Best of Across the Margin 2018

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In 2018, I penned an op-ed about the treatment of immigrants in the United States for online magazine Across the Margin (ATM). Now the op-ed has been included in their “Best of ATM 2018, Nonfiction” roundup.

In my essay titled “Chances Are,” I share how prejudice against immigrants has personally affected me since migrating to the US from Brazil, and how that prejudice was inflamed by the 2016 election cycle.

I knew that many Americans believed negative stereotypes about Latinos, I just didn’t realize the full extent of their prejudice. When I heard Donald Trump and his supporters calling Latinos “drug dealers, criminals, rapists” and “bad hombres,” it wasn’t the words that surprised me, but the reaction of white Americans.

It brought to mind Alexandre Dumas’ famous words, “Hatred is blind, rage carries you away…”

Since the 2016 election, I keep asking myself how white Americans can hate the men and women who clean their homes, mow their lawns, and prepare their food.

Read the full op-ed here.

Across the Margin (ATM) is an exciting space for digital long-form content exploring fiction, nonfiction, poertry, politics, editorials, and more. Check out their podcast, hosted by ATM editor Michael Shields, to go deeper into the stories on the site.

The Misleading News: Who is the Real Lula da Silva?

(Geraldo Bubniak/Reuters)

(Geraldo Bubniak/Reuters)

Imagine if Robert Mueller was hanging out and taking pictures with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama while investigating Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

That’s exactly what Brazilian federal judge Sergio Moro is doing. He has made frequent public appearances with the political opponents of former president Lula da Silva, all while leading an investigation into charges of corruption brought against Lula.

On a recent segment of CNN’s What in the World?, Fareed Zakaria interviews Moro. Zakaria opens the interview by saying that Moro is investigating what could be the biggest corruption scandal in the world. He says this scandal led to the 2016 impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, who, along with Lula, is one of more than 80 politicians and business leaders implicated in a bribery and money laundering scheme known as Operation Car Wash.

Zakaria forgets to mention, however, that Rousseff is likely the most honest politician in Brazilian history. Not even her worst enemies can point to a single wrongdoing by her. Which is why many believe her impeachment was a new type of coup in South America. Not to mention that the investigation has nothing to do with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

Those who understand Brazilian politics strongly suspect that the Department of Justice is behind Rousseff’s impeachment as well as the corruption charges plaguing Lula and others.

Federal judges are proclaiming to go after “corrupt politicians.” Unfortunately, they only seem to target those politicians who are not aligned with American imperialist attempts to exploit Brazil’s natural resources, such as gas and oil. The “corrupt politicians” are the ones who don’t support privatizing Brazil’s public companies.

Zakaria also states that former senator Delcídio do Amaral, who was arrested for corruption in 2015, accused Lula of being a key leader in the bribery scheme. Again he fails to mention that after two years of investigation, prosecutors have not found a single shred of evidence against Lula.

That’s the Sergio Moro method of justice: He said, she said.

Sergio Moro

Sergio Moro

During the interview, Judge Moro mentions that he has a lot of “public support” for his investigation. But should such a complex operation be based on Facebook likes? Zakaria never questioned this; Unfortunately the people who bribe congress to rule in their favor also buy advertisements on the news.

Lula was arrested in April and sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of money laundering and passive corruption. The former president was given his sentence with any material proof of corruption to be found in 250,000 pages. In the future, those 250,000 pages will be used by law professors to teach the students what not to do.

Lula is by far the greatest Brazilian president of all time. When he became president, 54 million people didn’t have three meals a day. When he left, that number was down to 17 million. He built more universities than all of his predecessors combined. He stopped privatization of Brazilian public companies, and would not allow the US army to access Brazil’s Alcantara Launch Base. Even in prison, he is surging ahead in Brazil’s upcoming presidential election polls.

(Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)

(Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)

Lula represents what Martin Luther King Jr. represents for the US, what Nelson Mandela represents for South Africa, and what Gandhi represents for India. He is a champion of the people, fighting for basic social and economic rights and equality.

CNN did a disservice to the news and democracy with a very poor interview with Moro, giving a platform to a man who is trying to silence and destroy the most important figure in Brazilian history.

History keeps repeating. If you fight against social injustice, you either end up assassinated or in jail.

Undocumented Women in the US Are Being Raped and Silenced

Many women are coming forward to denounce sexual assault and harassment from powerful white men. These women are receiving a lot of attention from the media because they are also white and famous.  

But sexual assault and harassment do not discriminate.  It happens to women of all races, religions, social class, and status, including undocumented women.  

( Source )

According to the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), undocumented Latinas are frequent victims of sexual abuse. Here are just a few of many disturbing statistics:

The Threat of Deportation Hangs Over Victims

When undocumented women are raped, they cannot call the police for fear they will be detained or deported. In many cases, the rapists specifically threaten to have the victims and their families deported.

