Long Beach State’s Associated Students, Inc. kicked off this year’s Respect Diversity Week on Monday with a virtual panel discussion surrounding civic engagement in immigrant communities.
Respect Diversity Week, an annual campaign hosted by ASI’s Beach Pride Events, aims to promote cultural solidarity this year through educating students about historical injustices and modern-day inequities.
Monday’s panel event featured two keynote speakers who discussed civic education and engagement within immigrant communities as well as the importance of remaining civically engaged beyond election time.
Jamilet Ochoa, Long Beach State alumna who majored in women’s, gender and sexuality studies and a community organizer with the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, spoke of immigrants being inherently left out of the democratic process.
“In a lot of ways, they are systemically oppressed, and there are a lot of barriers to get to a point of equality,” Ochoa said. “But whether you are undocumented or not, you still can make an impact.”
She said that even if undocumented individuals are unable to vote, they can still participate civically by “advocating on Immigrant Day when community members do legislative visits to talk about policies that impact immigrants.”
Following Ochoa, Isaac Alferos, a third-year business administration major at California State University, Fullerton and executive director of the Black + Brown Healing Project, discussed engagement among Black and Brown communities through his campaign called the Coalition for Civic Education.
The Coalition for Civic Education aims to provide information about civic education centered around the experiences and viewpoints of these communities.
Like Ochoa, Alferos argued that voting isn’t the only way to be civically engaged.
“Participating in the democratic process is not just about voting because democracy isn’t created on November 3 and it doesn’t end on November 3,” Alferos said. “It doesn’t happen once every two days. It happens every day that we participate.”
Alferos said he feels that it is the people’s responsibility to change their country themselves if they feel it needs to. Even if everyone can’t vote, he said, civic engagement can then become the source of political action.
“For some of us, voting is really easy. For a lot of us, that’s not the case,” Alferos said. “For some of us, marching in the streets is easier. For some of us it’s showing up and helping out organizations we believe in. For some of us, it’s showing up at city hall. Whatever it be, participating in the democratic process should be open to all people in this country, and it’s necessary that we support each other through the struggle that we face in trying to do that.”
Alferos said, however, that undocumented individuals who are able to vote should remain mindful of the “tokenization” of immigrants when it comes to election time. He argued that typically the immigrant community is catered to before the election but is immediately forgotten about afterward.
“We don’t need saving,” Alferos said. “We need support.”
To emphasize his point, he referenced a quote from Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to be elected to congress, that says, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
“Well, I’m really tired of fighting for my own seat at the table, and I’m ready to bring my own damn chair,” Alferos said.
Both speakers argued that students must also change the narrative that focuses on why undocumented individuals aren’t participating in the voting process and instead question why the systems put in place have led to this.
According to Alferos, this means taking on an “asset mindset” to question these systems and study how these communities have been civically engaged in the past through progressive movements, rather than a “deficit mindset” that focuses on blaming these communities for the lack of voter turnout.
“It would be fair to look at who is and isn’t turning out to vote if everybody in this country, from the same starting point, always had access to the vote,” he said. “Looking at it from an asset mindset means we’re going to recognize the history, and it means I’m going to change how I write the story and the moral of the story.”
He feels that recognizing this history allows for people to recognize the impact they have on their community and their country as a whole.
“I think the better moral of the story is despite all the odds we have faced, it is because of folks who came to this country believing in what it can be, not what it is, that we created a democracy,” Alferos said.
The two encouraged students not to fall victim to the trend of solely supporting causes online through social media without reflecting this support with physical civic engagement.
“In the age of information, reposting and reposting does not fully constitute the action I think we tend to give it to,” Alferos said. “[In] one of my favorite songs, they say ‘the revolution will not be televised.’ Y’all, the revolution won’t be just on Instagram either. We have to get out. We have to put action behind our education and actually do something.”