Archive for June, 2010

Pounding the Pavement

I’m not big on symbolic acts. For example, candlelight vigils, no matter how noble the cause, tend to annoy me. And when I was Catholic, I could never figure out how abstaining from meat on Fridays was anything other than a mild gesture that was unlikely to appease an omnipotent being.

So when I heard about the Dream Walkers, I was dubious. Now I certainly didn’t doubt their sincerity and courage, but I questioned whether their strategy would lead to anything meaningful.

The Dream Walkers, in case you don’t know, are four Latino college students from Florida who pledged to walk the fifteen hundred miles from Miami to Washington DC in order to raise awareness for the Dream Act (see my previous post on this). The students also want the government to step up on immigration reform.

Besides getting them some exercise, I wasn’t sure this interstate marathon was going to be too productive. However, the students have thus far completed their trek to DC, met with Valerie Jarret (one of President Obama’s top advisors), garnered publicity and conducted multiple interviews to educate people about the Dream Act, and even coaxed a hug out of Sherriff Joe Arpaio. That last one freaks me out.

Currently, the Dream Walkers are on stage two of their campaign. They are travelling to immigrant communities, where they will document the horrors of our messed-up immigration system. They will collect testimonials about botched deportation procedures and terrifying raids, then return to Washington DC to present their findings.

I don’t know where the students will end up, or how long they will be on the road. I also don’t know what the result of all their hard work will be.

But so far, the four of them have accomplished a hell of a lot more than even the largest candlelight vigil.

We Like Them Young and Dumb

I’ve written before about the demographic change taking place in America. Specifically, ethnic minorities, led by Latinos, are reproducing at a faster pace than white Americans are. As such, in the near future, the United States will be a minority-majority country.

This has caused much teeth gnashing and wailing among overt racists, of course. But many other people who deny prejudice or ethnic animosity have also expressed their concern. Their deep-seeded fear, masked as logical concern, is that Latino teenagers have the highest dropout rate of any ethnic group. As such, they’re afraid that at some point, a legion of uneducated Hispanics will take over the nation and send us into an abyss.

Their solution – let’s try to kick out as many Latinos as we can now – is bigoted of course. But more than that, it’s impractical. No matter what they do, white people will one day be, if not minorities themselves, no more than a plurality.

One would think, therefore, that instead of simply bemoaning the fact that too many Hispanic teens aren’t finishing school, the majority culture would strive to make sure that the largest subgroup of younger Americans will be better educated.

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Cousin #7

The youngest of us, he came to America when he was two. I was twelve at the time, and I was in charge of holding his hand while he walked into the country. He threw a fit at the border station for some unknown reason, and I had to drag him into America kicking and screaming, quite literally.

He is the son of Aunt #2, and as such was orphaned before he could form concrete memories of his parents. My mother adopted him, so my cousin became my brother.

As a child, he fluctuated between precocious awareness of his high intelligence and traumatizing flashbacks of the harrowing start to his life.

A week after he arrived, he ran into my room screeching in fear. “Las bombas! Las bombas!” he screamed as he grabbed me. The problem, my mother explained to me, was that he had heard a plane go over our house. He associated that sound with the imminent dropping of bombs.

Cousin #7 soon adjusted to life in America, however, and his ability to conjure adventure out of the most mundane setting quickly became apparent. On his second day of kindergarten, he came home topless. When my mother asked him what happened to his shirt, he said he didn’t know. For reasons never explained or even grasped at, he had literally lost his shirt, and it never reappeared.

On the way to midnight mass one Christmas Eve, he broke away from us and climbed the snowplowed mountain in front of the church. He was already at the top of the hill and forming snowballs when my mother caught up to him.

“Malcriado!” she said. “Come down, now!”

He had created a formidable arsenal and was sizing up potential targets when she yelled at him, and with great hesitation, he slid down the hill and left his trove of snowballs behind.

