We are immigrants from different parts of the world, united by the Sanskrit origins of our names (Ananda means bliss and Shiva means auspicious), by our work in Madison’s immigrant communities and by the damaging tendency for people to see us and those we work with as faceless numbers. When we entered the U.S., we were given an entry number and date that determined the length of time we were allowed in the country. Over the years, we’ve been assigned an alien number, a temporary social security number, a temporary driver’s license number, an immigration case number and finally a naturalization number.
Many people have been very curious about our immigration status. Every time we are asked, we are reminded that we are a number attached to a piece of paper. Every time we advocate for other immigrants, we are reminded that they, too, are seen in terms of numbers.
At every meeting, during every press interview, we get peppered with a litany of questions: How many immigrants live in Dane County? How many are undocumented? How many are minor children? We understand the curiosity about immigration status. We understand curiosity about immigration statistics and how many of us don’t have the “right” numbers.
But you need to know that this curiosity is hurtful and harmful to us and our immigrant communities. Many of us have always lived in fear, but with this presidential election and the current climate, counting us — dehumanizing us with numbers — has become a real threat. Please, stop seeing us as numbers, stop counting us, stop creating opportunities for us to be rounded up and taken away in anonymity. Your need to stamp numbers on our faces is destroying our rights and ability to exist in peace and do our good work alongside you in our communities.
We are Ananda and Shiva and countless other community members and neighbors … not numbers.
Ananda Mirilli is a Latino Education Council board member.
Shiva Bidar-Sielaff is the co-chair of the Latino Health Council and a member of the Madison City Council.