By Jennifer Garcia
Los Angeles, CA
As a Latina, walking down the street anywhere that isn’t home can be frightening and dissociative, with the feeling of not blending in with those around around me. Today, there’s a special layer of sensitivity among the community, which often clouds our mindset and distorts how we navigate the world.
In Princeton, the narrow, busy streets are filled with small local shops. The cleanliness of the atmosphere makes clear that its residents have money. The people I see walking down the street are mostly white. A person of color, especially one with brown skin and dark hair like me, does not blend in. But the woman who greets me with a smile at the door makes me feel comfortable. She offers information with empathy in her soft voice, treating everyone as equals in her office.
The woman is Princeton’s mayor, Liz Lempert. Under her leadership, Princeton does not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in immigration cases. Lempert advocates against the detention and deportation of immigrants in Princeton—or anywhere.
The mayor’s office itself is a representation of her values. Behind Lempert’s desk are compartments decorated with books and family photos. Letters, one of which appeared to be written by a very young child, said “Dear Mayor Lempert” in crayon, with a rainbow and happy face in each corner.
When discussing the current presidential administration, frustration and disbelief appear on Lempert’s face before she even speaks. When asked about her favorite publications and podcasts, the happiness and lighthearted nature of her persona returns and radiates the room. Lempert’s eyes glimmer as she recalls her childhood in California. Her parents and grandparents were Jewish immigrant, and Lempert still remembers her family’s struggle to assimilate in the United States. Though Lempert is short and slim, she draws attention toward her. Her voice is both quiet and confident, gentle but firm.
Despite the upheaval surrounding immigration across the country, the mayor is proud of her town. She recalls the numerous rallies held in front of the town’s library on June 30, the start of a municipal ID program for immigrants, and ceremonies held for the citizenship for immigrants. While Princeton residents have been supportive, the mayor receives letters filled with hatred sent from elsewhere.
Lempert emphasizes the protection of children and the need to keep immigrants as well as their family and friends informed of their rights and options for protection. “If you’re the victim of a crime,” Lempert explains, “we don’t care what your immigration status is.”
Walking back from her office, I saw the clean streets differently, the white people differently. I didn’t feel so out of place anymore.