Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Posted by Fabiola Inzunza
First and foremost, thank you for the great vibes and wishes I received after I announced I would be meeting with Vice-President Joe Biden. They really helped me get pumped and most importantly, pushed me to be vocal about our issue. The following is a long summary and I am happy to answer any further questions.
The meeting took place at 10am in a Los Angeles hotel. About ten to fifteen people were in attendance and they came from various organizing backgrounds such as labor (EFCA), marriage equality (from the Courage Campaign) and advocates for universal health care. I believe I was the only student present and to my knowledge, the only advocate for immigrant rights/Dream Act.
We were initially told by staff that the purpose of the meeting was simply a meet and greet with a photo opportunity and it was only scheduled to last about 15 minutes but we ended chatting with him for about an hour before he had to leave.
During that one hour, everyone got a chance to take a picture with him and then ask questions. The first question was about LGBT issues abroad and to a lesser extent, about marriage equality. The Vice-President gave a substantial answer about equal treatment abroad among other things. The second question was about universal health care.
Time ran out after that and he was being encouraged to finish the meeting by his staff. I felt disappointed that I did not have the courage to just speak up in front of all the other organizers. I thought about the unique opportunity I had before me, and how many people would be disappointed if I didn't at least try. Before I could open my mouth, the third question was being asked and my heart sank. I guess the person asking the question either got stuck asking the question or never finished asking it, so there was a moment of silence and I took the chance.
Given the level of my excitement and my growing concern of not being able to ask anything, my voice was unusually loud and clear. "Mr. Vice-President!" I almost shouted. I then went into automatic pilot, as if I've done this a million times over. I stated the issue, gave some numbers and economic stats, and then talked about my own peers at UCLA. I disclosed my efforts as a leader on the issue and also as an advocate for issues students care about as the Southern California Regional Director of the California College Democrats. I was in the process of asking him "the question" when he stopped me mid-sentence. "The answer is YES," he stated. I responded by saying that I knew he was a supporter of the DREAM Act when he was a Senator and was well aware that Obama was a co-sponsor at one point, but that my question was more of a when and how.
He began to talk about his background to the group. He said that with an Irish Catholic background he understood that immigrants of the past came to this country due to religious persecution and that now, we are looking at a surge of immigrants because of economic dislocation. He said, "No one comes to this country leaving their family, culture and everything they own, only to be hated and treated poorly here, they come for jobs. It's a matter of survival."
He then went on to talk about the importance of international relations, decreasing poverty abroad, etc. He gave the group the big picture. He then came back to specifics. "If it were up to me and Barack, we'd have something out by the end of year. We hope to."
It was the answer I expected. I don't know what else I could have gotten out of it, and I must admit, I may have romanticized the situation through my own anticipation and thus felt disappointed. As he was walking away, I decided to approach him and pull him aside. I asked him if I was allowed to give him anything and he said he didn't see why not. So I handed him a copy of Underground Undergrads (I had previously written a personal note in it), a letter from Kevin Prada and a Support the Dream Act button. I explained a bit of what they were, and he promised to read them on the plane back home. I hope he did.
He then asked me to thank everyone who was doing this work, for putting it on the radar. "Thank you so much for the work you do, really. Thank you" Feeling a bit better, I walked away wondering about how that meeting could have possibly contributed to the movement.
(A few hours later at UCLA, I found out one of our IDEAS members' sister had gotten deported that day. She is 17.)
I know this meeting is one of those once in a lifetime moments you take with you your whole life. It's not everyday a Dreamer gets the chance to speak directly with people like our Vice-President. I hope it inspires people to know that at least I had a seat at the table that one time, for one hour and that he listened and he cared -- it was a true honor to have met Vice-President Joe Biden.
For further reading, please see my previous entry on my meeting with President Barack Obama.