LANSING – Claudia Gonzalez remembers vividly walking across the campus of Michigan State University two years ago. The campus was abuzz with football excitement, the Spartans were hosting a home game. That's when she came across a group of men she describes as "sixty year old white men."
"Go back to Mexico," the 23-year-old senior at MSU said she heard them say. And it was not the first time, nor would it be the last time she heard that phrase. "The sentiment is always there, but some people are able to hide it for a time."
Gonzalez, who identifies as bisexual, is not a stranger to anti-immigrant language. She grew up only minutes from the Mexican border. And while she is an American citizen, having been born here, her parents are not. She spent her childhood watching them toil as migrant workers. She also watched as her friends and neighbors moved about in fear.
"People are afraid to go out in the street or shop because of the color of their skin. It really hinders the ability of people to live out their lives the way they should," she said.
She said the fear is from the tactics of immigration officials, the border patrol and vigilante groups. Gonzalez talks about the anti-immigration/anti-Mexican movements of the '30s and Operation Wetback in the '50s. It was when immigration officials created mass deportations of anyone who was Mexican in their appearance. Many Americans were swept up in those operations and dumped into Mexico.
Gonzalez said this current debate is fueled by the false rhetoric of the anti-immigration foes, many of whom are connected with white supremacy movements.
"They are using all these false economic statistics," she said. "They are using the economic issues, saying that immigrants come to this country and use up all our public assistance programs. So it's just really sad to see these key issues are so played upon by the anti-immigrant groups when in fact, $1 billion are taken from immigrants in taxes and not seen again."
"When people talk about undocumented workers, it's like they are excited to jump across the border and move to America – the land of the free and the brave. Why would they be excited to come to a place where you are told to go back home because you are brown?" she said. "That is not an ideal situation for anybody. That's the really big thing that people always talk about."
It's a misconception which groups have been able to spin things into," Gonzalez said. "They are fear based issues the groups have been able to use."
She said the answer to the wave of anti-immigration activities in this country is found first in coalitions and second, in open borders. She added that the immigrants are coming to America in part because U.S. foreign policy has made other countries so dependent on American aid. That aid, she argues, has been designed to prioritize specific governmental functions while ignoring others.
"Until we can further help countries learn to provide for their people, it's a situation that really can be asked for," she said of immigration – both legal and illegal. She uses Mexico as an example where American policy has actively dictated how the Mexican government should prioritize spending. She points out education is not high on that list.
"It's a matter of survival," she said.
But the ultimate way to address all of these issues, Gonzalez said, is in building coalitions.
"There are many, many LBGTQ identified who are also people of color. These different groups of people intersect. This whole concept of working together and recognizing oppression is the first step. Just getting together. We have beautiful examples of that in the past," she said.
"One of the biggest things is recognizing oppression for what oppression is. Transcending walls. Immigrants and LGBT people are always being told you don't belong, being looked down on," she said. "A lack of a voice that is not given to us, it is taken away. We are rendered invisible continuously."
And those coalitions, tentative as they are, are beginning to form. Gonzalez said at Michigan State University student activists are learning the importance of working together. She points to National Coming Out Day events last year when the chicano students, students from the Alliance of Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender Students and others joined together to bring a chicano female-to-male transgender spoken word artist to campus.
She said the MSU students are interfacing nationally in the dialogue, watching what is happening around the country and looking to see what actions and activities can be applied to Michigan generally, and East Lansing specifically.
She said the dialogue is just beginning. "I think so far it is getting a lot of sitting down and talking. We need more action. We need to make ourselves more visible. We have examples of many great alliances that have come, but right now I don't think there is enough being done."