Tiny a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia

The screams of dead children — everywhere


The screams of a thousand dead children wail through my mind. Children in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Libya killed by empires’ drones; thousands of young men of color America killed by white supremacist occupying armies called police, security guards and neighborhood watch agents; teenage workers from Bangladesh and China killed by corporations for profits; countless babies and young people killed by drive-by shootings and gun violence in communities of color intentionally ghettoized, destroyed and preyed upon by devil-opers, bank gangsters, gentriFUKators; and hundreds of white, middle-class children, youth, and adults killed by more gun violence perpetration, mental illness and the mental vacancy of wite culture.

Thousands of children die for corporate profits, war profits, and prison industrial profits every year in this country. Dead because gun violence is glorified and the sale of guns make some people rich, because parents are tired and don’t have the energy to fight with their kids to turn off the video games, because video games, un-conscious rap, Hollywood movies and corporate news with people killing each other make death look like entertainment — and with each sale make more profits for tech corporations in Silicon Valley run by the new technological colonizers. Because guns are exciting, especially when you have little else to be excited about.

So shouldn’t the grief for all of our children be the same? Shouldn’t our actions to stop the rise in death by gun violence everywhere be equally urgent and comprehensive?

The president shed tears in a prime-time speech for the 20 white middle-class children from Connecticut. But what about crying for babies killed by drive-by shooters, youth killed by police, and hundreds of teenage workers from China who react to mercury poison and throw themselves out the window while US tech companies make billions in profit? Why aren’t thousands of people shedding tears and sorrow and sympathy for the children in Gaza who die everyday?

In the bizarre naming of poverty positions there is a terrifying concept called the deserving vs undeserving poor rooted in the US crums (welfare) policies that were originally set up for white widows of World War II veterans in the 1930s and 1940s. Due to overt and systemic white supremacist institutional values that undergird everything in the US from its stolen beginnings to now, these white, hetero-normative women were viewed as the deserving poor, or “legitimate” poor people, who had come upon bad times from no “fault” of their own and therefore were deserving of our aid and our sympathy. In contrast, indigenous sisters, sisters of color in diaspora, or divorced, poor or unmarried women were viewed as aberrant, pathological or “lazy,” who had inherently done something to “deserve” their poverty and therefore deserved none of the US crums, only criminalization, incarceration or disgust.

I think we have come to a time, with the meteoric rise in death by gun violence of so many of us of all ages, colors, cultures and regions of the country, where we now have the deserving vs undeserving dead. How about little baby Hiram, 1 year old, who died because he happened to be in the line of fire from a passing car in Oakland? Or Ayana Jones, a 7-year-young innocent baby shot when Detroit police stormed their home with assault rifles to “find a suspect.” Or Derrik Gaines, a young disabled man who was killed by Daly City police? Or the countless children killed in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq or Libya by colonizing empire armies attempting to steal more indigenous resources for the ever-hungry jaws of capitalism? Did they deserve to die because someone calls their innocent bodies “collateral damage?”

What about all of our poor children of color — sorted, separated, tested, and arrested out of schools — who roam the streets with no jobs, no hope and endless violent images pumped into their heads from corporate media lies and mythologies in the holding tanks called our ghettoized neighborhoods, pick up guns and shoot each other for something to do until the police arrive to place them into the plantation prisons that await their profitable arrival? Do they deserve to die?

There are many reasons why children and adults are killing each other. My Black Indian Mama Dee used to say, white supremacy and capitalism isn’t good for any human, even white people. People have talked about the proliferation and glorification of guns to all young people through mass media, as well as the deep wounds of the cult of independence on a human’s psyche, not to mention the gutting by Republicrats of the mental health system. But one of the deepest ones that I see is the factory schools themselves, the separation of youth from elders’ wisdom and the ways that our children no longer even vaguely understand the respecting, honoring, and neccessary reverance of their elders.

