By Nancy Haque, Co-Executive Director
Like many other Americans, I am the child of immigrants. My family fled the specter of war in the South Asian nation of Bangladesh in 1971 and settled in Fairfax, Virginia. Like my white friends and neighbors, we were a working class family. My mother cared for other people’s children in our house, while my father often worked 16-hour days, six days a week to help our family make ends meet. His work was so strenuous that he began to have heart problems from the overexertion.
Fairfax County is now quite a diverse place, it was not at the time that my family moved there in 1980. We experienced several different levels of both anti-immigrant sentiment and just straight up racism. As a child, I remember going to a friend’s babysitter’s house and a baby I had never met before started crying when I tried to play with her. My friend guessed that the baby had never seen dark skin before and that’s why she was crying. I remember being called “ch*nk” and “walking piece of sh*t.” My brother was called even worse names.
I vividly remember going to the department store with my father, who speaks English fluently with an accent, and witnessing one person after another claim that they couldn’t understand him as he asked for help. And although I didn’t know it at the time, my father would find that the tires of our family car (a Volkswagen Beetle) had been slashed. Other times, people would simply leave broken glass beneath his car, presumably to damage his tires as he drove away.
These events are from decades ago and history is repeating itself.
As I write this, three anti-immigrant ballot measures are in the works in Oregon: one would mandate workplace authorization, one would make English Oregon’s official language; and the last one would effectively repeal Oregon’s successful Motor Voter law and require proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Each of these policies would make life more difficult for all Oregonians, immigrant or not. Make no mistake; their intention is to target immigrants of color–make our lives so unbearable we will return to our native countries.
As a queer woman from an immigrant family, this is heartbreaking. Like many in our state, I endured years of hate from the Oregon Citizens Alliance and others. We are finally turning the tide on LGBTQ hate in our state. Yet, like so many of my peers, I remain a target because of my other identity—immigrant.
These latest measures are equally as heinous as the OCA measures. They are backed by Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), an organization that relies on funding from national hate groups to advance policies that support nativism—a belief that native-born folks should take precedence over immigrants. OFIR has been working for decades to endanger and illegalize the very existence of men, women, and children who come to Oregon as refugees or immigrants. They are fostering relationships with state legislators and firming up a grassroots base, helping the national anti-immigrant movement gain a strong foothold in Oregon. They worked with state Republicans to invite the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a virulent supporter of anti-immigrant causes, to come and speak on the steps of our state Capitol last June.
Despite OFIR’s extremist views, it’s getting traction with mainstream media like Willamette Week and the Register Guard, where OFIR’s President Cynthia Kendoll described immigration as “an organized assault on our culture.”
Make no mistake, OFIR receives substantial funding from the foundation of John Tanton, a known white nationalist and eugenicist. OFIR used his resources to flood the media with misinformation and confuse Oregonians to take away legal driver’s cards from those who needed them.
Similar to our efforts to defeat the OCA, fair-minded Oregonians must once again come together to stop backward measures designed to separate families and divide communities with hateful rhetoric.
We won hearts and minds for the freedom to marry by reminding Oregonians of the golden rule—treat others the way you want to be treated. Let’s give immigrant Oregonians this same dignity and respect.