We are all Egypt. We are all Undocumented.

Its like a fad, jumping on this euphoric bandwagon of revolutions whose spirit has crossed all borders and generations. Its infectious, hopeful, energetic and we can’t help but jump up and cry out in solidarity “We’re all Egypt! We’re all Undocumented!” We are looking for freedom fueled by youth and spread by Facebook.

And STOP.

Check your privilege. No, we are not all undocumented because you can kill a man and you won’t be deported but I don’t even have to take a stand and I can be thrown out of my country. You want to stand in solidarity? Then walk to the state capital and sit with me as I tell my story to the staunch legislator who won’t give us a chance in hell. You want to take a stand on this issue? Head to Alabam a or Georgia or North Carolina and stand with those who are criminalized for being immigrants.

Another thing you can do: Please be quiet for a second and listen. No you’re not listening, you’re hearing my words but you’re not listening; there’s a difference.

Don’t get me wrong. Nothing’s more valuable to me that your support but to stand with me, you can’t stand ahead of me; I need to tell my story, my struggle, to show just how heavy the burden is on my back. But when you tell it then suddenly you own it, and everybody else can own it and if everybody has a piece of it then what’s the movement’s meaning? Suddenly being undocumented is not such a roadblock if everybody’s feeling it but you’ve never felt it so what gives you the right to tell it?

Our stories are our voice, our tools, our reality, our proof to others and ourselves that we are really alive.

You may not like it, but the truth is I have to walk ahead of you, because my status is beating me down, strangling me it seems with a list of “You can’ts” that’s left me stuck in the back of an everlasting line. My first step up is to pick up the mic and speak up.

What self-righteous thought possessed your mind to think you can tell my story? You’ve never felt as helpless as I am against an entire institution; you’ve never looked at your future and thought, “Damn I have nothing left, I have no choices, no paths to choose from; my future’s a giant blank.” You’ve never felt useless as your brother applied for college while you and him both knew there’s no chance in hell of him attending.

Don’t rob me of my voice. Otherwise the voiceless will stay that way and we’ll stay a stereotype in the minds of peoples and politicians, a faceless abstract image in the back of their heads coming to the front only when they need someone to take the heat. Don’t make up my voice because I’m real, I’m alive, I exist, and when I can only watch the world that I thought I was a part of from a dark corner, my voice is all I have to know that No, I’m not less, I am the same as all the others; I’m human too.

Yes I know I risk arrest, but don’t belittle my choices; I’ll make that decision for myself, please don’t make it for me. It’s hard I know, because you don’t want to feel helpless unable to stop the cop from locking the iron on my wrist but this is what it means to help me fight.

And if I get arrested I’m going to ask you to be strong and call my mother to tell her I‘m not coming home tonight.

I can only speak for myself, for my struggles, for my burdens, and I won’t speak for no one else, because each person’s fight is their own to own and they will choose to speak up or be silent.

Are you beginning to see why it puzzles and disturbs me to hear you proclaim so loudly and proudly that we’re all undocumented? Because we’re not. A number separates you and me. A number open doors for you and shuts them in my face. You have a privilege I have never tasted. It’s easy to say that you’re undocumented when you’re risking nothing; it’s a heart shaking, anxiety filled fear for me.

You will never get that letter in the mail that details why you are deportable. I got mine last month. And I have to come to grips with the fact that a year from now, I may never be able to see my family or friends living here again. This is what I think about while you sleep in the dead of the night.

You can’t imagine what its like to live under the shadow of a country you grew up in, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the flag for which it stands one nation, under God, for liberty and justice for all. And justice for all. Except me.

But it’s still there for you.

You can’t claim undocumented any more than I can claim Egypt or Syria. To my undocumented peers: listen closely, because we shouldn’t be having this conversation but here we are. Why I even have to explain this I don’t know, but here goes.

I am a Palestinian, born in Kuwait, carrying a Jordanian passport but I would never claim I am Egyptian. Or Libyan. Or Syrian. The horrors lived, the lives taken, entire nations and armies rising up, people disappearing; how can anyone who never had to endure that possibly have the nerve to claim Tahrir Square or Egypt?

I only hope I would have half the courage of these people to say that I too choose freedom over bread, that I’d rather die than live under a dictatorship, that I will lay down my life for future generations. I’m a proud Palestinian but as much as it hurts to say, I’d rather be undocumented here rather than a citizen living under dictatorship over there. I may not be strong enough to stand in front of a tank/soldier and risk death.

Don’t confuse with being an undocumented protester here with being an Arab protester over there. We are struggling to be a part of the system; they are laying down their lives to overthrow and reestablish entire governments. We can be deported; they can get killed. It’s as simple and as brutal as that.

Check your privilege; I just checked mine.

Alaa Mukahhal, IYJL Organizer.

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JIZZY says:

Juan, you coming at a woman and organization w.o knowing what they’re about is problematic. Or simply saying their “arguments are dumb” really makes you look like the dummy.