As a teenager, he developed an almost psychotic work ethic. One summer, he worked an import-export tent at my hometown’s weeks-long festival. While virtually every adolescent showed up at the festival grounds to dance to cover bands and drink until throwing up, Cousin #7 was handling merchandise and lifting boxes and making change. His calm tone and laidback smile made people trust him, and they usually bought more than they had planned. Many innocent Midwesterners left the tent with a leather wallet from Bogotá or a stuffed lizard from Tegucigalpa or a set of maracas from Caracas. He is just that charming.

Years later, he did me the favor of becoming one of the groomsmen at my wedding. But unfortunately, I haven’t seen him in years.

This is because he is the only one of the cousins to return to El Salvador. The reasons that Cousin #7 lives there are too complex and outright baffling to cover in a single post.

Suffice to say that he has married a local girl and now has an adorable son and daughter. The girl, in particular, looks just like he did as a toddler. I don’t know if she or her brother are prone to the grand schemes and misadventures of their father, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are.

In any case, I hope to visit them soon. It will be good to see my brother again.

Unintended Consequences

The good people of Arizona are counting the days. In just a few weeks, SB 1070 kicks in. At that time, every illegal immigrant in the state will be rounded up, processed for deportation, and kicked out.

Well, at least that’s the thinking among the anti-immigrant crowd.

However, Arizona citizens might be dismayed to discover that banishing all their undocumented workers will not cause rainbows to magically appear all over the state. Those who supported the law for economic reasons (ie, “Illegals get a free ride and cost us too much”) may receive a particularly unpleasant surprise.

According to the Arizona Republic, implementing the law will strain the state’s legal system and overburden the jails. If the same number of illegal immigrants are processed as in previous years, it will run Arizona at least an extra million bucks or so annually to take care of them. Keep in mind that “local police will presumably find more illegal immigrants than before.”

This estimate is just the direct cost of SB 1070. The Arizona Republic also reports that foreclosures may increase, because there will be fewer immigrants renting apartments and buying houses. That will not be good news for the state’s stagnant housing market.

Also keep in mind that many studies have pointed out that illegal immigrants often add more to the economy than they take. Adding these factors to the equation makes the new law seem fiscally insane.

However, maybe Arizona will still come out ahead. For starters, they may not be on the hook for all those processing and deportation fees after all. According to USA Today, SB 1070 “may be prompting a mass dispersion of Hispanics — both legal and illegal — from the state.”

Apparently, many Latinos aren’t in a big hurry to see if they get pulled over in Phoenix for looking suspiciously brown. So they’re taking off for someplace else right now.

Supporters of the law must be ecstatic at his news, anecdotal as it is, because it proves that all one has to do to get rid of a loathed ethnic group is pass a draconian law targeting them. Then they’ll flee.

Yes, it moves Arizona closer to the day when the state will consist entirely of old conservatives (mostly white), and rattlesnakes. I guess that’s the way they want it.

But wait, because there’s another kooky development on the horizon.

According to Newsweek, all this screaming and yelling is unnecessary, because the whole fistfight over illegal immigration will soon take resolve itself.

This is due to the fact that the birth rate in Mexico is declining rapidly. Along with the decrease in illegal immigration (and it has gone down, no matter what you’ve heard), it means that illegal immigration in the future “won’t be nearly as overwhelming as the deluge of the 1990s and early 2000s.” In fact, Gordon Hanson, an economics professor, says in the article that “I wouldn’t be surprised if Arizona starts pleading for Mexican workers who can help them in their retirement homes.”

And that’s the final twist in this ugly tale.

There’s a perverse irony to the idea that states such as Arizona will, years from now, be clamoring for young Latinos to immigrate. At that point, there will be a lot of “What SB 1070? We were just kidding.” It’s sort of like that scene in the otherwise shitty movie The Day After Tomorrow, where Americans rush into Mexico to escape the killer cold.

So Arizona, and the rest of us, can relax about immigration… at least until we get old and there are not enough young people (Hispanic or otherwise) to fund our Social Security and clean up after us.