Om this society, we are taught how to ghetto-ize and separate our elders from our children in as many ways as possible. This separation and lack of reverence is valued in capitalism as it sets up more products and capital to trade on. I pray and send love and strength to these families and little ancestors to help their still living families decolonize from this myth of separation and capital-inspired death so their may be healing for them.

From this moment and so many more like it, I am drawn to believe that when people like me and my mixed race family in poverty die, we deserve to. My hope and vision is that with this moment of so much sorrow for the families in Connecticut, perhaps the oddly democratizing impact of death will free us all from the unspoken but clearly existent concept that some of us deserve to die and awaken us all to the real-ness that none of us do.

SF Stories: Tiny


46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL I have a Vision..(Too!)

of poor people-led revolutions and clan mothers wit solutions including the many colored, many spirited, humble people who still remain in San Francisco even though we are systematically incarcerated, profiled, shot or just hated Used by akkkademic institutions, Nonprofiteering, complex over-funded government collusions — From gang ijunctions to sit-lie laws —

Arresting poor folks of color for no just cause

From Ambassador security guards to Stop ‘ n’ Frisk-

using code words like”cleaning up streets”

so frisko is only for the white ‘ n’ Rich The Afrikan population Out-migration caused by Negro Removal, Redlining, Re-Devil-opment and Lennar displacement La Raza en la mission replaced, displaced by condominiums and Eastern Neighborhood Plans, making room for wheatgrass juice and gourmet coffe stands-

And then let’s go back to the Original removal — !st Peoples of the Ohlone Nation — rarely remembered, considered, spoken about or even named..

Caring for Pachamama, mother Earth in a good way, by the teachings of our ancestors every day

So where does this leave us folx who refuse to be cleaned out, incarcerated, profiled or Wheat-grasserated…

We still here, aqui estamos y no nos vamos —

You can’t Frisk, me, Injunct me or incarcerate me cuz let me be clear.

I am staying in my hood, on my corner

and gonna stay seated in my newly gentrifuked park

.. and to Google buses, condominium, devil-opers and un-conscous new-comers,

we will be a thorn in your side for life and up-end your corporate, money-driven hustle

with our feet, our love, our actions …and our ancestors at our side…

“Where we supposed to go, us po’ folks born here, raised here?” said Vietnam vet, disabled, poverty skola and panhandler reporter at POOR magazine, Papa Bear, arrested three times in one day under Sit-lie. “Going to Hell,” thats my vision (of the city) — when they killed the black community — the soul of this city was gone,” said Tony Robles, PNN co-editor, poet, author and organizer and revolutionary son of San Francisco natives of Manilatown. “I don’t care if I’m the last Mexican in the Mission,” said Sandra Sez, indigenous warrior mama and organizer born and raised in the Mission District.

I was born in the back seat of a car, dealt with houselessness and criminalization since I was 11. Ended up in the Bay Area when I was 14. Can’t say San Francisco is my town. But I have had the blessing of meeting and being in family with some of the most powerful revolutionaries from both sides of this beautiful bay. From the I-Hotel resistance to Mission Anti-displacement Coalition to HOMIES to PODER, from The Bay View Newspaper, Idriss Stelley Foundation to the Coalition on Homelessness. Me and my houseless mama along with other landless revolutionaries launched revolutionary projects, POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, PeopleSkool, the Po Poets/Poetas POBRE’s , the welfareQUEENs and Theatre of the POOR, to name a few.

I have also been houseless, incarcerated, evicted, profiled, poverty-pimped, gentriFUKed and welfare deformed in the Bay. I have seen beauty and felt resistance in this place in ways I don’t believe would have been possible anywhere else. And yet now it seems like the struggle is just to remain.

Should one fight to stay in a party that no longer includes most of your friends? Neighborhoods filled with people you don’t know and don’t want to know. Schools stripped of their color and cultures. Corporate streets filled with shiney white buses for people who can’t put their deliecate feet on a public bus. Bike lanes filled with $3,000 bicycles and coffee shops that only sell $4 cups of coffee and $3 vegan donuts.

