On the last day of Kindergarten, I got a big hug from my six-year-old, Jake. Before he was born, one of my mentors, Antonia Darder, a critical pedagogy scholar, told me that having children gives you a new reason to do social justice work. I didn’t understand at the time, but her words have come back to me. It’s because of my own kid that I have been writing about families separated by Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.
These families have come a long way from small towns in Mexico and Guatemala so that their children can have a better life. I envision a future when all our children can play together. I believe it’s not too far away.
On July 4th, we raised $1,000 and a carload of food to take to a woman whose husband was arrested by ICE agents. While the breadwinner was gone, their three children had eaten all the food in the house. She was also seven months pregnant. I took Jake with me to deliver the donations. My friends Tariq and Kristina and their three children joined us. All the children shared toys in the living room while we spoke with the mother. Her nine-year-old boy, Diego, translated for us. It was the perfect way to spend Independence Day this year.
Diego’s father is now back home, but federal authorities are moving fast with what they call “removal proceedings.” I plan to write about the father’s arrest, but I have been working to confirm his story, and get permission from the family. There are revelations about Sheriff Dan Walsh’s cooperation with ICE that I cannot yet fully disclose. Families don’t just deserve to be together, but they should have the right to be free, to move, to work, to remain free from state surveillance and criminalization.
I want to tell the story of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of Midwestern cities like my own. Lucia Maldonado, of the Latino Partnership, has helped me bring these stories to light. My most recent piece in Smile Politely is about one family with four children whose American Dream was shattered by a visit from ICE agents. Their oldest son has hopes of going to college on a soccer scholarship, but now that his father may be deported he will have to work to support the family.
Earlier this year, a man was picked up by ICE named Juan who worked in the kitchen at Siam Terrace, a popular Thai restaurant in downtown Urbana. I wrote about his arrest in another article for Smile Politely, “ICE on Main Street: Undocumented Immigrants Arrested in Urbana.” In June, I helped organize an “ICE Out of CU” rally at the Drury Inn hotel where ICE agents stay when they are in town.
I also continue to write about families impacted by mass incarceration in the United States. I sat with Black youth at a forum, “Challenging Electronic Monitoring in Cook County,” at the University of Chicago put on by my friend and comrade James Kilgore. I wrote this report for his blog “#NoDigitalPrisons.” Charlie Patton, a youth from Chicago’s West Side, reminded me of the hip hop kids I knew in Los Angeles. One of his paintings was displayed on an easel in the front of the room. Too shy to say much, Charlie sat next to me and doodled in his sketchbook.
Less than a year after I wrote in Truthout about General Inch, Trump’s appointment for head of federal prisons, he has resigned after a fight over national prison reform policy.
Still writing about my academic interests, I published a book review in the magazine Against the Current about Tim Jackson’s long-awaited publication, Pioneering Cartoonists of Color.
This summer I went to see an exhibit of Charles White, African American artist of the Black Chicago Renaissance, whose work graces the cover of my book The Negro in Illinois. I got a personal tour by John Murphy who helped curate the show currently up at the Art Institute of Chicago. Earlier this year we were on a panel at the annual conference of the College Language Association.
At home, I continue to practice #slowgrowth, this year’s hashtag. I take care of my houseplants. I planted a Japanese maple out back by the Boneyard Creek. I picked my first tomatoes in five-plus years. I’ve enjoyed the fruits of my labor―strawberries, raspberries, and cherries!!