Las Voces del Lowcountry

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JoDee Bauza-Robinson is a Cuban-American born in New York in 1969. She moved to South Carolina with her husband Richard Robinson in 1997. JoDee and Richard are the founders of Nuevos Caminos, a non-profit advocacy and community based-organization serving Latinos in South Carolina. JoDee explains her organization’s decision to challenge SB 20. 

Selection from interview with JoDee Bauza-Robinson by Marina Lopez, 25 July 2013, courtesy of The Citadel Oral History ProgramLowcountry Digital Library. Clip from original interview minutes 41:12-50:49. To access the full oral history and transcript, click here.

Marina López: You also worked very hard when South Carolina had its new immigration law and people of the community decided to fight against the law. You, your family had a very important role, a large share of that. Why? How did you become involved in South Carolina legal issues?

JoDee Bauza-Robinson: Because I do not want anyone to tell me who I can or cannot have at home and who I can or cannot get in my car. And I did not want my parents to come for vacations here and have someone look at them and stop them and when they open their mouths with their accent, right there they could get into trouble. And I thought, this is ridiculous that at this time in history, a law will exist, that for me is racial profiling, and that is what I thought. And they were going to tell me, they would fine me personally if I had someone here in my house that was illegal or not? It does not matter to me if they are illegal or not. What matters to me is that families are well served and the children are well cared for. And then, honestly, I got angry, my husband, he is more, you know, more logical, he said, "No, this is really bad, this cannot be," but I took it personally.

ML: And what did you do with this anger, this personal thing, what did you do with that?

JR: Then it was my husband who appeared in public because our idea was, "Look, if I go out there, they will say, this is another Latina, moving her lips, trying to get something for her people," right? However, Richard confronting the problem for us, he appears as an advocate, and South Carolina, unfortunately, is still that—the problems of man and woman. And men have more power than women; you know it Marina, don’t you? 

And then, you know—you have to act intelligently, here with what you have, with the people you have to work with. And having Richard right there, I think it was very important, so here is a man, an Anglo man fighting for the rights of Latinos. For us it was very important to do that, and he speaks better than me at groups as well, do you understand me? He is a smooth taker, much better that I.

ML: How did you get connected with the people who were working to challenge the law?

JR: In the years we have been working in the community informally, I mean before forming Nuevos Caminos and then with Nuevos Caminos we have been communicating by email with different people, and then through what comes by mail, invitations. And that's how that came from. Mark Grey from Lowcountry Aids, when he was working with them, he also sent us information and then we had been aware of what was happening with the law because it was part of the guidance we were giving to our families when we got together. Because you know that when you work with them it is not just about parenthood, many other things are discussed as well.

ML: With families, with families receiving Nuevos Caminos services. Is that what you mean?

JR: Yes.

ML: Do you mean, you realized you had to educate the families about what was happening?

JR: One of the biggest areas in which we have worked is helping parents who have children with special needs, who have 504 [Section 504 Plan] or a Personal Education Plan IEP, so they know they have the right to receive those papers in Spanish instead of receiving them only in English. There are so many issues we have worked on. It’s like a river that flows everywhere, right?

ML: Working little by little, then, this was a natural consequence of the work you have been doing within the community—

JR: In advocacy.

ML: —to protect the community and you also became involved to make sure the law is fair.

JR: Yes, exactly.

ML: Make sure the law is fair. And it is interesting to say that Richard is a police officer, right?

JR: Yes.

ML: So the law is important in this family, we're not talking about breaking the law, but making sure the laws are fair.

JR: Yes, and it was unthinkable, what bothered the two of us in those days was that my parents come at least twice a year. We were thinking, the reality is, if my dad passes a red light a police officer stops him, and dad opens his mouth, he will hear his accent and then where will that go, right? Racism here in South Carolina is very much alive. Racism is alive and well, simply because dad has an accent. If that law had passed on full force, he could be taken out of the car, and then they begin, "Where are your papers?" That's what I thought could happen.

ML: The fear that you had, was it a fear founded by the things that were happening in the community at that time?

JR: Yes, oh my goodness, yes Marina! Not so much here, because in Summerville, Summerville does not rent to those who are not documented. Where I live there are not many Latinos. Among the three counties where we are, Dorchester, Berkeley and Charleston, Charleston is the one with the most Latinos, followed by Berkeley County and Dorchester County. And in Charleston County, with the families we were dealing with, many of the husbands, even walking on the street got in trouble, you know and were in prison. There was a family that I know very well, we are very close with them, coming from Wal-Mart, leaving Wal-Mart entering the car, he was not even driving. I understand that they did not have a driver’s license and had not even entered the car. They were putting groceries in the car, and right there they arrested them. He was sent to jail, my husband was the one who went and helped to get him out. Lydia [Cotton] went and took the lady and her children, and she was pregnant. The next day she gave birth, I went to the hospital to help with the baby. You see a lot going on that one says, "This would not have happened to me, they would not stop me coming out of a Wal-Mart, putting groceries in my car because, I do not have the look, right?”

ML: How did it affect you personally knowing the number of people deported, the many people who were stopped, how did it affect you personally?

JR: Well, imagine Marina, one feels she has her hands tied because of what one can do. I try in schools to make changes. My friend Lydia works in the community, trying to make changes. You work in the community, trying to make changes, and you see the changes are very slow, very, very slow.

For more than ten years I have been involved in the school district and still they have no interpreters in all the schools where there are many Latinos. Still they do not give them their educational plans in Spanish. And when the families go up to school they are still not welcomed you know? So you get frustrated and feel like, "What am I doing living in this area? Raising my kids seeing this kind of racism.” My children are—as they say, half breeds, because they are biracial, so you think, "Wow, this is not the example that we will want to give our children," but the example we give them is that we are fighters.

ML: What did you think of the federal court decision?

JR: As a step, a good step, but there is still too much work to do.