The history of America is not entirely told. “If it wasn’t for Latins, there would be no United States of America.” said Augustin Garcia, who took his lecture series “The Latinization of America,” to USF last Thursday. Garcia, a civil and human rights activist, has been traveling to various colleges and universities to deliver a speech on the historical connections between Latin America and the United States, connections that he said are often uninformed.
To the roomful of people gathered in Fromm Hall, he said, “They say you’re foreign? That bothers me.” The crowd was mostly students of of Latino descent. On the history he covered, he said, “It’s the truth. Nobody bothered to teach you that.”
Garcia said that today’s states were actually named by the Spanish. Pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth Rock intended to land in Virginia, but actually got lost in “Las Carolinas,” now known as the Carolina states. Latins from Puerto Rico and the Carribean islands first inhabited certain regions of the Americas prior to the pilgrims’ arrival. After making their way to establish the thirteen colonies, the pronunciations of the regions were changed. “Are you really foreigners?” Garcia said, “Or are you just the cousins that came before them?”
Garcia said that colonists also received help from the Spanish to win the Revolutionary War. Six months were all the colonists had to “crush” the British government. Garcia said Latins made the British surrender, by blocking the flow of the British at sea. Even as British were blocked, colonists didn’t have the funds to pay for the war. Thomas Jefferson, being a great lover of Latin culture, sent three men to plea for gold that could fund the colonial army.
Women of the Caribbean personally removed their jewelry and created two billion in gold, which were handed to the colonists. “We invested in American democracy,” Garcia said. “The first American currency backed by Spanish gold! And you’re the foreigners!” Garcia said that English word “dollar” came from the Latin word, “do-lar,” and Spanish coins backed paper money.
“We have named it, we explored it, we lived it, and we financed it,” Garcia said, “and we have no rights to it?”
Garcia went on from the Revolutionary War to Word War II, when Puerto Ricans worked in the newly opened war factories in Chicago, New York, and numerous cities across the country. “We were the laborers, when they went to fight the war we were cheap labor,” he said.
Garcia said that even today the U.S. exploits undocumented Latinos. To enlist in the U.S. armed forces, only drivers’ licenses and high school diplomas are recquired, and proof of citizenship is not. “We don’t care if they’re American born or not,” he said. The first to die in the Iraq War was an undocumented alien, and currently 10,000 undocumented aliens serve in Iraq. “We have given everything. We have given our blood, we have given our sweat, we have given our discovery, we have given our resources, and we have given our children.” Garcia said.
Garcia then went on to explain that the pioneers of this country are immigrants. “If you’re here, you’re a part of this right?” he said. “If you’re not here, youíre not a part of this.” For Latinos, Garcia asked who do they have to thank, whether it be this institution, the United States’ forefathers, or God. “You have to thank the pride of your father and mother, who thought it was more important to clean somebody’s room or throw away Pampers because that was the only way to give to their children.”
Families came here looking for their children to be American and to get an education. “For every grandparent that doesn’t know English, they knew the system enough to know that this world would be better for you.”
Garcia talked about the Dream Act, as an obligation to give Latinos justice. “You’re not going to get anything if you don’t ask it. If you don’t kick and scream, you don’t get [anything].” Garcia said that we cannot restrict the term “undocumented” to solely Latinos, since there are immigrants in the U.S. from all over the world. In Louisiana, the largest population of undocumented aliens is Vietnamese, he said. The largest not prosecuted are Canadians. “They work in this country, but have you ever seen a Canadian deported?”
Garcia also mentioned that Latinos who are citizens are often discriminated by police “legally.” A car with four Latino passengers are pulled over everyday, and questioned whether they have legal authorization to be in this country. “They call it ‘national security,’” he said, “but either give us justice or you don’t get our votes.”
This country’s immediate need is not just medical benefits, but social justice as well. Garcia said that the world is no longer white or black. When he asked who in the room does not have medical insurance, five audience members raised their hand. But when he asked who knows someone that is living here undocumented, nearly the entire room raised their hand.
After Garcia concluded his speech, freshman Alejandra Flores said she learned information that she didn’t know before. “It wasn’t just history, he opened up a lot of points about equality,” she said.
“What do you Google? You can verify who you are, you can tell everybody your rights with your own little laptop,” Garcia said.
Freshman Rosie Ceja agreed. She referred to Garcia’s message about not depending on others to tell us our history. “It’s time we do make our own chip,” Rosie said, about Garcia’s “chip-in-the-brain” analogy, “and put our information in it.”
“We’re warm blooded people,” Garcia said. “We love what we stand for and we love what we are. Be proud of ourselves.”