Wednesday, April 28, 2010

AZ-holes: where I get all political... again

So, , you knew this was coming... right?

And wouldn't you know it? It is long! (you have been warned)

You might be surprised to hear that I am actually not very confrontational, even if I am a tad intense. But there are two things you should know: I hate injustice and I always stick up for the underdog.

There are only a few political issues that can really get my blood boiling. One, as you have seen, is healthcare. The other..., well, I'll explain it this way...

A few years ago, an ex-boyfriend of my mom's, who really liked my hubs and me, and so still kept in contact even after they broke up, sent me an email. It was a mass email, to all of his contacts. It was a joke, supposed to be funny. It was an analogy of sorts about a a robber breaking into your house, and then staying on for free, offering to prune your roses and such, which was a nice gesture, but at the end of the day it was still a robber who had broken into your house. Do you see the analogy? It was about illegal immigration. My blood was boiling.

To say I was livid is an understatement. I responded by email and clicked reply all. I made sure everyone who had received that email, people I didn't even know, knew how I felt about it. How dare he include me in an email, assuming I would agree or find it funny. Rants against immigration are offensive to me. I tried not to make it personal, just letting him know that I didn't agree and why and what I thought about the logic of the joke. I never heard from him again, but I guess I can live with that. Perhaps I was too harsh, and it's not like I want to alientate everyone who disagrees with my perspective, but if he couldn't take my own opinion in return, there is not much I can do.

This is what I know: at our worst, we are a country that is fundamentally, at its core, racist; at our best, we are racially hyper-aware, obsessed even, with race (look at the 2010 census and the myriad ways we have of classifying race vs. ethnicity—I literally had no idea how to classify my husband, and consider how it changes all the time as we define and redefine and define again what exactly race or ethnicity refer to, and what terms to use too refer to certain groups—terms that to me are mostly meaningless).

It doesn't matter that slavery ended over a century ago, and trust me, civil rights was not the end all of racial discrimination. It doesn't matter that Disney has finally made a few princesses that are "brownish" or that we succeeded in electing a black president (excuse me if I am not PC enough to use the term "African-American"--that is a different post). It doesn't matter that we express our never-ending love of Mexican food and that we name our streets "Loma Vista" and "Blancos Piedras".

It is not about individuals, about whether you or I believe we are racist or not; it's about how we treat "the other" collectively, in a systemic way.

We have treated immigrants dismally for centuries. Almost all groups have had their turn: Italians, Irish, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Latino. Some of these groups have eventually come to blend in, forming part of what we call "white." Other groups have not been as fortunate, if you will.

I am not an expert on Black-White relations, though I have read a bit, but I have read quite a lot about the history of tensions between Mexican immigrants and Anglos, especially in the Southwest; in fact, it was part of my research for my dissertation for my doctorate.

In a nutshell, there has always been conflict and it has always had a racial edge. It is a unique context: Mexican-Americans are the only ethnic group to come from a country that borders the US. It is also a very unique border situation: one of the richest most powerful countries in the world bordering a substantially poorer, developing country. Mexican-Americans are "returning" in one sense to land that once belonged to them, that was taken from them illegally, in many regards. Not just taken from the country that is Mexico, but tricked, manipulated, and taken by force from families of Mexican origin even after the conquest, even after the Treaty of Guadalupe.

I don’t understand the anger against immigrants. This is a country of immigrants; we all hail, varying only by number of generations, from elsewhere, and it is not like our ancestors had visas. The notion that once we are here, no one else should be able to come is absurd.

It is not original to blame immigrants for economic hardships or crime, it has been happening since the beginning. Some experts in the field say we have developed a love-hate relationship with Mexicans: we formally invite (see: Bracero program) or subtly entice them across the border when we need cheap labor, but when we face financial strain, they are persecuted and scapegoated and subjected to deportation acts such as "Operation Wetback" (no I am not making this up!)