Many undocumented Latinas arriving in the US, “have already suffered severe trauma.” Once settled, immigrant Latina workers are at high risk of sexual abuse because “they depend on their employers for their livelihood, live in constant fear of being deported, suffer social isolation, and are vulnerable to their employer’s demands.”

This is one of the reasons that Sanctuary Cities are so important. Cities and towns who declare themselves a Sanctuary City are encouraging undocumented victims report crimes without fear of deportation.

(Source)

(Source)

Even when they do report their attackers, undocumented Latinas face more barriers to justice within the court system itself. According to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), women who don’t speak English have reported that the court had the abuser serve as their interpreter.

It cuts both ways: When white men in powerful positions rape women, they are given the benefit of the doubt. But can you imagine if Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Bill O’Reilly, or Donald Trump were named Jose Martinez or Juan Mendez?

The bottom line is no person should be threatened or punished for reporting their attacker, and no attacker should be given special privilege based on the color of their skin.

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The Irony and The Hypocrisy

( Source )

Alonso Guillen left his home during Hurricane Harvey, though his dad begged him not to go out into the deadly floodwaters.  

He drove roughly 100 miles with a borrowed boat to help save lives. Not white, black, latino, Muslim or LGBTQI lives, but human lives.  

His brother Jesus said, “That’s how he was. He liked helping people,” and “He died wanting to serve. He could have stayed home watching the news on television, but he chose to go help.”

He didn’t need anyone to ask him for help. No one needed to knock on his door for help. He simply followed his heart.  

Alonso and his friend Tomas Cerreon both died that night helping people that they didn’t even know. Alonso was protected by DACA and Tomas had become a permanent resident after he married an American woman.  

Like all Latinos, Alonso and Tomas were called rapists, drug dealers, and “bad hombres.”

Arriving from Mexico just in time to bury her son, Alonso’s mother, Rita Ruiz de Guillén, told reporters, “When we are with God, there are no borders. Man made borders on this earth.”

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***

Joel Osteen is a pastor in Houston, TX.  

He preaches love thy neighbor with a wax smile, like he belongs in Madame Tussauds museum.

Joel uses Jesus’ words to attract millions of church members, readers, and listeners who are drawn to his prosperity gospel message. “God wants us to be prosperous!” he cries from the pulpit.

Of course, this only works for Joel and the other 1% of the population.  

His megachurch cost $100 million to build and his personal net worth is about $40 million. It’s almost as if billions of poor and impoverished people across the world are praying to a completely different God.  

As Hurricane Harvey loomed, Joel closed the doors of his megachurch complex, effectively turning away thousands of people in need.

Joel is what they call a “good Christian.”  

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Desperate Journeys: Migrating Across the US-Mexico Border

In The Rapist, The Terrorist, The Idiot, The Hypocrite a young Mexican couple journey to the United States, enlisting the services of a coyote, or migrant smuggler. They leave behind two small children, give all their savings to the coyote, and risk a dangerous trek through the Arizona desert for the chance at a more prosperous life for their family.

José and Ana’s story may sound fantastic to some, but it’s an all too common tale. An estimated 350,000 undocumented immigrants are smuggled across America's border from Mexico each year. And they pay coyotes anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000 for the trek.

These migrants and refugees come not only from Latin America, but increasingly from Africa and Asia. By the time they reach the US-Mexico border, many have already traversed multiple countries, jungles, and bodies of water.

They have traveled by boat, bus, train, and on foot with little more than the clothes on their backs. And they have known theft, violence, hunger, and death along the way.

Why Risk Everything to Migrate?

Just like José and Ana, many Mexicans are subsistence farmers living in rural areas. They have struggled for generations to grow their crops in dry soil, under extreme temperatures, and they can’t get ahead.

Nearly half of Mexico’s population lives under the poverty line. Poverty rates are just as bad if not worse throughout much of Central and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Global migrants are driven to America to find employment, access to food and clean water, and healthcare.

While 14.3% of Americans also live in poverty (an estimated 43.1 million people), the nation has more highly developed infrastructure and greater political stability. These conditions make it more possible to overcome poverty or, at the very least, avoid life-threatening violence and oppression.

The Treacherous Journey Into Mexico

Every immigrant’s journey is unique, but there are common routes that many follow and common dangers they face.

Some undocumented travelers coming from Central and South America — including many African and Asian migrants — choose to take a bus or hop a train, though they will most likely be detained by immigration officials. Others choose to walk from Guatemala into Mexico through dense, remote forest. The walkers are preyed upon by robbers who frequently rape and kill their victims.

Increasingly, migrants are attempting to reach Mexico by boat, even though the maritime routes are largely controlled by drug traffickers and overcrowded vessels sometimes capsize.

Crossing the US-Mexico Border

If they make it to Mexico, migrants continue by foot, taxi, bus, and train until they reach the US-Mexico border. Transport to and across the border is almost always arranged by a coyote, making migrants’ safety and futures dependent on an unregulated industry.