My humble vision for SF includes reparations for black peoples in the Bay View, giving back stolen vacant land to Original Peoples, makng the more than 30,000 empty units in San Francisco available for poor, houseless, and foreclosed on peoples to live in. For landlords to rent at least one apartment per building to families in poverty at reduced or no rent, for doctors and dentists to see at least three patients per practice for a sliding scale starting at $0 — and for people to not question “where their money is going” when they give 50 cents to a panhandler/street newspaper vendor while never questioning where their tax dollars go to politricksters and CEOs of corporations. For the SFPD to arrest, profile, and harass drunken white people who spill out of Bay to Breakers and Golden Gate Park concerts with the same voracity that they do poor youth of color — cause then maybe it would actually have to stop.

And finally for all racist, classist laws that target us poor folks, like sit-lie, gang injunctions and stop and frisk be repealed for their flagrant and disgusting unconstitutionality so that public space will remain truly public and people might truly be free.

Tiny, aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, is a founder of POOR Magazine.

Gated communities of hate


OPINION “I have been arrested for 3 times in one day for sitting on the street in San Francisco” PoorNewsNetwork panhandler reporter and my fellow “poverty skolar” Papa Bear reported in our monthly community newsroom meeting last week.

As Papa Bear reported on yet another example of being arrested for the sole act of being poor, black and houseless in America, I received a text message from Berkeley that after a second round of seven hours of testimony against the proposal to put a sit-lie measure on the November ballot, it was approved anyway.

From Santa Monica to Santa Cruz, from Atlanta to San Francisco, cities across the US have been sliding towards fascism and the casual criminalization of poor people with the 21st century pauper law known as the sit-lie law.

As I have asked before — and I will ask again with the hope that readers will truly think this through: How did we all buy into the notion, without even realizing it, that emptiness equates with cleanliness, that public space should be empty to be clean and that public really doesn’t mean public anymore, if its filled with the “wrong” people?

When me and my poor Black/Indian mama dealt with houselessness and racist and classist profiling throughout my childhood, we were arrested multiple times for the sole act of sleeping in our car in certain neighborhoods, and eventually I was incarcerated for those poverty crimes — and no matter how many times I was arrested, cited, and incarcerated, my or my mama’s poverty didn’t go away. As a matter of fact, it got worse.

Berkeley, more than these other cities, is pretty ridiculous, because so many activists live there and work on issues of Palestine and immigration and anti-war and economic justice. It just shows the true colors of separatist, grant-guideline-fueled organizing that does not connect and conflate all of these struggles together.

As a poor indigenous mother who struggles on welfare and has been incarcerated and houseless for years for the sole act of being poor, my criminalization is completely connected to my migrant brothers and sisters fighting borders and to my sisters and brothers who struggle with colonization and globalization in the global south and beyond.

I cannot work against the false borders and occupation in Palestine and not work equally on the false borders and occupation by police and ICE in Mexico, Oakland, or Berkeley. I cannot work against the war in Iraq and not also work against the war on the poor.

But corporations and wanna-be corporations — not people — are in control of politricksters in these cities. So the racist and classist lies and mythologies about those dirty, crazy, and dangerous houseless people or young people of color flood the dialogue surrounding the issues of sit-lie, and gang injunctions, and increased police terrorism against poor folks of color. And the real issue — who defines what is public space and who can be considered the public? — is ignored.

I ask readers as this issue comes up on the ballot in Berkeley, as it did in San Francisco, to really think about the kind of world we are becoming, the ease with which we are thinking and incarcerating certain people and the borders and gates and locks we are putting in place that will eventually change our supposedly public and free society into smaller and smaller, gated, racist, communities of hate.

Tiny, aka Lisa Gray Garcia, runs POOR Magazine and is a poverty scholar and activist.


