We have a dream: Missoula minorities still live in fear despite King’s legacy

Nereyda Calero, (center) an undocumented Mexican immigrant brought to the U.S. when she was 8 years old, stands with her family during Monday night’s Martin Luther King Jr. event in downtown Missoula. With President Donald Trump having rescinded the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, Calero – an EMT – faces an uncertain future in the U.S. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

With the flags standing at full staff in a bitter Hellgate wind, Nereyda Calero shared her dream, one that would see immigrants like herself live without fear of the heavy hand of a U.S. government bent on rounding them up and deporting them to a country they never knew.

Calero, a Mexican immigrant brought to the U.S. when she was 8 years old, joined several other minority women and those who remain on the social fringes on Monday to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

An estimated 150 Missoula residents attended the event, including several immigrants from what President Donald Trump has described as “shithole” countries. None of those who spoke arrived from Norway, and Trump has said he’s not a racist.

Nereyda Calero

“When Obama gave us Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I could finally dream – my hands were untied,” said Calero, who works as an EMT in Missoula. “Now, my life could be in shambles again, because Trump rescinded the program in October.”

Republican politics aside, Calero described her vision of the American dream and her interpretation of King’s legacy. Now 20 years old, she grew up as an undocumented immigrant translating for her family and friends at the hospital, wishing all along she was a member of the medical team.

Calero got her wish after earning her certification as an emergency medical technician. She recently returned from Washington, D.C., where she met other Dreamers like herself, including several from Montana.

“(Sen. Jon) Tester gave us a private meeting, and I felt really good talking to him,” said Calero. “We’re actually human lives fighting for this. A lot of people here have never met a Dreamer, but we’re here and we’re real. Once my DACA expires, I will no longer have a job and can potentially get deported.”

Calero now lives in fear, her future mired in Washington politics. On a day intended to celebrate justice and equality, the stories and fears shared my several were real, punctuating the day’s tired partisan politics.

Meshayla Cox

“Like Martin Luther King (Jr.), many of us have a dream, and I have a dream that I will never have to fear to be sent back to a country where I have never been and my kids don’t know,” said Calero. “I have a dream that I can finally someday say I’m a U.S. citizen. Let’s not forget that this country was made by immigrant hands. That’s what we all came here for – to have a better life.”

Meshayla Cox, president of the University of Montana’s Black Student Union, recognized the program’s history dating back to 1968 and its founder Ulysses Doss. Doss worked with King in Chicago, along with Saul Alinsky, before founding one of the nation’s first Black Studies Programs at UM.

While Cox recognized the nation’s push toward civil rights and racial justice, she also noted the country’s recent stumbles, from the murder of Michael Brown at the hands of police to black female victims whose names are rarely mentioned.

“Young people of color have a unique ability to shift the narrative to include parts of our society where intersecting identities have historically left them out of the conversation,” Cox said. “It’s important to show and support one another, and empower young people like myself, to voice our experiences, share that hurt with one another, and be leaders in a movement toward a more equitable world.”

That lack of recognition also covers the Native American community, Montana’s largest minority group. Blackfeet tribal member Sydnie Sinclair wasn’t so quick to let it go, saying violence and mistreatment against those of color was very real.

It happens more often than not, she said, though it rarely makes headlines in the local newspaper.

“I can’t speak for all the other minorities who have experienced mistreatment, but I – as Oprah said, can speak my truth because that’s the most powerful tool I have,” said Sinclair.

Sydnie Sinclair

Sinclair cited facts around missing and murdered indigenous women, whose names and stories are quickly forgotten if they’re ever cited in the first place.

According to a city proclamation read in 2015, nearly half of all Native American women in the U.S. have been raped, beaten or stalked by an intimate partner. In general, they’re twice as likely to experience sexual assault. On some reservations, women are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average.

“If you Google any statistic of missing and murdered women of any race, you can find numbers,” said Sinclair. “But if you Google missing and murdered indigenous women, the number is non-existent. The number of missing and murdered indigenous women does not exist because Native Americans are the least represented minority in this country.”

And that led Sinclair to cite King as her generation looks to light a different path forward.

“As we continue to move forward with the fight for equality, we need to remember to include those who are affected by this mistreatment the most,” she said. “As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”