Using “Undocumented” At Oscars Just The Start Of A Big Change

It seems the disuse of the word “illegal” to refer to undocumented immigrants in the United States is spreading. Natalie Portman, before announcing the other nominees for Best Actor, took time to make a special acknowledgement to Demán Bichir — one of the nominees for Best Actor for his role in “A Better Life.”

As Carlos Galindo, an undocumented immigrant fighting to give his son the opportunities he never had, you made us face very true portrait of a human being no one had ever dared us to consider before.

The film lost, like many others that night, to “The Artist,” but Portman’s words are what matter here. While it is pleasant that people are finally realizing that human beings aren’t “illegal” at all, this is still one person; the majority of Americans will sadly continue to use the term “illegal” and ignore her adjective choice, willingly or not.

The people who need to hear Portman’s words and witness Galindo’s struggle on screen will probably never bother — and even if they did, it likely wouldn’t phase them. These people have dehumanized immigrants to the point that archaic laws and peddling merchandise that suggests killing immigrants might be better than border control. How serious they are with these suggestions is debatable, but, it’s safe to say these people aren’t exactly people receptive to other opinions. These are likely the same kind of people convinced that the “media” is a big liberal conglomerate that’s hellbent on destroying white people.

No matter who says these words, they will likely sneer at the thought of immigrants being human, then return to bickering about how we’re stealing jobs. As you sit in your chair reading this article, right now, many families of undocumented immigrants are facing hardships in lives dominated by fear. Fear of deportation and fear of separation from family, fear of no work among the biggest worries. Real families are being fed on below minimum wage in appalling living conditions because they’re “illegal.”

There is a real life behind the fictional character. As touching as Portman’s speech and Bichir’s portrayal are, let’s not forget the real undocumented Americans who live a life in fear, whose children may never be given the opportunities of college if they’re lucky enough to complete high school.

Let’s not pat ourselves on the back for beginning to change terms referring to people, let’s keep working so that we are not inundated with a generation of undocumented immigrants who have no opportunity to grow, and live in a perpetual state of worry.

[Photo By TYF]

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