The interesting thing is that overt negative racial attitudes are no longer acceptable. So we have found more subtle ways of discriminating. One way this happens is through linguistic discrimination, for example, we discriminate against accent or non-standard dialects, and there is a definite anti-hispanic component to "English-only" movements and legislation.

Much of this is justified by saying that "if they come here, they should learn English." Well, that is very convenient in theory, but we are a land of immigrants, and very few groups have landed on our shores, already fluent in English. Hispanics, as a group, learn English faster than any other immmigrant group in history. In fact, by the 3rd generation, very few of them speak any Spanish.

Plus, for the few of us who speak another language, we know it is not an overnight process. It takes years... and not eveyone has the luxury of the time or money it costs to take classes at a university. We are not that patient anyway; we want them all to speak only English NOW. And we don't want them to "practice" on us in the meantime. We don't want to hear broken English, it is so taxing. We don't want to guess at meanings, and we want as little accent as possible. We are also threatened by people speaking other languages in public. Linguists have documented all of this, and I know of so many personal anecdotes.

When my husband first started his job here, he spoke English fairly well, but with a little more of an accent than he has now. One of his first experiences on a job, he was introduced to someone who lamented right in front of him that: "It would be nice to see more English speakers." When I heard this, as protective as I am, I almost hunted the ass down to ask him how many languages he spoke, barely English, I am presuming.

We complain that illegal immigrants take our jobs, but I think we all know that isn't the case. We also complain that they use up economic resources: medicaid, welfare, food stamps, schooling. This is probably true to some extent, and some states have more of an issue than others. I have read several economic analyses, however, looking at the overall economic effect of immigration. Considering all of the benefits, such as cheap labor and consumer spending, it is either a draw, or we come out slightly ahead in benefits. Immigration is not the economic drain that it is claimed to be, in heated immigrant rhetoric.

We have also made attempts at discriminating according to legal status. Do I think a country should be able to regulate its borders and assure that people enter legally? Sure, but the issue is complicated. We issue thousands of work visas to educated workers in high-tech fields to fill a need in the job market. Yet, we are much more reticent to issue thousands of work visas to migrant laborers or day laborers, or people who fill the huge need for menial labor that our country has. Why is that?

Could it be this: we want migrant laborers to pick our strawberries, so they don’t cost $20 a pound; we want them to take care of our children for next to nothing; we want them to kill and clean the animals we eat; we want them to build houses and roads in the Texas and Arizona heat. BUT… we don’t want them to stay permanently, just as long as we need them. We don’t want them to organize into unions. We don’t want them to have any legal recourse when we exploit them. We want to give them sub-standard pay and provide sub-standard working and living conditions but no benefits and no job-security, no contracts that a work visa would require. The system we have allowed to exist is convenient… for US.

It would be easy to solve the problem, if we really wanted to, if it would really benefit us to end illegal immigration. We could make work visas for laborers easier to get; we could allow them to work here legally, imagine that! We can’t solve the problem by punishing the poverty-stricken immigrant who risked everything, left family behind, looking for a better life and happens to be here illegally, which we consider a crime. They wouldn’t come if there wasn’t a demand. If we really want to end illegal immigration, we heavily fine the businesses that hire them illegally, which we don’t seem to consider criminal, though they are clearly the winners in terms of financial benefit. If you make them pay enough, there will be no incentive to hire them.

The problem, as lawmakers well know, is that many businesses need cheap labor, agro-businesses in particular. We can’t fine them for finding a way to feed the country and make a profit doing it. If we don’t have migrant workers, food rots in the fields, rots on the trees, and no one else wants to pluck feathers from dead chickens for a living. We need illegal immigrant; we just don’t want that many. We want to curb the flow, not regulate it or legalize it.

