Posts tagged with "sonia martinez"

Food Sovereignty And The Divided State Of BIPOC In America

Our Panelists:

  • Omowale Afrika
  • Earlier this year, Filmmakers Omowale Afrika & Frank Edwards, traveled to Mississippi in search of information about, Baba Hannibal Tirus Afrik, a profound Black educational activist, to reintroduce his mission and vision to this generation. In June, on what would have been Baba Hannibal’s 88th birthday, the filmmakers released their findings in an article titled, Reparations, Food Sovereignty, and Starvation in America. Omowale and Frank are now in the pre-production phase for their new film project, Hannibal: The Fight for Food Sovereignty in the South. The goal of this new project is to heighten the level of awareness around the global food crisis, and to make it clear to Black America that food self-sufficiency is our only path to sustaining and protecting our freedom.
  • Sonia Martinez

DACA Dreamers: From Promise To Peril




The deadline was met. It was Sept. 5. President Trump followed through on another nation shifting promise to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, (DACA) program. In a widely reported 2016 immigration policy speech in Phoenix, AZ—where Trump rolled out his plan to build a wall along our southern border and have Mexico pay for it—the president boastfully stated, “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants.” This, after blaming Sanctuary Cities, Obama, Clinton and “out of touch politicians” for the many lives lost at the hands of illegal immigrants.



In this same speech, he declared “Zero tolerance for criminal aliens,” an inflammatory terminology many immigration advocates reject as dehumanizing. Angel Ramirez is a DACA recipient and agrees. He joined about 30 other protesters and local activists to voice opposition to the president’s decision at a rally in Utica, NY, and says “I don’t think there’s any illegal person in the world anyway because we are just limited and bound by policies and political actions that, if you think about it, doesn’t make any sense.” Nevertheless, President Trump asserted, “We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.” Accordingly, wouldn’t the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients be the ones more likely to thrive and flourish having benefitted from living in America most of their lives? Dreamers, as DACA recipients are often called, grew up in America’s school system, have been enculturated in this country, embrace America as their only home, fight wars and die in her name, and love her equally as those here on legal grounds. In other words, it contradicts the very message of this administration, especially if finding a solution to the country’s immigration problem is still the outcome all sides are aiming for.

After taking office, President Trump told David Muir with ABC News in a February interview that DACA recipients need not worry because, “I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody.” He followed his rhetoric with actions; pardoning Joe Arpaio and ending DACA. And, throwing his support behind tougher immigration legislation like Kate’s Law and The Davis-Oliver Bill. Sonia Martinez, President of Mohawk Valley Latino Association says she hopes former President Obama steps in to help those under threat of deportation. “He gave the approval for this program, for the Dreamers to stay in the United States of America. I think it would be very important.” The former president did chime in via social media in a lengthy statement essentially condemning the move as making “no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know.”

Ramirez says the move to end DACA is devastating. “I’m married, I have two kids, we just don’t know what’s in the future, what’s going to happen. He goes on to say, “I was here my whole life. My parents are from Mexico and I didn’t know anything. And, if I go back to Mexico, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” He says the uncertainty is weighing on him because he may have to uproot his family from the only home they’ve known. “I have to start thinking about what other options we have in case this completely ends and there is no other way for us.”



The first time Ramirez realized he was in the country without legal documents was when he applied for a job after high school and was asked for his social security number. “I’m like, ‘what is that?’ because even when you go to school they don’t ask you for that, they just give you your ID to go to school, they don’t tell you, oh, you’re illegal.” He adds, “Then you find out all these things that you cannot qualify.” Ramirez says since gaining employment he has steadily paid his taxes and even became a homeowner. “I always pay my taxes, I always pay everything that I needed to because my hope is one day that I will become a citizen because this is all I know. This is home for us.”

Even so, the decision to end DACA was the writing on the wall in the president’s speech when he said, “While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in.” Perhaps, but as it pertains to DACA recipients, a 2016 survey by the Center for American Progress found that after taking part in the program, 63 percent of recipients moved to better paying jobs, 49-percent gained greater access to employment that matches their education and skill sets and 48 percent gained jobs with better working conditions. If we want to close the gap between who we are and who we want to be as Americans, we must keep working towards the principles that set us apart from all other people on earth, and those against a pathway to citizenship for these young people must also considering the spirit of the laws that bound us as one to form the ideals of E Pluribus Unum.



In the State of New York, DACA recipients have greatly benefited from the amnesty program. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services nearly 42,000 young people came forward, passed background checks, and live and work legally in the country since implementation of the program. And, according to research conducted by Washington: Center for American Progress Ending, DACA would cost New York nearly $2.6 billion in annual GDP losses if it’s phased out. “Right now, some people are saying go back to your country but what would Native People say about you now that you’re here and settled,” Ramirez asked with a quizzical look on his face of those who oppose the Dreamer’s pathway to citizenship. He says being called “Illegal” or “Alien” by his own president is disturbing. “What does that word even mean? Like, we are outside of this world? A lot of things don’t make sense anymore. We feel like we’re being excluded, we have no value…that’s how we feel right now,” he says.

