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Q and A: Jose Velazquez

Chief Executive Officer of Latino Memphis


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Flyer: Why was it important to go to Washington?

Velázquez: You want the truth? We didn't know anything about the demonstration in Washington. We were there for some training. We happened to be in the Capitol building having a meeting with Senator Frist's office, and they were gathering. We asked what was going on, so we came out and were part of it. It was a very moving experience, but I wish I could tell you that we made this trip to join them.

Good timing.

It was perfect timing.

How was the rally?

It was not just a Latino event, though it was predominantly Latino. There were faces from all over the globe. There was a significant African-American presence. There were several union leaders, and I happened to be standing in front of one of them giving an interview to a local TV station. To listen to him linking together the struggle for basic human civil rights and the civil rights movement and how this is a natural link was incredibly powerful.

In terms of the immigration bill, what do you think would be the best-case scenario?

Rather than passing a couple of very narrow, specific laws that only focus on enforcement and criminalizing individuals, we need to look for a way in which we send the right message. This is the law and it covers everyone, not just the person who answers the call to come work, but those who benefit from that.

Those who benefit from the work of these individuals are not just the owners of whatever company, but it's you and me. We do not go to the grocery store and ask, 'Are these tomatoes touched by illegal hands? If they are, I don't want them.' We eat the fruit -- literally -- of their labor.

[The law] needs to give a very clear path of citizenship for those who are here today. We're not talking about amnesty or giving something for nothing. The premise in that argument is that these people are coming here to live off of our goodness. They are here to work hard for their piece of the American Dream. They're extremely willing to do what it takes to come out of the shadows and be integrated into mainstream society.

What do you think has been overlooked in debate?

This is all coming out of a general fear of "the other." All of it is couched in the fear of 9/11. Those who do not look like us -- and unfortunately "us" means white, Anglo-Saxon -- are suspect. These people, all of a sudden, are here to do the United States harm. We know better than that deep in our hearts. What's missing from the debate is really basic common sense.

Why have a local rally?

It was very intentionally called a unity rally. We have worked very hard to demonstrate that at the core of this discussion, we are talking about Americans. They may not have the right paper, but they view themselves as Americans. They sure want to be Americans. It's all aspects -- the benefits and the responsibilities.

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