The problem with all legislation that has targeted immigrants is that there is no way to discriminate between legal and illegal. The deportation act, Operation Wetback, mentioned above, deported quite a few legal citizens. There is no “reasonable suspicion.” You look Mexican or you don’t. You speak Spanish or you don’t. You have an accent or you don’t. The issue is that there are legal American citizens who look Mexican, don’t speak English well, or at all, or with an accent. There is no way to enforce the law without racial profiling and without asking legal citizens to prove they are legal. There is no way to enforce it without persecuting the group who least deserves legal persecution.

If we want to solve illegal immigration, then solve it. But we have to have the “cojones” to do it in an ethical and moral way: by punishing those who most benefit from illegal immigration… ourselves. We have to accept that our fruit and vegetables will be more expensive, our roads will take longer to build, and that (godhelpus) we won’t be able to afford a gardener, a house-keeper, or a nanny.

P.S.: If I were a gambling man, I’d say this is political provocation. This is going to fire up with redneck right, much like the issue of gay marriage did winning Bush’s second term.


Abby said...

Excellent post Annje. I agree with you 100%. I was actually talking about this yesterday with a student and we touched on lot of things you talked about. Thanks for posting this!

Eileen said...

Yes to all of this. Arizona has some very freakish policies, like the tent jails in Maricopa county. It can become the new paraiah state, as far as I'm concerned. I feel sorry for the people whose lives this will impact and for the freethinking AZ-ers who have to live in this midst.

A great post.

mosey said...

Eloquent, passionate, 100% correct.

What else can I say?

Marmo said...

Are there more people informed and with common sense, like you, in the U.S.? Do they vote? How a civilized and developed country like yours with so many great things, can create such laws? I know there´s no perfect country in this world, (mine is far from being on top of the list), but seeing what has happened in the U.S. legislation in the past decade, maybe you should think twice if you really want to keep the phrase "land of the free" in your national anthem.
I think you are right in every word you have written.

Phoenix said...

Amen, Annje! We are so incredibly xenophobic as a's disgusting. And yes, Arizona has always been a bit off to the side of what everyone else is thinking - they're one of the only states that refuses to recognize Martin Luthor King, Jr's birthday as a holiday.

Cute, no?

Sara said...

Excellent post. I wrote about it too. I revieved a similar joke from a relative of mine a few years ago and I hit "reply all" and told them all off. We didn't speak for a while.

Aaron said...

Fortunately, it will certainly be struck down. It is, however, disturbing to think that there are enough people who think like this to get a bill passed.

Haven't they ever seen old WWII movies? "Show me your papers." How oppressive can they get.

Phoenix, you are right: they used to be the only state that did not recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but a widespread boycott of the state changed their minds.

mrs.notouching said...

We are currently in the process to get our Green Cards. I have an accent, but I "don't look like a foreigner" (people always tell me that as if it was a compliment...) I wish I could video tape some people's reactions when I open my mouth (especially when I was teaching) I keep meaning to write about it, but not sure if I would be brave enough to post it. One day.
Anyway, the point is... I adore you. This topic really hits home (I received the same joke from a "friend"). So thank you. Really.

Bex said...

I want to write a long response, but after two birthday parties for Jack I just don't have it in me right now. An excellent, well thought-out post, as I've come to expect from you when you go political :) My father is first-generation Italian, so while it doesn't affect me personally (besides the fact that one of my closest friends was exiled to Argentina for many years because her wife was Paraguayan and a) America doesn't want Paraguayans and b) America doesn't recognize them as married), I try to remember that I am only here because he came here. We all are! But we forget, like the selfish, spoiled, obese, excess-loving bunch of egoists we are. Anyway, will write a longer response, either here or on my blog.

Hope the packing is going well! Strange to think that soon you will be in the opposite situation. Soon you will be the stranger. It's good to put things in perspective, isn't it?

anymommy said...

Intelligent. Heartfelt. I agreed with so much and learned from the rest. Thank you for writing so passionately about this topic and helping me condense my thoughts and become informed in the process.