Thursday, October 18, 2012

Do I look like an American to you?

Do I look like an American to you?  The question can and does result in some intriguing answers.  For Francisco Baires,a C-U Immigration Forum member of mixed Anglo and Latino descent, the reactions, he says, are mixed. “Some people tell me ‘yeah, of course, you do’ but others want to talk more about the question itself.  It has led to some really interesting conversations,” he says.  "I take it as an opportunity to talk about how as a U.S. Citizen, born in Central America, America means more to me than just the United States.” 

It's opportunities like these that student leaders at the University YMCA want to encourage on campus and in the community. That’s why they have launched a t-shirt campaign to show that there is no race, religion or philosophy that impacts our status as an American. The photo and t-shirt campaign, led by Interfaith in Action, La Colectiva and Amnesty International, encourages people from all backgrounds to share the photos and stories they receive when donning the black t-shirt with the message “Do I Look Like an American to You?” in white block letters. 

This campaign was inspired by several recent events. Among them, is February 13th of 2012.  That day, a protest was held outside of a Muslim fundraiser. A mass of flag-wielding “patriots” were screaming at them that Muhammad was a false prophet and a pervert, chanting "U-S-A!", telling them to go home and beat their wives. Elected officials even spoke at the event.  Attendees entered the benefit silently as they were shouted at, and they prayed while protesters banged on the windows, yelling at them to "go back home" and that they "aren't wanted in this country."

But this is their country, too.

“Just because I’m a Muslim doesn’t make me any less American,” Maheen Saddiqi, an attendee to the fundraiser, told Al-Jazeera.

Moved by this and other events, student leaders at the University YMCA want to challenge the definitions of an American to those who may have a closed mind.  We hope that wearing these t-shirts not only expresses solidarity but also inspires questions and dialogue about the problems of inequality in our society.  That’s why the campaign is being run in conjunction with Immigrant Justice Month, an initiative of the Allies of Faith.  The Allies of Faith is an inter-faith coalition involved in the Champaign-Urbana Immigration Forum, which is working to make our community a welcoming space for all our neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, the languages they speak, their country of origin, or their immigration status.

To celebrate Immigrant Justice Month, wear your shirts to the upcoming lecture by Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and undocumented American, on October 25 at 7 PM (location to be announced) to participate in a group photo and stand in solidarity with Mr. Vargas.  For more information on upcoming Immigrant Justice Month events, click here.

Buy it, wear it, share it. T-shirts are currently on sale at the University YMCA (1001 S. Wright St., Champaign) for $15 ($10 for students) or online at All proceeds benefit UIUC Interfaith in Action and local immigrant outreach and services.