This past weekend, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Phoenix, Arizona to voice their opposition to the recently passed SB 1070 which many say has legalized racial profiling. We spoke to Lance Rios, the founder of the largest Facebook group addressing issues concerning our community, Being Latino, which has over 32 thousand followers, to find out what life is like in Arizona these days and to see how those of us who live outside of the state can help those adversely affected by the new laws.
Why did you start Being Latino on Facebook?
It's a space that didn’t cost any money to generate awareness. Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the United States and that’s also reflected in social media. It just made sense to put that together.
What was the atmosphere like in AZ?
For the most part it was very peaceful. There was definitely some opposition but nothing got out of hand or violent. I think people were definitely in high spirits to see such a large amount of supporters actually show up.
What has been the response has been from Latinos across the country whether they live in Arizona or not?
It’s a major issue for the people who live in Arizona and are directly affected by this ridiculous law; but people outside of state don’t realize how much this law has impacted people. Just hearing the first-hand stories about what people had to go through made it different in my mind.
What was the most impactful story you heard?
I stayed with a young woman who is undocumented and she told me about her brother who is a taxi driver in Phoenix and a legal citizen. Since the bill was signed, there have been people who refuse to ride in his cab because they accuse him of being illegal even though he's citizen. I just found it insane that someone’s livelihood is being affected by this.
Do you think that this law has driven a wedge between the Latino and Caucasian community?
I feel kind of torn on that because at the rally I did see a lot of supporters who were not Latino, who were either White or Black, and who felt like the law was unjust as a whole. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, there definitely were people who were ignorant, and it has further separated them from wanting to learn more about the Mexican and Mexican American community. [The law] has done more harm than good. When we have these events like last Saturday, it makes people think twice about the issue because if that many people think something is wrong, it might make people rethink the law.
What can we do to support the people in AZ?
Generate awareness and use networking sites to keep people, Latino or not, informed about what’s going on. Join orgnaizations like errorzona.org to boycott the Major League World Series scheduled to take place in Arizona in 2011. For the most part, the mainstream media is not doing the best job of covering this, so we have to take it into our hands to be responsible for getting the word out.