Rosario Dawson on Challenging the Anti-Immigrant Narrative: ‘We’re Suffering a Crisis of Our Very Humanity’
The actress/activist Rosario Dawson writes about the importance of telling immigrant stories—like her new series “The North Pole”—during this important cultural moment.
If you could rewrite the story on immigration in this country, what would you say?
The story that the current administration repeats ad nauseam is about a “violent invasion” of immigrant hordes—the exact same words used by the gunman who targeted our Latino community and shot down 22 innocent people in El Paso last month. This last week’s denial of refugees from the Bahamas fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian because they could be “very bad gang members” saw thousands of climate refugees abandoned to squalid conditions.
The stories we tell—on cable TV, in movies and music, at our own dinner tables—have real-life consequences for people that we all know and love.
ICE raids and hate crimes don’t happen in a vacuum. They operate as part of a larger white nationalist narrative, a continuation of manifest destiny-thinking remixed for the age of Twitter.
The truth is, this thinking is symptomatic of an old and still very much alive colonial disease. If we want to heal this country’s deep scars on these issues, we need to look at the root causes and treat them at the source. When it comes to immigration, this is more than just a political crisis—we’re suffering a crisis of our very humanity. And one way to change the debate in Washington is by changing the stories we produce and consume in our own lives.
Now, more than ever, we need to tell honest, nuanced stories about the 47 million immigrants and refugees living here in the U.S. I want to see stories that showcase my Peruvian-American neighbors’ brilliance! My Ghanaian-American collaborator’s feminist flair! And please, something more than another cooking show exoticizing “ethnic cuisine!” If one immigration story is symbolized by a wall, let our stories be the sledgehammer that can break through the hate and division, laying a new path forward of justice and human solidarity.
That is why I’m so excited about the new show I helped make called The North Pole.
Launched last week, The North Pole is a dramatic comedy web series that I produced with an amazing nonprofit called Movement Generation. Set in Oakland, California, the show follows four young people as they navigate immigration struggles as well as raging wildfires, racial tensions—and hallucinogenic mushroom trips (because yes, we need comedy too!). At a time when so many of our communities and environments are under attack, this is our moment to flip the script by centering radical black and brown characters reclaiming their joy and speaking their unfiltered truth to the world.
In The North Pole, I play an immigration lawyer for the show’s main character, Benny, who has lived in Oakland since he was a child but is now facing deportation. What I love about Benny is that he doesn’t represent the limiting, stereotypical Latino immigrant story we too often see in Hollywood. He’s a thoughtful, trash-talking, outrageously funny Salvadoran American who quotes Dolores Huerta and Too Short in the same sentence. Joining together with his best friends, Benny comes out of the shadows to tell his story and launches an upstart campaign for political office against the very sheriff in town who’s trying to deport him.
To counter this country’s intensifying culture of dehumanization—not just towards immigrants but against black folks, Muslims, indigenous people, women, LGBTQ peoples, basically everyone under threat of patriarchy and colonialism—we need stories that do more than simply replay our pain and trauma for the camera. Just as we come together to organize in the real world, we need cultural expression that shows our creativity, our genius, and our collective power. As The North Pole creators Josh Healey and Yvan Iturriaga like to say, “Not all heroes wear capes. Our heroes and sheroes wear hoodies and chanclas, because those are the leaders we need right now. All of us.”
That’s right—it’s on us.
If we’re going to flip the script on immigration, we need stories that ask the seemingly basic question: Why are people leaving their homelands in the first place? How can we shed light on the U.S.-backed coup in Honduras in 2009 that destabilized that country into having the world’s highest murder rate and led directly to today’s migrant exodus? What TV show will include a storyline on how corporate trade agreements like CAFTA forced thousands of farmers off their land across Central America? Who will write the movie about climate refugees fleeing the Philippines, Indonesia, or even our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico still struggling post-Hurricane Maria?
Where is our empathy for mothers, fathers, and children fleeing unthinkable violence and disasters? Where is our human decency?
With The North Pole, we hope to inspire new stories and visionary organizing that can help us overcome fear with radical love. Stories and campaigns that understand immigrant rights also means fighting for racial justice, climate resilience, and a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy. Thanks to such intersectional grassroots groups like Mijente, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and the San Fernando Valley Refugee Center, we have models to support and multiply. Despite the pain, we are in an exciting, leader-ful moment. Now is our time to build on our ancestors’ freedom struggles and paint a new picture of what “liberty and justice for all” really looks like.
As acclaimed artist and The North Pole co-producer Favianna Rodriguez says, “Migration is Beautiful.” Let’s show the world just how beautiful we can be.