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SMC students recount trials of immigrants

Mandi Stirone | Friday, March 14, 2008

Saint Mary’s Hispanic-American society, La Fuerza, examined the plight of illegal immigrants through recounting personal testimonies in its first Immigrant Monologues Thursday as part of its Week of Action.

La Fuerza co-president junior Chrissy Romo and senior Jeanne Choquehuanca each read from a book of immigrant stories entitled “Stranger in Ones Land” and Romo recounted her grandparents’ trials when coming to America

The passage read by Romo, which translated is means “Here No One Speaks Spanish,” told of the Mexican-American’s problems pertaining to the language barrier they face.

She read about how Spanish is considered a “dirty language,” and one student was told, “if you want to be an American you have to speak English.”

Choquehuanca presented the story of the Mexican immigrant, Chavez.

“Mexico and its poverty loom over him like an ominous cloud,” she said.

After she finished reading, Choquehuanca spoke about how important education is to the immigrants.

“They really struggle to make ends meet,” she said. “They really value their kids’ education.”

Romo then spoke again, this time telling the stories of her two grandfathers, both of whom were illegal immigrants.

“I am the granddaughter of four illegal immigrants,” she said.

Her father’s father was deported in his first attempt to make it to America

“My paternal grandfather [Seferino Romo] swam across the Rio Grande,” she said.

After spending three nights in jail he was sent back to Mexico without his possessions, Romo said. When he finally did make it into the country he had a hard time finding a job and eventually became a farm hand.

What was most important to him was getting his sons educated and he worked as hard as he could to ensure that, she said.

“My grandfather worked until his death,” she said. “I know everything he went through was for me and my family. I know he’s here. I feel him but I sometimes wish I knew him.”

Her maternal grandfather was also an illegal immigrant who rode 15 miles every day on a bike in order to get to work, she said. Her mother and uncle both had to begin working at 16-years-old and that was only after they managed to learn how to speak English.

“It makes me grateful for what I have,” she said. “They don’t want us [her siblings and cousins] to have to suffer like they did.”

Romo came up with the idea for the Immigrant Monologues after Coalition of Immokalee Workers came to campus in the fall of last year and again in the spring of last year, she said. The SMC Monologues also influenced her decision to organize the event, she said.

Despite a smaller turnout than expected and three professors who were supposed to be read backing out at the last minute, Romo and Choquehuanca are confident that it will continue to be a part of the Week of Action.

“I’m hoping to continue it for a very long time,” she said. “It’s definitely something that I hope continues after I graduate.”

Today the members of La Fuerza and other sympathetic students are wearing white tee shirts with red handprints on them and spending the day either in silence, fasting or both, she said. The silence or fasting is taking place between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Romo said.

The white tee shirt is symbolic of the “wifebeater” shirts that migrant workers wear and the red handprint symbolizes the “tool of the worker” and the “blood of the worker,” she said.

The fasting or silence and the wearing of the tee shirts or any white shirt are part of a “protest in general” in support of immigrants, Romo said.

There will also be a candlelight vigil on Saturday at 7 p.m. on Library Green.