On the evening of June 18, the Tiger and I headed toward Downtown Santa Ana to shadow S.A. Register news reporter Ron Gonzales to a public safety meeting where the issue of whether the city would retain its contract with Immigration and Costoms Enforcement (ICE) Department detainees which bring revenue to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, was being discussed.
A number of community members, including student activist Carlos Perea protested the city’s contract with ICE and attended the meeting en masse to complaint to the city council about the situation.
A few days later I met with Perea and his friend Alex Nava Teodoro. They are both advocates for immigrant youth, the former has been in the U.S. since the age of 14, but has not had an easy road to his current status as a college student and as an advocate in his community. While in high school Perea learned English in one year, determined to help other students struggling with issues of family separation. While there, Perea also took command of a club focusing on undocumented students, working with LGBTQ and other under-represented groups. He recently organized the first youth conference in the city and along with Teodoro.
Here is a link to the story on the meeting written by Ron Gonzales. You may need to be an OC Register subscriber to read it all. However,what follows is a Q&A I conducted with them in the city’s cultural center.
Q. Carlos, you are the winner of the Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund, what does that honor mean to you personally?
Carlos: The scholarship supports students who are advocating for social change that work in the community and have an academic background. I was not expecting to get it because I’m a community college student. They usually give those types of grants to four year students. One of the things is that since I was in High School I was involved with my community and one of the reasons why I didn’t apply to a four year school straight out is I wanted to stay here. Obviously a community college is cheaper, but I had taken into consideration that the California Dream Act would take effect (in 2012) I have to pay out of my own pocket. I applied to the scholarship and I got it. It allowed me to keep on paying for school and also allowed me to keep on doing the work I do for my community. I feel it’s recognizing the work we do as immigrants, especially in this area.
Q. The City of Santa Ana has been asked to cancel the ICE contract by concerned community members. Why is this such an important issue to the community at this time?
Alexis: It’s Important because amidst a national immigration reform and amidst the 2 million deportations that have happened during the Obama administration, amidst many deaths in the border, this impacts a lot of immigrants in Santa Ana. The city can send a really strong message inside one of the most Conservative counties and urge Obama to stop deportations by cancelling this contract. It would be sending the message that as a concerned community, it is not going to work with ICE who have had so many lawsuits filed against them for violating the human rights of undocumented immigrants.
Q. Carlos, When you were in High School you made it a point to work with other groups like LGBTQ, where did you get your passing for organizing and activism?
Carlos: I think it really started as a freshman. One of the first things I saw even within our own community was some type of looking down at our own people because you couldn’t speak the language, you were not assimilated into the culture. Even within teachers, you see they have a perception/bias towards immigration. You notice there’s a hostile environment, especially when you come to a conservative county. Even if you don’t know the context or the culture of Orange County, you come here and you perceive it. I learned English in one year and was able to jump into regular classes and then take A.P. classes and catch up with the regular American students. It was during my summer to Junior year that I started to see the gap. I was one of the few, maybe one of two or three people, who was able to get ahead, the rest were held back because they didn’t know the language or did not have enough skills. I wanted to create something different. I wanted to help my friends to think about college. They were thinking about ‘I want to work because my parents are struggling,’ they were not provided that college information as much as the other students. You could see the inequality right there.
Q. What is the most pressing single issue facing the youth of Santa Ana today?
We have done surveys and we have done a lot of work on this. No. 1 is immigration because whether or not you are undocumented, we come from mixed status families. No. 2 is police issues. A big portion of the city’s budget is going to the Police Department. We tried to redefine what does public safety mean. Do we need that much money for the Police? You don’t have that much going into social services, libraries are being closed, and education. It could be argued not enough money has been allocated for education.
Q. Who are your role models, who were your role models growing up and why?
Carlos: I would say my mom. She came to the U.S. when I was eight years old to look for a better future. Just the fact of her leaving her only child to look for a better place, it was hard on me, but it was harder on her and now she’s married and we have a family; but I know she struggled a lot. She worked in the textile industry. My family are my role models, they are hard-working people and they don’t do harm to the community, just the fact that they are being seen as criminals, you can do whatever to me, but don’t dehumanize my relatives and my family.