Making black herstory, every day



Deconstructing the roots of

The black n gray suits

with hands in the Loot

That has buried the truth

About our black, brown and disabled youth

— excerpt from KKKourt by Tiny

OPINION On the first day of Black Herstory Minute (I mean, Month), I practiced black herstory, and walked through activism and breathed organizing and lived resistance by putting my body in the benches belonging to the criminal injustice system (a.k.a. the plantation) at 850 Bryant. I was there to support a struggle against injustice in the case of a young African warrior for truth, Fly Benzo, a.k.a. Debray Carpenter — student, son, media producer, organizer, and hip-hop artist who is facing a felony charge, jail sentence and $95,000 fine for nothing more than exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.

How many among you, overwhelmed with multiple Face-crack postings and a cacophony of tweets, might have missed the story of Fly, who spoke the truth about racism, police brutality and the unjust death of Kenneth Harding Jr. to a cop in a poor-people-of-color neighborhood, Bayview, which is under seize from the occupying army known as the police (or po’lice as we call them at POOR Magazine)?

As a woman criminalized and incarcerated for the sole act of being poor and houseless, the melanin-challenged daughter of a poor black single mother who spent all of her life in poverty and in struggle, I have witnessed first hand unequal justice against people of color and poor people. It’s a fact that remains, in 2012, still a very dire reality.

“They arrested me for exercising my Constitutional right to free speech,” said Benzo, 22.

Benzo’s revolution began when he was born to conscious African-descendant parents who, like many African descendant people in San Francisco, have been under the constant threat of removal, displacement, redlining, and ongoing police harassment for decades. He has been speaking out about injustices since he was a teen, starting with the fact that hardly any Bayview residents were hired to construct the multi-million-dollar T-Train that runs from downtown to Third Street — and the dramatic rise in the violent policing of the T-Train and the Muni bus lines that run through the poor communities of color in S.F.

But the beginning of Benzo’s current battle with the criminal injustice system began when he began to speak up about Harding, murdered by San Francisco police officers for not having a $2 dollar bus transfer. The judge might not admit the video that was taken at the scene of Benzo’s arrest, making his case all the more difficult to fight, and the truth all the more difficult to hear and see, which is where community support comes in.

A lot of people and organizers and politricksters talk about stopping the violence and how to “deal” with the inequities of racism and classism and violence on our youth of color. And yet when this brother spoke out, used his voice for nothing but truth and resistance about injustices he personally experiences everyday, who comes out to support him?

Practicing revolutionaries at POOR Magazine, the Idriss Stelly Foundation, The BayView Newspaper, Education not Incarceration, and United Playaz have been there, as well as his hard-working attorney, Severa Keith, and a few more. But we all need to be there, fighting for a very alive, very revolutionary, young truth-teller who is making black history, every day.

Tiny, a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia, is an editor at POOR Magazine. Opening statements in the trial of Debray Carpenter are expected to begin Feb. 8 in Dept. 27.

Standing up for Troy Davis



OPINION We were all standing there in different states of hegemony — some of us bought in to the lie of security and police, believing we had done wrong or fucked up and some of us not. It was Wednesday, September 21, the day of the state-sponsored legal lynching of Troy Anthony Davis, and there were easily 210 of us standing in a line snaking out of the building. We were in the Cop Store the Police Bank, the building known simply as the Hall of (In)Justice, 850 Bryant.

In the last six months since budget cuts have sliced deeper wounds in society’s collective flesh, yet more cops roam the streets issuing more tickets. The line for traffic tickets outside room 145 has begun to expand like a python ready to strike, like an unchecked levy after a storm. The people are piling up and the workers to help them diminishing.

I was there standing in that line. I was rocking my hand-made, life-size, “Yo Soy Troy Davis … I am Troy Davis” shirt/body patch. It was 11:00 am and I was tweeting, calling, petition signing, and calling again. My heart had dropped to the bottom, heavy as a boulder crashing through the window of my soul. And then I remembered, I had a voice. Maybe that’s all I had, but I had a voice and I could speak up and then….

“Excuse me, can I get everyone’s attention…..”

I had waited until the halls were clear of police and the only sound you heard was the silent tapping of fingernails on touch screens — and then I did it. I stepped outside of excepted norms of behavior, violated all those unseen, unsaid demands on speech, the rules on when it’s okay to speak up.

