Fairhill: People Oppose Arizona ‘Copycat’ Law on Immigration

Puerto Rican residents of Fairhill have born citizenship

Walking through the streets of Fairhill, one would confuse the place for a town in Latin America as the air is filled with the sound of bachata and the smell of pincho and bacalaito. Dubbed “El Centro de Oro, or the street of gold, Fairhill is home to Philadelphia’s largest Hispanic community and has created a world where Hispanic tradition and culture fit in perfectly with Philly’s own homegrown ways. Life for Fairhill residents has become an idyllic mix of hard work and the comfort of life learned in their respective countries ranging from Puerto Rico to Colombia to Mexico.

Puerto Rican residents of Fairhill were born with U.S. citizenship

Transplanted in Philadelphia, the people of Fairhill have established everything from businesses to schools and have managed to do so without outright resistance in a city that prides itself on diversity. Recently, the idea that the Hispanic community is completely welcome has begun to wear thin with the passage of the Arizona immigration law. Residents made it clear that this would be a threat and is considered by all, as unjust.

“To me it seems like a form of racism,” says Jose Maisone, a Fairhill resident. “The majority of these immigrants come here to work and to work hard and this is like a persecution. I’m completely against it.”

Fairhill residents are oftentimes naturalized citizens, if not born citizens such as Maisone, who is Puerto Rican. Despite this, a Pennsylvania representative also attempted to adopt a similar law to that of Arizona with HB 2479. The law would establish the same regulations that would make it a crime to be without identification as a citizen. Fairhill residents see this as an infringement on their very right to live peacefully.

“I think that this law goes against our fundamental rights as American citizens because it allows for people to be categorized based on a certain way they look where they would get a certain label and all of a sudden not receive the same rights as me,” said Rachel, a junior at Haverford College.

“For me it is a completely negative law,” said Bienvenida Jimenez, a Fairhill resident and local bodega owner. “Here, as we all know, no one is really native to the land. God left this land for whoever works the hardest and does things right. He didn’t say that there is a specific group that should live here.”

“Being discriminated against doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Melvin Gonzalez, a food stand owner and Fairhill resident. “When we bleed, we bleed the same blood. People should be allowed to progress in whatever country they feel like. If your country is poor and you’re not doing good and you want a better education and America brings it to you, why not?”

Fairhill residents discuss the immigration issue

“It’s not fair because a lot of people have actually been born here, like me, I came from Puerto Rico when I was a little girl and I make my little money with what I cook and that’s how I survive. Now, they’re going to be stopping me on the streets wherever I walk,” said Lily, a Fairhill resident who runs the food stand along with Melvin.

Many residents place blame on a government that they feel tends to turn a blind eye on the hardworking neighborhood as well as the Hispanic population. “It’s honestly an offense. The government has the power to put a stop to this, said Mike Ibero, a local bar owner. “Obama isn’t doing enough. Lots of promises and little action. We have to get our act together and make everyone know how we feel. So many races live here together so then why just Hispanics are persecuted? They (the government) take taxes from us but then we can’t even vote. I don’t like it and I’m against it.”

As a Fairhill resident, politician and Hispanic citizen and activist, Maria Quinones Sanchez offered up a unique perspective on the issue.

“The police don’t have the resources nor do they have the proper training to implement such a difficult process. They say that there won’t be any racial profiling but they also don’t tell you how to implement it.”

Quinones expounded on her belief that though alarming, Fairhill being faced with the bill is not surprising.  “It doesn’t really surprise me. In a state where English-only legislation has passed numerous times and has the largest number of registered hate groups, this wasn’t a surprise.” Quinones proposed two resolutions to shoot down the bill in May as a means of stopping it before it took place.

Maria Quinones Sanchez is a firm opponent of the immigration bill.

Though the proposed bill’s fate is uncertain and the actual impact yet to be seen, Fairhill’s residents are part of a tight knit neighborhood that continues to show solidarity against what they believe threatens the very essence of their livelihoods. The bill has not passed any legislative body but with 12 other states trying to follow Arizona’s example, the reality of a possible new immigration law has materialized and been staunchly told, no.

“The only thing that this law is going to do is bring hatred to humanity,” explained Bienvenida Jimenez. “More than there already is.”

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