Sheila Quintana and the value of principled action
Her youth does not diminish the clarity and the forcefulness to her words.
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Her youth does not diminish the clarity and the forcefulness to her words. On the contrary, as the daughter of Mexican immigrants, as a human rights defender, as a UPenn anthropologist, as a queer person and as an activist, Sheila Quintana, 25, has managed to stand up against injustice with her head held high; an unwavering attitude that even cost her a job as a community organizer in one of the most prominent pro-immigrant organizations in the city (a story that she prefers not to discuss further, for now).
Precisely because of her commitment to work together with the most vulnerable populations, and because of her will to not give up the fight for humanitarian causes, Quintana is one of the finalists of I Am An American Immigrant, the AL DÍA and Cabrini University campaign which highlights the invaluable contributions that Latino immigrants have made to Philadelphia and the United States as a whole.
Do you want my honest answer? We, immigrants – and not just immigrants, not just in this country, refugees — we are the living consequence of years of violence and displacement through economic and political violence.
To this country what do we mean? That it’s time to pay up!
After hundreds of years of imperialism, here we are. Specifically talking about indigenous people, this is our land, and not only being forced to cross borders to be in our land, we’ve been forced to fight for acceptance or something that looks like acceptance: assimilation.
I think it’s different for different communities, for Asian immigrant communities, for black immigrant communities, it’s very different than it is for Latinx communities – a lot of whom have indigenous ancestry. I think that should not be lost in this conversation, because we talk about immigration in a very myopic way that is very much erasing our collective memory of what has happened and why we are here today.
We are an opportunity for transformation and retention, not just for this country but for the whole world, actually.
I don’t see myself under the American Immigrant umbrella. It doesn’t resonate with me, it doesn’t speak to my experience.
I even struggle with the word immigrant because I think it’s helpful to name that we had to leave our countries and we had to come here. I think it’s helpful to name it as forced migration, because it is not a choice.
I also struggle with the word immigrant because I think it is a disservice to my indigenous ancestors. It resonates to me more to say I am a migrant, but I think that also can obscure the violence of forced migration.
I think the important thing, regardless of what you choose to call yourself, is that it is your choice as opposed to how narratives that are handed over to us for political purposes that have somebody else’s interests in mind. So “dreamer” is a great example of that: I never chose to call myself a dreamer, [but] I thought I had to; I never chose to call myself an immigrant, [but] I thought I had to name my experience.
So I think the power behind choice is something that we can reclaim and how we name ourselves and the words we use to describe ourselves is a part of that, right: building the identity of who we are on our own terms.
Immigrant communities in the United States do so much with little or no recognition. We are an incredibly important part of the labor force and at the same time are denied every single right that a worker deserves; by and large immigrant workers are the most precarious workers.
We also contribute culturally, artistically.. Our presence as human beings is a contribution.
We should honor ourselves, our humanity. We should honor our contributions however you decide to define them, whether you decide to claim your rights as a worker, you decide to claim your rights as a small business owner, or whether you decide to claim your rights as an artist, as a human being.
We deserve to honor those contributions by fighting for our dignity.