I’ve never met anyone from IYJL who’s “afraid” and ”
fight[ing] to be incorporated in the system “. I guess it would be easy to make that argument when you generalize and lump all undocumented folk together…

This won’t be academic! :) I for one have a lot to say about this article/topic, I have for a while. But I haven’t been able to make it to the open meetings ya’ll have. I personally hate downtown its expensive and it takes long ass hell to get there lol. Anyway, who knows when I’ll get the chance to be there so might as well throw my thoughts in the mix here.First I agree, claiming we are all undocumented is dumb. Do I think this is divisive? YES, I do. I am the daughter of two immigrants who crossed the border from Mexico. I am lucky to have been born in Chicago. Yes, I am a citizen. I grew up in Addison, IL which has historically been a very conservative,racist, oppressive community. Anyway my point here is CONTEXT. You are right I may not know what it’s like to FEEL exactly everything about you. But, have you felt what I felt? Have you been bullied, harassed, physically hurt for being the only Mexican in an all-white school? Do you know what its like to be a teen mom in the burbs and get your milk and eggs thrown at you because your paying with WIC? Do you know what it fells like to get beaten? Ignored by racist cops that don’t give a dam about you because your just another Latina with kids? You suffered more then me? How many suffered more then me? Let’s make a spectrum of suffering…… I mean I don’t need to personalize this much more…but my point is that we can all make a list of oppressive forces that the other hasn’t felt, but what is the end goal? To be explicit? To tell others they can’t be leaders? How much is this movement about race? At the core, along with oppressive immigration policy, systematic alienation comes the fear of difference. I think your point is justified, you are right I don’t know what it’s like to be undocumented. But have I felt some of those oppressive forces that you’ve faced? HELL YEA! It bothers me that in the midst of all the systematic hate in society we continue to dwell on the battle of the worst! Another thing is history…..we often forget that we repeat history. This issue about being explicit with a certain oppressive context has happened in the past and it has been divisive. How constructive is this? How much more we chip to get down to the perfect essentialized almighty “leader”? How can we continue this discussion in a better way? Unity is key to movements. It is about building bridges NOT burning them. When this all went down I will not lie I felt a bit dis-empowered, I mean really? I thought, you are telling me! Me that has been through this oppressive HELL that I can’t be a leader?? Maybe I heard that wrong……..or maybe I should check my privilege first.

:) I know we can have a constructive discussion about this. I believe in US!

Leozino says:

Allow me to disagree. The struggle we face is to unite the oppressed against our common oppressor. To argue against any sort of fraternization of different international struggles based on your criteria of a “privilege” can only achieve the opposite, to divide us.
The U.S. ruling class doesn’t need to “kill” it’s own subjugated class not because it allows them the “privilege” to live, but rather because it doesn’t need to. When it does need to it will. It will the same way it killed Indians, Africans, Mexicans, African-American, Caribbean, South Americans, Mexican-American, Asians, European, Communist, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Central American, more South Americans, more Mexicans, Asians, more Europeans, more and more and constantly Africans, Arabs in general, Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Libyans, in particular, and indirectly pretty much anyone in the world without any discrimination of race, nationality, religion expect for class. Bourgeoisie of the world are safe, the ruling class of “America” is going to protect you.
The argument that there are no atrocities happening to us, which we must clarify, there are no atrocities happening to us “at the moment” that is, goes against a long standing tradition of class solidarity that has prevailed thought the worst of capitalist destruction, such as the WWI and WWII, that toppled the lives of over 100 Millions people and destroyed great parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, among others.
The contradiction doesn’t reside in “who is more oppressed than the other” but rather, as you correctly point out, “why doesn’t the system include me”. The answer to this can’t be found on the roots of nationalities, race or religion, but on the contradiction of class. Hence, the struggle ahead should not only be to become ” a part of the system”, the same system that oppressed us, exploited us here and our sisters and brothers at home. The struggle we face is indeed against this capitalist system that allows, humanizes, ideologies, propagates and institutionalizes this injustice (among other things). In such a struggle, and not the other, class solidarity makes sense and is crucial.
We are all Egyptians! Is a cry of solidarity that echoes “we are all Vietnamese” “we are all Iraqis” , and the subsequent list is long. What it means is not that “we are dying” like you, but rather “we see our liberation, in your liberation”. Marx magnificently said, and now famously quoted (even though it remains the most fought ideology in the world) “workers of the world unite”.
Check your privileges indeed, and most likely you will find that we are all part of the working class, a class without borders. A class that can topple the capitalist regime and create a new society based on the abolishment of exploitation of people by others. But this will not be done through the bourgeoisies lobbies or parliaments, but rather through our own methods of struggle, mass mobilization and general strikes.

Juan says:

There are some problematic aspects in this article that need to be addressed. First though, I want to make it clear that I do not want to belittle your oppression or your life experiences; as an undocumented person, the anxiety, the fear, and the anger are an ongoing reality for me as well. But I think it’s time to break free from these oppression olympics arguments that are so prevalent with IYJL/DREAMers, because it is about as useful for understanding/fighting oppression as voting. Stop insisting that being undocumented is the worst form of oppression that exists, that being undocumented means we are somehow absolved of privilege, and that anyone who refuses to argue against the tactics of the DREAM movement is exercising some sort of oppressive “citizen privilege.” Arguments about privilege are dumb, and usually simplistic; everyone has some form of privilege over people even undocumented folks. Statements like: “You’ve never felt as helpless as I am against an entire institution” and “And justice for all. Except me.” are wrong, as it overlooks the system that is responsible for our helplessness: capitalism. The nation state we call home serves only its interests in capital, and thus only cares about us insofar as we keep capital flowing. The system isn’t broken, it’s working just fine at keeping us exploitable and afraid. This is where the IYJL’s efforts in lobbying and assimilation make me really uncomfortable. Why fight to be incorporated in the system? I mean, I know why, because being undocumented is shitty and being a citizen would make life easier. I know that. I get that. But why do we have to try prove that we are Americans? Who wants the American dream, that racist and classist ideal? When we urge people to accept us as Americans and “not criminals” we reinforce the criminalization of other marginalized communities and legitimize borders. The state doesn’t give a shit about us, and no amount of state-pandering/guilting will change that. If the state sees that it could benefit from passing reformist legislation, it will but it won’t be out of benevolence or “justice” rather it will because doing so will increase profits and tightly muzzle our jaws, keeping us from tearing at its limbs.
I don’t know, it’s just a thought.

Claire K Robbins says:

Amazing post – thanks so much for making me THINK this morning – what an inspiration to check my privilege AND do the work.