But it’s best not to dwell on that one too much.

Lazy Day

Hispanics are used to being insulted and denigrated. After all, there are a wide variety of colorful slurs and cultural putdowns from which the bigot can choose.

However, “lazy” has never seemed to stick. When it is applied to us, it seems to tumble out in an almost haphazard way. It’s as if the racist doesn’t really believe it, and is just hurling epithets that sound good. After all, how can Latinos be lazy if they’re working hard to invade America and then steal everybody’s job? That sounds like quite a strenuous chore to me.

The stereotype of the shiftless Latino pinnacled back in the days when welfare cheats were the biggest boogieman that white America had to face. Even then, it was scarier to paint African Americans as lazy. That imagery still resonates with true haters. After all, Hispanics don’t have a Stepin Fetchit as cultural shorthand.

In recent years, the claim that Hispanics are lazy has been further diminished. The cliché of the sweaty Latino knocking himself out to install your roof or finish your garden or clean your hotel room has come to the fore.

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A Tale of Two Sports

I’m so horribly, terribly angry about how the U.S. team was robbed in their World Cup match against… who was it again? Um, I’m going to guess… Canada? No, it was Belgium, right?

Never mind, I can’t carry on this charade anymore. The truth is that I could not care less about the World Cup. I’ve never been a soccer fan, and that doesn’t change whenever this mega-event comes around.

But saying that I’m indifferent to soccer is likely to provoke judgment and scorn, which is a complete 180 from a generation ago, when only freaks and outcasts acknowledged an interest in the sport. This is because in the multicultural, global-village world in which we now live, many Americans are eager to prove their international bona fides.

As such, dismissing soccer is like saying you don’t like sushi, or have never seen a French movie. The person who has enjoyed those things may smirk and say, “How very American of you” and dismiss you as a parochial ignoramus.

Of course, many Americans really are parochial ignoramuses, but that’s another post.

In any case, the World Cup carries an extra burden for American Hispanics. After all, soccer is ridiculously popular in Latin America. Furthermore, the World Cup is a time for immigrants and their first-generation offspring to bond and root for the mother country.

However, I just can’t get into it – not because I think soccer is stupid or boring. Indeed, I will watch the whole damn series rather than sit through five minutes of a golf tournament. But the sport has never resonated with me, which puts me on the defensive.

For the record, I’m not big on basketball either, although I thought it was nice that my local Lakers won. Well, I did think it was good news, until I saw how certain people celebrated downtown.

Yes, it was a good old-fashioned LA sports riot. Fortunately, no one was killed, and the destruction and number of injuries were not as bad as some other outbreaks of this type.

Still, the violence brought out the worst elements in American culture, and I’m not just talking about the thugs who took to the streets. Internet commentary is blistering with accusations of illegal immigrants torching LA and Hispanics on welfare who look for any reason to riot and wetbacks running around out of control and… well, you get the picture.

A few hoodlums pounce on an opportunity to wreck havoc, and many Americans are only too happy to paint it as an essential trait of all Hispanics. I suppose I should point out that riots happen all over the world over sporting events. For example, when the Celtics won the championship recently, a similar scene occurred.

It doesn’t look like many Hispanics were involved in that one, but I’m sure we got blamed.

There was even rioting in Montreal over a recent hockey game. Think about that: the most polite people in the world freaked out over a sporting event! And nary a Latino was to be found on the scene.

Yes, the way Americans (and apparently, Canadians) celebrate their team’s victories is depressing. Perhaps I need to reassess this soccer thing. Maybe I should get into this more civilized display of athletic competition.

Hey, maybe I’ll root for Scotland. I hear that they don’t have any hooligan fans.

Rights for You and Me and Them

I haven’t written about immigration in, I don’t know, about nine minutes now. So despite my wish to move on to Latino-themed subjects that are more fun (i.e., wouldn’t a post about the chupacabra myth be cool right now?), events in the real world have conspired to once again force me to address this lighthearted, jovial topic.