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More than half of undocumented migrants enter the US through the Rio Grande Valley. Some assemble makeshift rafts to float across the river, others find routes that avoid the river, but require days trudging through the sandy brush in life threatening temperatures.

232 migrants died crossing the border in the first six months of 2017. This is 17% more deaths than the first half of 2016.

The Wall Isn’t The Answer

Building a bigger wall won’t solve our immigration problems. If anything, it will make them worse.

When borders are militarized, the illegal networks of smugglers only become more empowered. This means desperate people fleeing poverty and violence have to rely even more on coyotes and others who demand high fees and expose them to rape, robbery, and murder.

According to Seth M.M. Stodder, who served in both the Obama and Bush administrations shaping customs, border protection, and homeland security policy:

...a wall is misguided because it addresses the exact wrong problem. The biggest immigration crisis facing the country has nothing to do with Mexicans illegally crossing the border. Instead, it’s that hundreds of thousands of Central Americans are fleeing brutal violence and extreme poverty in their home countries and seeking asylum in the United States — but our immigration system is overwhelmed and completely unprepared to handle the flood.
(See: “Trump’s Border Wall Attacks the Wrong Immigration Crisis”)

Learn More

I wrote The Rapist, The Terrorist, The Idiot, The Hypocrite in part to shed light on the dangers and difficulties American immigrants face every day. I hope that José and Ana’s story will help readers reach beyond stereotypes to develop empathy for and understanding of the plight of immigrants.

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"I wanted to do something instead of just complaining": Q&A with Author Eduardo Cordeiro

Eduardo Cordeiro is a husband, father, and owner of a home remodeling business in Phoenixville, PA. It wasn’t until 2017 that he added author to that list.

Like the rest of America, he spent 2016 watching the presidential campaigns build toward a tense election. A Brazilian immigrant and US resident since 2005, this election was different than any other he’d experienced.

Eduardo watched candidate Donald Trump rally larger and larger crowds with hateful words aimed squarely at immigrants like himself. And it didn’t stop there. Trump was spewing vitriol at women, Muslims, African Americans, and other minority groups.

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As Trump’s base chanted “Build the wall!” and called for us to “Make America Great Again,” Eduardo was dumbfounded that so many Americans could be fooled by his lies.

The biggest lie of all? That people like Eduardo are the cause of all of America’s problems. Compelled to disprove this lie, he began putting pencil to paper.

Less than a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, a story began to spill out of Eduardo. In his spare moments between work site visits and time with his family, he started jotting down notes, ideas, and bits of dialogue.

The story that took shape is poignant and painful to read because it tells the truth about what happens when we reduce other human beings to stereotypes.

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Q: What inspired you to write The Rapist, The Terrorist, The Idiot, The Hypocrite?

Eduardo: It was sickening to watch a man who uses hate speech and has sexually assaulted sixteen women become President. I couldn’t believe that so many people voted for him and I felt like I wanted to do something instead of just complaining about it.

He was calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. Calling Muslims terrorists. Saying all black people were looting and rioting. He doesn’t understand the real history of our country.

Calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, for example, is just a way to cover for the fact that the real rapists in America are white men. And that most of the drugs people are overdosing on are coming from pharmaceutical companies, not Mexico.

When you call people rapists and terrorists, you reduce complex human beings to simplistic and inaccurate stereotypes.

The problems in the United States are not coming from Mexico or Muslims or any place other than right here.

Q: Many of the characters in your novel are immigrants trying to make a home in the USA. Where did their stories come from?

Eduardo: I know how it feels to be an immigrant. Based on my own experiences and the stories I know, I tried to capture what people go through when they come here. It’s a different culture, a different language. People look down on you everywhere you go.

Immigrants give a huge contribution to this country and there’s no appreciation for them. They build Americans' homes, they cook for them, clean their houses, take care of their backyards, pick their food, and build roads and schools.

Immigrants have never been treated the way they should, and the same is true for many Americans who were born here. People of color and poor white Americans are treated like trash. So this book is not just about immigrants, even though those are the stories I focused on.

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Q: Who is your favorite character in the novel?

Eduardo: My favorite character is Ben. He is a kid who went through a lot, and he’s still able to be kind of sober and question everything around him. He’s still able to see the hypocrisy even though he grew up on it. He’s the character who keeps asking, Why are we blaming others for what we’ve been doing to ourselves?

I also really admire Aairah. She could have had this amazing, comfortable life by herself, but instead, she gave her time to helping people. Instead of going after more money, she starts a charity. Aairah is a good example of many immigrants. They are out there using what little they have to help other people.

Q: Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?

Eduardo: Look at yourself instead of judging other people and creating stereotypes. Everyone is a human being before they are Muslim, black, homosexual, immigrant, whatever. We are all human beings and we should be treated that way.

Look at what’s happening with Hurricane Harvey in Texas right now: Disaster doesn’t discriminate. The people there have no choice but to help each other. Why isn’t it like this on a daily basis? Why do we need a disaster to bring people together?

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