By ANTHONY RENDON, Speaker of the California State Assembly
“Political psychology researchers have long found that when leaders cast outsiders as different and threatening, that can strengthen insiders’ sense of identity and group cohesion. But that can leave minorities at risk of discrimination or even violence.”
That quote from the New York Times was in a story about ethnic cleansing in Myanmar – a story that did not mention the United States – and yet it seems to have a frightening potential to apply here.
The ongoing threats to those protected under DACA cast great shadows on these Americans and their families.
And yes, I call them Americans, though they are not yet citizens. The reason I do that is because there should be no “us and them” applied to DACA recipients, sometimes known as Dreamers. California is home to more than 200,000 recipients, many of whom know no other place as home.
We should embrace and include them, because I see these young people as crucial to California’s future – not as victims we have to protect.
After a new president was inaugurated in January, I was asked many times about who will be leading California’s resistance to the new Administration.
I had two responses.
First, I knew that the California Assembly was focused on providing the policy results voters chose us for. We were fighting for Californians, not against Washington D.C. We are not afraid to fight bad federal policy, but we prioritized good California progressive policies. Californians overwhelmingly voted that way, and that’s what we accomplished in the session that ended in September.
Secondly, I told people our resistance leader should be someone like Sophie Cruz. Sophie is from South Gate, in the district I represent. Yes, she is a young child, just 7 years old, but she has already shown dramatic leadership. If you saw her passion and power in addressing hundreds of thousands of people at the January Women’s March on Washington – in fluent English and Spanish – you couldn’t help but be impressed.
Kids, we know, are great at breaking things. And that includes breaking through our apathy. I spent some time watching children when I worked in early education, the field that eventually drove me to serving in the legislature.
You can learn a lot from kids.
For one thing, small kids don’t have the same kind of sense of time. A person in my position is always thinking to the future: What could happen if what I say is taken the wrong way? What if my actions have unintended consequences?
Kids have no fear. They are ready to say the right thing because failure in the future doesn’t occur to them. If you think kids are afraid, you’ve never seen a parent chasing a toddler just learning to walk. The worried one is not the toddler.
And they follow their hearts. That’s the beauty of Sophie Cruz. At the Women’s March, she called for “a chain of love to protect our families.”
So, what does this have to do with DACA?
Sophie was born in the United States, but her parents were not.
Her activism began with a simple question: What would happen to her if her parents were deported? She was born here, but her parents are immigrants from Mexico who don’t have a legal status here. If they are deported, what happens to her?
So she promotes an idea known as DAPA, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.
DAPA and DACA, two sides of a very American coin. Both are intended to recognize people who embrace America as strongly as any citizen, and perhaps more strongly than most. We need that passion for American freedoms, for that American faith in the pursuit of happiness.
My grandparents chose this country, and they chose California, because they believed in what it stood for. My wife’s family came from Vietnam for the opportunities that we can only provide if we are inclusive – not divisive.
It’s my hope that embracing that inclusiveness – for DACA recipients, refugees, parents of Americans and more – will give us the strength to tackle California’s real problems – environmental, economic and social.
That’s my dream. I am a dreamer.
Anthony Rendon is Speaker of the California State Assembly and represents the 63rd Assembly District in Southeast Los Angeles County. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Riverside.