You see, recently, the Supreme Court ruled that certain Constitutional rights don’t cease to exist just because the accused person is a noncitizen.

The cases didn’t even involve illegal immigrants. The Latino at the center of the first decision, Jose Padilla, has lived legally in the United States for forty years.

By the way, this isn’t the same Jose Padilla who is currently locked up for supporting Al-Qaeda. But maybe there’s something sinister about the name, because this Padilla was convicted of running drugs.

His lawyer failed to tell him that he would be kicked out of the country if Padilla pled guilty, and sure enough, deportation proceedings began against him. But the Supreme Court said that Padilla’s Sixth Amendment rights, which call for adequate legal representation, had been denied. The vote was 7-2, with that lovable duo of Scalia and Thomas dissenting.

In the other case, the Court was unanimous (a rarity these days) in overturning the deportation of Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a legal resident. The guy was busted for holding a miniscule amount of pot and then, a year later, was caught with “one tablet of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax without a prescription.” The Court said maybe this was not the aggravated felony that is required to kick out a legal resident.

The cases are basically reaffirmations that Constitutional rights are not reserved solely for citizens. This might not seem like it has to be emphasized every now and then, but another news event showed that some Americans don’t believe that immigrants deserve basic human rights, let alone Constitutional ones.

On Long Island, a man named Jeffrey Conroy was recently convicted of manslaughter for stabbing an Ecuadoran immigrant to death. According to prosecutors, Conroy was part of a gang that “targeted Latinos for assaults – part of a sport they called ‘beaner-hopping.’ ”

The fact that Conroy wasn’t convicted of murder is intriguing, as one must wonder if the lesser charge of manslaughter would have even been an option if he had stabbed, say, a white woman to death. But of course, Conroy and his thugs had no interest in attacking their fellow whites.

He was part of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a pattern of ethnic intolerance going back ten years” on Long Island. The Center adds that Latinos there live “in an environment of intolerance and violence directed at them. The atmosphere of intolerance was stoked in part by anti-immigrant groups and some county leaders, along with an indifferent police department.”

These events show that it will be some time before certain Americans agree that Hispanics have a right to live among them. And it will be even longer before a few others agree that Hispanics have a right to live at all.

The Flip Side

I want to thank Chris, Rose, and Ankhesen Mie for their recent comments, as well as everyone who responded to my most recent article for the Huffington Post. The 160 or so comments I got on HuffPo are the most I’ve received for one article. And only a few people there were nuts and/or unruly.

That post, of course, was about the shooting death of a teenager, which clearly is a depressing topic. So these days, I’m looking for a sliver of optimism out there. I may have found it.

Now, I’ve written before that I’m a fan of PostSecret. This is despite the fact that too many of the secrets are actually just sappy affirmations. And I also think it’s odd that the creator of the site includes at least one image of a female breast in every week’s batch (that’s not a criticism; just an observation).

In any case, PostSecret may have achieved a goal that all we bloggers have, which is to save a life. This accomplishment has, for some reason, eluded me on this site.

But PostSecret may have done it. A few weeks ago, the site ran the following:

Yes, for some inexplicable reason, the illegal immigrant who made this card feels that Americans would be happier if he just dropped dead. I don’t know where he got that idea… unless it was the nonstop barrage of right-wing media outlets blaming the undocumented for everything from the economic collapse to imaginary crime waves, with rage-filled commentary that implied individuals without papers are less than human.

But really, I’m sure that had nothing to do with it.

So did the illegal immigrant jump to his or her death? No one knows.

With hope, however, this person saw the response that the secret provoked, and maybe this changed his or her mind.

“Time” magazine reports that, because of the postcard, “within 24 hours, nearly 20,000 people had signed up for a Facebook group titled ‘Please don’t jump,’ which was … linking in thousands of supportive comments.”

