting that’s just the way it is. But in 2010, when Arizona passed its racial profiling law, SB1070, I found a world of people who were undocumented, oppressed by a system of anti-immigrant laws.
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Until then, I saw myself as a reflection of an undocumented immigrant in the US — invisible. I had nothing to lose, because to the US, I was no one. I could not work, could not obtain a driver’s license, did not have a Social Security Number, I could not hope. And I had allowed politicians like Arpaio to determine how little I could dream — even how much I loved myself.
But I was finally alongside other people like me in demonstrations when anti-immigrant protesters — white men with Confederate flags — spat at us the same messages I had internalized: “Go back! You don’t belong here! Get deported!” The hate did something different in me. The people there formed acircle. We focused on our role as peace-keepers, and understood ourselves as standing in the center of and at a tipping point in a fight bigger than ourselves, a ground zero for the immigration debate.
That’s probably why Trump came here to present his immigration plan. He knew that there would be people to cheer on his hate speech. But what he didn’t anticipate is a political awakening in our communities — we are organizing full forceas a movement, ready to prevent Trump’s rise and end Arpaio’s rule.
Four years ago, I worked on a voter registration campaign to challenge Arpaio, which saw to his victory shrinking to just a 6 percent margin. This year, he’s weaker than ever and we’re more united than before.
Arpaio has been under investigation from the US Department of Justice since the 1990s. In 2011, I remember browsing the web and coming onto an article titled, “Arpaio forces woman to give birth while shackled.” I, myself, have been followed by his deputies pulled over for “wrongfully switching lanes.” But now, he’s finally been found guilty of racial profiling and recommended for criminal prosecution.
A multiracial and multigenerational community is coming together. We refuse to give up — to give power to politicians and laws that limit our potential, or to be afraid of our parents’ deportation every day. I refuse to see the pennies my stepdad is paid for his valuable work, or phrases like, “I hope somebody shoots you,” shouted at me by counter-protesters, as normal. We won’t tolerate it anymore.
Young people are taking leadership like never before. We grew up watching the sheriff’s raids andseeing our parents treated as scapegoats, seeing the criminal legal system as a more likely place to capture our cousins and uncles than any college or fair-paying job, and we won’t forget.
And that’s exactly what Arpaio and Trump miscalculated. An intersectional movement is more powerful than “America’s toughest sheriff” or the New York billionaire who is stealing a page from Arizona’s playbook for his presidential run. We are strong, we are educated, we hold people power and we will stop his abuse and intimidation tactics. We deserve to have our dignity and humanity recognized. We deserve more than the mistreatment Arizona has given us, and this year will be the start of us getting it.