“They are about to execute an innocent man in Georgia in less than five hours, and you all can do something about it, right now, from right here…”

I went on to explain a little back ground about the case of brother Troy and fact that seven out of nine witnesses recanted their testimonies and how so many people, including several politricksters in power, have stood up to say this is wrong.

“I have the number on my phone that you all can call. I have the link to the petition that you can sign. Please consider it. We aren’t doing anything else for at least the next hour, right?”

And then it was over. I finished speaking and people looked away. They continued ticking on their meta-keyboards, and looking at their nails, and reading their papers, and looking at their feet. And it was if I have never said anything. Or was it?

My brother in my POOR Magazine family of poverty scholars and reporters told me he did a similar thing on the evening of the S-Comm threat of deportation his family had just had to deal with in Oakland.

“I looked around, it was a crowded BART train and no one was saying anything or doing anything. We were all just standing there. I knew no-one else would say anything so I decided to speak up. I busted out with my poem about the criminalization of immigrants.” He said that when he was finished with the piece, no one said anything — but the air was heavy with his words.

Some organizers and conscious folks talk about moving on — but at POOR Magazine, will not move on. We will continue to speak up in places we are not supposed to about things we are not supposed to mention, and we will make art and cultural work about things and people that never get art made about them and we will work daily to make sure that all silenced, removed, deported, lynched, incarcerated, criminalized, harassed and abused peoples are heard and loved and remembered — and we hope you all do the same. Even when its uncomfortable. 

Tiny, aka Lisa Gray Garcia, is an editor at POOR magazine.

Fresh and Easy displacement


OPINION You could cut the hate with a knife. All eyes were on my fumbling fingers, unable to sign my WIC coupons fast enough with one hand while holding my 13-month-old son with the other. “Somebody’s using welfare checks to pay for their food,” A 20 something man in a polo shirt shouted into his phone next to me.

I spend so many days like this while trying to shop as a poor mama, its hard to even think about them. The life of a poor parent in the U.S. is always a scarcity model rollercoaster ride of hate, system abuse, subsistence crumbs and criminalization, best exemplified in the supermarket experience where the so-called paying customers suffer through the bother of waiting for poor parents to pay with our WIC coupons, working poor mamas to pay with payroll checks or indigenous elders to count out their multiple coupons.

I began to reflect on this when I heard about the new fresh and Easy Markets opening in the Bayview-Hunters Point, the Mission and the Portola district. It’s a new supermarket chain from England that by policy doesn’t accept WIC coupons.

WIC — the federal Women, Infants and Children’s program, is not welfare, but rather a supplemental program that allows low-income parents to get milk, grains, cereal and other basic foodstuffs. It’s a program used by many working poor as well as mamas on government crumbs so we can feed our children a balanced diet.

The Bayview, Mission, and Portola neighborhoods are peopled with a lot of multi-generational, multi-lingual mamas, and families in poverty like mine, who need access to affordable fruits and vegetables and non-hormone-filled meat like Fresh and Easy has, but are these stores really being built for us?

Like so much of San Francisco and the whole Bay Area, these communities are under attack from redevelopment and gentrification efforts. Removal and evictions of poor families and elders happen everyday in the city to make way for the corporate veneer of Lennar and John Stewart properties, condominiums, lofts and the rich young people who they are built for.

So who is Fresh and Easy for? They don’t take coupons, personal checks or WIC — and like their Whole Paycheck counterparts, they don’t hire union employees, or ultimately many employees at all, as they have the new self-pay check-out stands.

Fresh and Easy claims it doesn’t except the manufacturers’ coupons for the same reasons it doesn’t accept paper personal checks, W.I.C. vouchers, or cash payroll checks: That elimination of manual paper processing, combined with its self-service checkout system, saves money.

Pressured by community members who protested outside the Bayview store on its opening day, Fresh and Easy CEO Tim Mason now claims that Fresh and Easy in the Bayview will eventually begin taking WIC.

