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Opinion: Mr. Mayor, Miami is the Sanctuary City

Demonstrators protesting at City Hall and the office of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. WeCount! / WeCount!

MIAMI — When Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez renounced Miami’s ‘sanctuary city’ designation, I was beside myself. As the child of Cuban refugees who had every right given to them upon arrival, I could not believe that a fellow Cuban would capitulate so quickly and without a fight. Determined to get answers, I called his office.

After being processed through an un-ironic welcome message that asked me to ‘Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish and 3 for Creole’, I begged his confused and defensive staffer for the reasoning behind his actions. Her terse and annoyed explanation of the whole matter being a technicality was as satisfying as a wet sandwich. How dare the mayor declare that Miami was no longer a sanctuary city? Miami is THE sanctuary city!

Growing up in this city, I watched my family stand in solidarity with Nicaraguans fleeing communism. I remember the shock we felt when an elderly friend came knocking on our door at 11:30 pm on a school night to gather extra clothes and food for the boatloads of Cubans who fled through Mariel. I watched as Jamaicans withstood one political threat after another while starting thriving stateside businesses.

Opinion writer Carmen Pelaez at a rally at the Miami International Airport on Jan. 29 protesting Pres. Trump's immigration executive order. Carmen Pelaez

My aunt stood by Haitians in their quest for citizenship. I watched as Hondurans and Salvadorans escaped brutal poverty and gang violence to build healthy lives along Little Havana’s Calle Ocho. My best friends in high school were Colombians whose family had escaped the dangers of living in a FARC consumed country. I watched my first boyfriend work double shifts to support his aunt in cash-strapped Buenos Aires. Most recently, I’ve seen how Venezuelans, Ecuadorians and Peruvians have escaped dictatorships, financial crises and heartbreaking poverty to work thankless, low-paying jobs while helping Miami flourish.

Unlike other cities I’ve lived in, where new immigrants become an invisible work force to be tolerated instead of embraced, I’ve seen wave after wave of immigrants and refugees offering Miami its hopes and hard work, getting in return a city that lets them keep their traditions and cultures alive - seamlessly weaving them into the fabric of our every day.
We’re the capital of Latin America and the Caribbean, because it’s the only city in the United States where having an accent signals to your community that you belong, not that you’re different.
Miami is the very definition of e pluribus unum - out of many, one. And we’ve managed to do it without losing what makes each of the myriad of cultures amazing.
Demonstrator in Miami holds up sign for immigrants Carmen Pelaez

Of course, it hasn’t been easy. We’ve had major issues. But we get through them because to be an immigrant in Miami is to be a thread in the fabric of who we are. And just as we’re really starting to take off as a city, Mayor Gimenez threatens to tear us apart with his cowardly announcement. There was no way I was going to stand for that, and this past weekend was my chance to prove it.

Instead of spending a rainy cold Sunday in bed catching up with my Netflix queue, I was standing in my kitchen, fighting with the zipper of my raincoat while Googling parking rates at Miami International Airport. My sister and I met a Cuban-American friend who was providing the markers and poster board at Terminal D.

We knew it was our duty to protest Donald Trump’s immigration executive order. But not I even I was ready for the scene at the airport.

As I approached the terminal, I saw very large group of hyphenated Americans, A Miss Universe pageant of activism: Latin Americans, Muslim Americans, Caribbean Americans, Syrian Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, African Americans, Jewish Americas.

More importantly, we were ALL Miamians and we were committed to proving that even if our mayor and our president rejected the core of who we are as a city, who we are as a city would not reject the hope of who we can be as a people. The peaceful protest went off without a hitch and we walked away even more determined than when we arrived.

The mayor has yet to walk back his misguided and cynical pronouncement and the calls for protests have continued.

I don’t know what will happen. I don’t think any of us do at this point. But I know Miami will never fully shut its doors to those seeking refuge because we got rid of our doors a long time ago. They floated away with our fears, retreating into the darkest mangroves of our past lives, becoming relics of what we fled, not barriers for who we will be.

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