AFIRE statement in response to the events of Saturday, April 22, 2017 read by Executive Director Michael Aguhar during the press conference on Monday, April 24, 2017.
My name is Michael Aguhar and I am the executive director of the Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE). Thank you for gathering today and being in solidarity with us as we address the events of this weekend. On Saturday, April 22, 2017 AFIRE staff, members, and volunteers were forcibly removed from their office by their landlord, the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago (FACC). AFIRE was scheduled to have a workshop with our friends at Interfaith Worker Justice on the importance of telling your story. This event had been advertised to the public since early April. When telling our story, we open our hearts, we reveal our character, and inspire others to action.
As a child growing up in Texas, I was raised in the Catholic tradition. My family and I went to mass every Sunday. When we would visit my lola on Friday nights, we would kneel and pray the rosary before dinner. When my siblings passed away, we gathered to grieve and pray the novena as a community. Those were moments of quiet reflection, collective voice, and a unity in spirit.
We are called to serve and work with our community toward goals that transcend brick and mortar buildings, that look beyond the flashing lights of police cars. We are called to work with each other to build possibilities, opportunity, and hope with the people in our midst who are most deeply impacted by injustice. Whether they are citizens or undocumented immigrants. Nurses at St. Joseph’s hospital or caregivers working in Oak Park. Young or old. We must face those injustices and hold each other accountable and transform our pain into something more.
Saturday was an unfortunate display of the worst parts of our community. Police officers called to a community center that AFIRE uses as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Senior citizens shoved aside and removed. People with disabilities forced to stand on the sidewalk. These actions only serve to incite fear deep into the hearts of the very people we hope to serve. These actions sow feelings of mistrust and create deep divides.
These are not the values we should aspire to nor have in a community center.
AFIRE condemns any form of violence and strongly believes in working toward peaceful resolutions.
Our rights as tenants of the Rizal Center were violated. The respect toward our work with the community was violated. And most of all, the dignity of our people was violated.
The Rizal Center is a historic and symbolic space intended to remind us of our core values. Like many low-income residents of Chicago, AFIRE has struggled to find a place to call home. Many spaces are too expensive, we simply cannot afford the rent at many locations. We had hoped the Rizal Center would be that home. We believed this building could be a sanctuary for the thousands of undocumented immigrants in our community. We trusted that our basic rights as tenants would be respected.
Even in the face of the actions this weekend, we strive for a continued sense of empathy, compassion, and solidarity. Even after being pushed out of our office by the police, we only seek accountability that does not result in additional harm or trauma.
We hope that this building can continue to be a sanctuary for people who feel oppressed, for people who seek refuge, and for people who hope to come together in a time of uncertainty.
AFIRE stands committed to a process of transformative justice that allows us to address the harm and trauma of this weekend. AFIRE invites the people here to join us in a call for peaceful resolution that brings the Filipino/a/x community together and builds toward a shared vision that upholds our values of bayanihan, kapitbahayan, and damayan. We ask that FACC comes to the table and dialogue with the people you have committed yourself to serve. We humbly request a facilitated meeting that is trauma informed and addresses our concerns as tenants, the harm that was done to the community, and a peaceful resolution to this situation."