As this poor mama tries to move out from under the lie of criminalized government crumbs and the non-existent, bootstraps centered, corporate underwritten American dream, I have come to realize our collective, self-determined liberation begins with growing our own food in our poor neighborhoods with people-led community gardens, taking back stolen indigenous land and resources with organized poor people led/indigenous people-led efforts and whenever we have the energy, after all the other things we have to do to survive in this capitalist society fighting the exclusion and removal efforts of us by the smooth talking corporations who don’t see us as part of their grand profit-making plans.

Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio is the co-founder of POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork and author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing up Homeless in America

Killed for riding while poor


OPINION We sat together: elders, youth, workers, students, and folks. We were on our way to a low-paid job, an overpriced university, a pre-gentrified home and a public school. There was laughter and shouts, murmurs and silence. Then suddenly, there were nine heavily armed police officers and fare inspectors walking through the crowded 14 Mission Muni line. One stopped in front of me and my son.

“I don’t have a transfer, I lost it,” I tentatively answered a cop who asked to see my paperwork as I clutched my son’s stroller and tried to see how close I was to the back door of the bus.

“We will have to write you a citation and you will have to step off the bus — now.” He was yelling at me and was flanked by another officer. I knew I couldn’t make a run for it, but I almost tried.

I thought of this moment when I heard about the 19-year-old man shot by the SFPD while running away from a Muni bus because he didn’t have a transfer in the Bayview July 16.

Shot and killed for not having $2 bus fare.

At a press conference held July 18 at the scene of the shooting, Joanne Abernathy from People Organized to Win Employment Rights made the point: “No one should be shot for not having enough money to ride the bus.”

For the last few years, police presence on Muni has increased — as have attacks on poor people and people of color whose only crime is not having enough money to ride the increasingly expensive so-called public transportation known as Muni. From fare inspectors working for Muni to fully armed officers, they form a terrifying mob waiting menacingly at bus stops in the Mission, Ingleside, Bayview, and Tenderloin, and then enter buses to harass, eject, and cite anyone too poor to ride.

The police said the man pointed a gun. That’s what they consistently claim when rationalizing involved shootings. Several eyewitnesses said otherwise.

But before we get caught up in whether he had a gun or not, let’s stay with the real point: this young man was shot for not having a transfer. He was shot for not having $2. How did we get here?

Even if you are a supporter of the police, you have to see the Les Miserables-esque insanity in this shooting.

Police culture enables, allows, and encourages the use of deadly force — so much so that it seems at times as if killing can happen for any old thing. Throw in institutional racism and classism, and more and more people will not only be incarcerated but killed with impunity.

“Don’t get on the bus again if you don’t have the fare or you might be arrested,” the cop on Muni told me. He ended by giving me a citation and kicking me off the bus. He should have added “killed” to his threat of what would happen to us for riding while poor.

Tiny, also known as Lisa Gray-Garcia, is coeditor of POOR Magazine.


State of the art displacement


OPINION What does the loss of 11 residences and a few jobs matter if it means a state-of-the-art hospital will be built?

That’s the question Examiner columnist Ken Garcia asked Oct. 20. The line cut like sharp knives into my eyes and heart as I read about Sutter Health/California Pacific Medical Center’s proposal to put a billion-dollar hospital subsequently displacing elder and disabled tenants and low-income workers at Geary and Van Ness streets, on the edge of one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco.

As I read and reread the hypothetical question, I knew it could only have been written by someone who hadn’t witnessed countless low-income elders die or become seriously ill after they were evicted or displaced or hundreds of poor migrant workers and their families struggle and go hungry because they couldn’t find a steady job with a living wage.

How do you quantify the importance of even one decent job for a poor person struggling to survive? Or one business owned by a small business owner who treats his or her employees with respect and love? Or the loss of one long-term residence of a disabled and elder tenant?

How do you rationalize the pain of relocation and job eradication in lieu of the building of a huge structure supposedly there to “heal people?”