Ramirez says although his faith in God is strong, it’s going to take real action to keep DACA in place. “We need to let them know that this is not okay.” If he could talk to President Trump directly, Ramirez says he would remind him of his own immigrant roots and family ties and our collective humanity, “We are all immigrants. Nobody is better than anyone else, we are all the same, we are all humans. There is no races, there is only one kind and we are all humans.” Regardless if his words reach the president, Trump has punted the issue to Congress almost superficially reassuring DACA recipients and the thousands who spoke out against his decision in an audio clip provided by The Washington Post that, “We’ll see what happens in Congress. I have a feeling that’s not going to be necessary, I think they’re gonna make a deal. I think Congress really wants to do this.” He goes on to say that he wants to see in the legislation some “good border security” measures and a “great DACA transaction where everybody is happy and now they don’t have to worry about it anymore.” If history is any indication of how Trump’s promises play out, Dreamers and immigration advocates should definitely worry until the proof is in the pudding. And, that proof will come in the form of firm, realistic and enforceable immigration policies that embodies the spirit and culture of America.



MVLA’s 11th Annual Latino Festival


The Latino Festival at Hanna Park brought out many people to celebrate a unique culture, and its significance as part of the fabric that makes up our American culture. The event marked its 11th year this time around, highlighting the lives of Latinos in the Mohawk Valley.

Latinos have called the area home for many years. They’re comprised of a diverse group of peoples from Mexico, Central and South America, and Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations. Latinos have made enormous contribution to society and American culture as a whole, however, according to a NYS Office of Cultural Education study, a historical account of their lives and migration across New York State is surprisingly very limited. Latino influences are all around us. Nevertheless, the commercialized celebrations of Latino culture barely cover the day to day realities many of them face in communities all across New York. In other words, Latinos are still struggling in an increasingly hostile world despite being one of the fastest growing communities across the state. And, we’re barely taking notice of it from a historical and archival view point, according to the study.

The State Education Department also found that only a handful of organizations are keeping historical records of Latino history and culture in the state. The researchers responsible for the publication; A Guide to Documenting Latino/Hispanic History & Culture in New York State stress that the discovery of limited data makes it all that more important for people, especially in the Latino community, to collect and record artifacts and make records to help preserve their history in New York. The study also serves as a guide for anyone interested in becoming a record collector. Another important notice taken by the researchers is that Latino activists and politicians on every level of government across the state take on tremendous tasks to support their community, but rarely get any type of official recognition for their contributions, making it even more troublesome to keep historical records and documentations of Latino lives.

With this in mind, it’s only fitting to mention the organizers of the annual Latino Festival in Utica; Sonia Martinez, Anthony Tony Colon, Lindy Colon, Kevin Marken and Ed Jackson, board members of the Mohawk Valley Latino Association, (MVLA). Mr. Colon said, “The Latino Association was formed approximately 14-years ago and we decided that every year we would have an event, invite friends and family from the community, not just Latinos but everybody, and here we are. This is our greatest turn out so far and we certainly are very supportive of the community and this is just another example of being members of this community.” Through its work in the community, MVLA in many ways serves as an unofficial collector and preserver of Latino culture in Utica.

Martinez, a founding member of MVLA fits the description of one of the community leaders that contributes substantially to Latinos in Utica. Her many contributions go largely unrecognized. Martinez is constantly on the move helping with language services, assistance with housing, social and immigration services, and even acting as a chauffeur to help those struggling make appointments. Young Latinos throughout Utica have benefitted from Martinez’s service and activism. The Latino Festival is a great opportunity to highlight the culture and its roots, and document the achievements and contributions being made by Martinez and many others like her.

Like any other official event, the festival opened with the singing of the National Anthem, sang by Lindy Colon, followed by greetings from the organizers, special guests, and local politicians, including Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, State Senator Joseph Griffo and former Congressman, Michael Arcuri.

Marken sums it up best when he said, “It’s a rich tradition. With the food, the music, the language, all of the different elements that really help America to be what it is. And the Latino, Hispanic cultures are some of the most critical important parts of that entire wonderful thing that make it up to be America.” The study noted that the Puerto Rican community is not only the largest and oldest Latino community in the state; they’re also the most documented. Their documentation and archives started in 1972 at Hunter College, “It is the only archives in New York State that is devoted primarily to Latino documentation.”

Here are some historical events and milestones in Latino/Hispanic history worth sharing:

  • Spanish American War 1898
  • Puerto Ricans granted U.S. citizenship 1917
  • Immigration acts of 1965 and 1986
  • Events in Latin America leading to emigration: Cuban revolution (1959), Dominican rebellion and U.S. occupation (1965), wars in Central America, etc.
  • Aspira Consent Decree (1973) which led to the Bilingual Education Act,( later renamed the English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act, as a result of No Child Left Behind.)

Efforts to achieve economic, social and political change remain an on-going struggle in the Latino community right here in Utica. Find out how you can help advance these goals by contacting MVLA to join local, grassroots work already underway.