PostSecret adds that in the week since the secret was posted, “over 50,000 of you joined an online community offering encouragement and help” and that earlier this week, “hundreds are meeting on the Golden Gate Bridge to take a stand against suicide.”

I have to admit that this is quite a showing of support for one scared illegal immigrant. The outcome serves as a much-needed antidote to the hateful comments about the shooting death of Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca (again, see my previous post).

Does this mean that there is still a kernel of compassion left in the increasingly jingoistic American soul? Is it possible that many people see the undocumented as fully human rather than as pests to be exterminated?

Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?

The Fate of the Anasazi

Occasionally, people will ask me what race I am. This gets into the whole debate over the differences between race and ethnicity. But in causal conversation, it’s just easier to say, “I’m Hispanic.” In any case, I often reciprocate and ask about their background.

The oddest answer came from a friend of mine, years ago. It was obvious that he was white, but I’ve noticed that most people of this hue prefer to be a little more specific. You see, I expected my friend to say that his genetic makeup was German or English.

This raises a good question: does nationality suffice as an identifier of ethnicity, or is it just superfluous?

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Shoot First, Ask Questions Never

In a recent post, I wrote about how violent crime is down in states that border Mexico. This is true despite the repeated fear-mongering of right-wingers, who insist that millions of illegal immigrants are swarming American cities to murder, rape, and desecrate at will.

As it turns out, however, this week offered a spectacularly bloody example of violence along the border. Unfortunately, the violence was committed by us.

You’ve heard, no doubt, that a fifteen-year-old boy was gunned down near Cuidad Juarez. A U.S. Border Patrol agent shot the teen, supposedly because the boy was among a crowd of Mexican kids throwing rocks at the agent, who feared for his life. Others have said that the agent freaked out and started firing into Mexico, killing a kid who was no threat.

The victim, Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, was either “a straight-A student” or a “repeat juvenile offender” with a “history of involvement with human smuggling,” depending whose story you believe. Of course, it doesn’t really matter. Either the action was self-defense, or it was murder.

I don’t know if the shooting was legit. From this one video clip, it certainly looks like the Border Agent overreacted. But to verify that, we need an investigation.

One would think this is a fairly reasonable request. However, the opinion of many on the right is that even looking into the shooting is an unpatriotic travesty. We’ve heard that the agent should get a medal, and that questioning his decision to open fire is nothing more than liberal, hate-America, criminal-coddling demagoguery. But that’s not the most intense aspect of this story.

For that, one needs only to read the online comments posted about the shooting. My favorite was the straightforward “One down, 12 million to go.” We’ll set aside the fact that the boy was not actually one of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in America (his body was found in Mexico). The implication, of course, is that we need a systematic liquidation of the undocumented.

I have to assume that the commentator was spouting off and didn’t mean his post to be a call to genocide (of course, who really knows). But many others have posted similar sentiments.

The point is that regardless of one’s opinion of illegal immigration, it is beyond vile to gloat about a teenage boy getting a bullet in the head. It’s particularly grotesque that many of the people who post such comments consider themselves fine examples of American virtue and/or Christian compassion.

Just recently, I wrote that sending more troops to the border seemed odd unless they were authorized to use lethal force. And in such cases, “I doubt that all but the most hardened Minuteman will be indifferent to the inevitable sight of a gunned-down family.”

Clearly, I was wrong. Many Americans are so full of the milk of human kindness that it causes them not one pang of disgust to hear about a child shot down. In fact, to many, it may even be a cause for rejoicing.

I’ve written that the first step in immigration reform is to see the undocumented as humans, rather than as some virus that needs to be eradicated. This seemingly obvious statement, unfortunately, needs to be reiterated from time to time.

Again, when it comes to this case, I don’t know if the Border Patrol agent was justified or if he’s some trigger-happy nut. But it certainly isn’t un-American to ask the question.

Nor is it admirable to do online cartwheels when a teenager gets killed. And that’s true, as hard as it is for some people to believe, even if the kid is Mexican.

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