And then there is the question of the building of a “state of the art” hospital – read: rich people’s hospital – in a community where the majority of people are poor. And the issue of how the corporation funding the building made another, perhaps more devastating, decision to leach resources and support from St. Luke’s, a truly community-based hospital.

“I won’t be able to sit in Mama Dee’s chair anymore.” My six-year-old son looked down as he spoke. We were sitting in the Van Ness Bakery & Cafe at the corner of Van Ness and Geary, one of the many small businesses facing displacement.

When my son and I heard about the pending proposal to demolish and build, not only did we know that the spirit of my Mama Dee, cofounder of POOR Magazine who passed on her spirit journey in March 2006, was very angry with the demolition of her favorite spot. But more important, as someone who struggled with poverty, racism, and gentrification her entire life, I knew my mama was also mad, as I was, at the lie of California Pacific Medical Center, for proposing to build a hospital that isn’t really needed, in a community it isn’t really geared toward, and in the process dismantling the jobs, homes, and livelihoods of tenants, poor workers, and small business owners.

“This is a bad economy, and I really have no other job options. I don’t know what we workers will do” said Ruthie Seng and Oy, two of the workers at the family-owned and humanely-operated Van Ness Bakery.

As we consider granting the plans for this $1.7 billion dollar hospital proposal, perhaps we should reassess what hospitals are there to do and whom, they are doing it for.

Tiny a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia is a poverty scholar and daughter of Dee, coeditor of POOR Magazine and the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America.

Am I illegal mama?


OPINION "Am I illegal mama?" My mixed-race, Mexican, Chinese, Puerto Rican, and Irish six-year-old son gazed up at me with the largest of puppy eyes after we watched a corporate media television report on Mayor Gavin Newsom’s rejection of the legislation by David Campos that would give due process to migrant youth caught up in the criminal in-justice system.

After recovering from my sorrow at my son’s logical interpretation of our criminalizing, dehumanizing society, I went on to explain that as far as I was concerned no human is illegal — or an alien, for that matter. I told him that the whole concept of "illegal people" is rooted in our society’s attempt to create more products for the ever-hungry prison-industrial-complex by criminalizing poor youth of color, migrant workers, and houseless adults and elders in poverty for the sole act of being poor, seeking work not having housing, and so on. (Yes, I do talk to my son with truth and candor about such things because that is how my African-Boricua-Taina mama raised me.)

His discovery, albeit terrible, did not shock me. Rather, it was the final nudge I needed to release a public statement from all the multiracial, multicultural, multilingual mamas, grandmothers, aunties, uncles, fathers, and grandfathers I write with, make art with, co-mama with, co-teach with, and am in relationships with at POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE. We are people who believe that not only is no human being illegal, but that all these borders are false constructs of imperialism. We believe in the rights of children, if you believe that all children, and all people, deserve basic due process rights — which is all the sanctuary legislation by Sup. David Campos grants.

So Mayor Newsom, why reject this modest legislation? Have you become so blinded by your desire to be tough on crime that you don’t even recognize the voices and desires of your voting public in San Francisco, who overwhelmingly organized and spoke in favor of this?

But you can’t blame Newsom alone. Corporate media and corporate government fuels this notion of illegality in relation to human beings and has so ingrained the terms "illegal" and "alien" as ways of describing human beings that many people use these words without direct malice or intent to harm. So, like most insidious racially unjust policies and practices in American culture, these terms and notions roll along, gaining steam and power.

In an attempt to address this ongoing disinformation campaign about migration and immigrants, POOR Magazine launched the Voces de Inmigrantes en Resistencia Project to ensure that the silenced voices of immigrants in poverty are not only heard but are redefined as journalists, poets, media producers, and scholars.

After our talk, my son looked up at me and said, "Mama, I have an idea — if all us people, kids, and adults in the world all stand together holding hands, then they won’t be able to separate us or hurt any of us." Then he stopped and very slowly and carefully added, "Or crim-in-alize us." *

Tiny a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia is the coeditor, cofounder and co-madre of POOR Magazine. She is also the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America, published by City Lights.