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Florida Voices | Aaron King, Struggling to Find Identity

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This is Florida Voices, a series of ordinary Floridians with extraordinary stories.
Find more in our weekly podcast, The Point.
Do you know someone whose story should be told? Email news@wuft.org.

Aaron King, 30, is a second-generation immigrant from a Mexican immigrant family.

He feels annoyed when being asked “where are you from?” Though he was born in America and his father is white, he is always reminded by others that he is different from other Americans because of his immigrant family background. “I feel like at any time I make some statement about my identity, I am lying no matter what I say,” King said, “which is a weird feeling to have.”

He also hopes to see a more humane policy system for immigrants in the United States.

How do you see the change of political climate for immigrants in America?

My grandmother was in a part of west Texas, that was very sparsely populated. It was mostly farms and there were a lot of migrants. At the time, there were a lot of seasonal workers from Mexico. The border was fairly open and there was a lot of movement of people, money and products back and forth. It was just a very different kind of environment at the time. Now when I hear a lot of talk about that we need to get more non-white people in here so we have more diversity in the workplace. I think this is a way for us to see they are politically acceptable to people who want to work here, or to competitors, or to the government.

How do you feel about today’s United States policy for immigrants?

I think the way that we are treating immigration policy in this country is tragic at the moment. I mean we had this system for many years that wasn’t perfect, but it did allow relative freedom of people to move back and forth who wanted to work in the United States, make money for their families. I think there is a humane way to allow people to better their families and their prospects by participating in the American economy. In such a way that everyone benefits without penalizing people permanently for having non-citizen status in this country. I think a lot of the problems we have right now with immigration are created by our own policies. Because our policies became more sort of penalizing in the 1980s and 1990s, and we kind of compelled people to, for example, bring their whole families to the United States as opposed to have open movement of labor back and forth across the border. This has created the situation we’re in now, where we have people who are dangerously crossing the border illegally, putting themselves at great peril, and creating this kind of black market economy around. This is just like horrible ordeal and people are going through these things. I think for reasons that are preventable, we could have a much more humane system of managing. The labor demand exists in this country. There is a system that is workable that a lot of other countries utilize, that we have utilized in our own past to accomplish some of these things. In the meantime, we are also preventing or discouraging the most talented people from coming here for school or to look for work here. When we do have talented non-citizens who are graduating from our schools, we’re making it extremely difficult for them to stay here and continue to contribute to the society. I think that’s a bad thing for America. That’s a bad thing for our society. We’re all being hurt by the status of our immigration policy now and for the foreseeable future.

What do you think makes the policy and social environment change for the immigrants?

There’s an ongoing systematic change in our economy and there has been a political narrative that good middle class hard working people are competing with immigrants for these jobs. My grandmother moved here at a time when the United States economy was booming. It was incredible after World War II. Everybody was getting a big house and moving to the suburb. There wasn’t a fear about people losing jobs. People would get a job in manufacturing and they would work until they retired. That’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen anymore. The economy is fundamentally different and in some ways more difficult and more competitive for people who are not as well educated. There is everyone’s concern about having a good enough job at this point, which has a lot to do with macroeconomic changes. So environment has made things worse. Although, I mean, racism was existed of course, but it wasn’t the same kind of competitiveness economically.

Do you know any organization in Gainesville, which can offer help to immigrants?

I know two of them. Welcoming Gainesville and The Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice (IAIJ). Welcoming Gainesvile & Alachua County (WG&AC) is a 501c3 nonprofit that seeks to “make newcomers neighbors” by creating a more welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for foreign-born residents. WG&AC accomplishes this mission through a number of programs aimed at supporting immigrants and refugees and creating opportunities in which new- and long-time residents can learn from each other and connect. Programs include: an English Conversation Program, interfaith and multi-cultural meals, visual and performance art activities, and film screenings and speaker series. The Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice (IAIJ) is a network of local synagogues, mosques, churches, fellowships, student groups, community organizations, and political and academic leaders who joined together in July 2010 to educate the community about and identify solutions to local and national immigration crises. Programs include political action (working with political leaders to create policies that support immigrants), activism (encouraging businesses, such as Publix and Wendy’s, to sign the Fair Food Agreement), and partnering with other like-minded organizations to fulfill immigrant and migrant farmworker needs. My wife once worked in these two organizations.

What is your wife’s job in these organizations?

Liz no longer works with IAIJ. She acted as the organization’s press secretary from 2012-2013. Liz is WG&AC’s program coordinator (or compassion cultivator, as she likes to call it). That role includes any number of duties related to fundraising, program development, event coordination, press communication, marketing, social media, and web development.

King is the Program Development Manager at the Distance and Continuing Education Department, the University of Florida. (Photos by Haojing Qian/WUFT News)
King is a second-generation immigrant, whose grandmother, Manuela Nava, was immigrated to USA from Mexico in the mid 1950s. Now he lives with his wife in Gainesville.
King and Liz Getman, from New Jersey, met each other in college and got married in 2007. They are flipping through their wedding photo album.
Most of King’s family have immigrated to America and this is a family photo on King and Getman’s wedding.
King likes collecting souvenirs when traveling, most of which are from Mexico and South America.
King is reading Paint the Revolution Mexican Modernism 1910-1950, which is a book his mother gave him last year as a birthday present.
This selenite rock, or called “desert rose”, is unique in Chihuahua, North Mexico, the hometown of King’s grandmother. Kings keeps it after his grandmother died.
King’s grandmother is buried in El Paso, Texas, which is the place she lived for more than 20 years and is also where King’s mother was born.

Find more Florida Voices in our weekly podcast, The Point. Do you know someone whose story should be told? Email news@wuft.org.

About Haojing Qian

Haojing is a reporter who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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