Feature image by Shepard Fairey
Recently, it’s been hard to know where my well-informed understanding of current events and knowledge of American history ends and my major depressive disorder begins. For those of you who are conscientious citizens–or have a modicum of empathy for your fellow human beings–you do not need to be reminded of how disturbing recent events are. Everyday there is something new to be ashamed of: the passage of another ill-conceived law, a random talking head on TV spewing anti-immigrant vitriol, or a downright racist, hate-filled sound bite from a red-faced, red-state, right-wing extremist media personality. But I’m not just hearing nonsense from them. I have recently defriended a few people from my social network for having, what I would call, straight-up ass-backwards ideas on immigration. It’s not that I cannot tolerate opposing views, but seriously, these particular debates deteriorated quickly and ended in me being on the receiving end of slurs about burritos and tacos and having a wet back–even after I informed my sparring partners that I was born in Chicago and my taco-loving orientation was none of their business. Others employed less overt, more eloquent forms of the same racism. Of those positions I have heard, let’s recap the ones I find most annoying:
1. “Being here illegally is against the law. Don’t you respect the law?”
My personal favorite. This is the first line of defense for all those small-minded people who need to be told what is right and wrong as opposed to exerting all that energy thinking critically. The law is not perfect. There were many laws that were once a part of this land that have been, thankfully, abolished; those related to slavery and those restricting the franchise to property-owning white males are top of mind. Yes, it’s against the law to be here without the proper documentation. But when we consider how many undocumented people are in the US today and when we consider their contributions to our economy and society, deportation and additional state criminalization do not seem like fair or appropriate legal practices for many cases. Most immigrants are law-abiding and are here simply working in whatever capacity they can, trying to maintain their families and trying to live in America as Americans. Immigrants don’t risk their lives to get to America because they don’t want to be a part of it. They are often willing to give their very lives to be here. In many of these cases, then, there are more practical solutions to dealing with the undocumented than deportation or criminalization of their existence. Seems logical that laws should change to reflect that where necessary.
Also, instead of using someone else’s laws as my moral compass, I use my own sense of empathy. You know, that thing that makes you wince when you see someone being hurt or treated unfairly? That thing people need to live together? I do not believe it is right to split up families or to deport minors who were brought to the US not of their own volition. I do think undocumented students who make the US their home should be free to continue contributing to the growth of their communities and this nation by having unfettered access to education and job opportunities. The same goes for undocumented adults who have only known this country as their home. Not having papers should not negate your existence or contributions to this country. Additionally, I think levying additional state charges against those committing the federal crime of being here illegally is fiscally imprudent in that it will divert much-needed resources that local law enforcement needs to combat real crime.
For many of these people who use this law argument, there are some other laws they forget. They are laws that are designed to teach people to empathize. They are laws from the same set of beliefs so proudly paraded around when it comes time to decorate a Christmas tree in public or burn a cross on your lawn or whatever else they do when they exercise those First Amendment rights they can’t stand to share with undocumented Americans. Hey, Minutemen, ever hear of these crazy laws: Love they neighbor? Thou shalt not kill? Do onto others as you would have done onto you? Some people would say God’s laws trump man’s law. I wouldn’t say that; I’m an atheist. I say, if you can’t figure out how to live in peace here on this earth right now, then take both your hypocritical Bible laws and your b.s. man-made laws and shove ’em deep up your… oh wait, that’s against the law in some places, too.
2. “Well, my forefathers came here legally.”
Yes, they did, in so much that your forefathers created the laws that made it legal for you to be here after they stole this land; or, in so much that your forefathers’ race, religion and class were considered desirable by the above-named law-writing land-stealers. So, fine, your forefathers entered legally. Do you want a cookie? What does that have to do with the millions of people here now that are undocumented which is what we are talking about, right? Next.
3. “What’s the big deal anyway? I have to carry my ID all the time. If American citizens are concerned about being detained or stopped, they should just cooperate with the police.”
Um, how do I articulate the unadulterated rage I feel when I hear this one? Ah, yes, here it is: Fuck You. There are citizens and residents and other inbetweeners–people applying to change their status. In the same way carrying your social security card is not advised, it would be ill-advised to carry around important, typically irreplaceable documents regarding your status if you are in the process of obtaining a different status. For obvious reasons, it seems really dangerous and just stupid to walk around with something that important at all times. More importantly, having some cop walk up to you and demand ID because you look like you’re illegal is, well, just some fascist police-state nonsense. There have already been a number of cases in which American citizens have been harassed and detained because of how they look–like the recent case of the 70-year-old American citizen of Chinese and Spanish decent who has been stopped twice already even though this law has yet to take effect.
Anyone who has ever been stopped by police for no reason can tell you how scary it can be. Arizona’s SB1070 is structured in such a way as to codify–if not completely mandate–harassment of brown and Latino citizens by police. Moreover, what would happen if you were walking down the street in sunny Arizona one day and you happened to get that cop who enjoys that good old American pastime known as “fucking-with-you-just-because-he-can”? In this particular case, let’s say the game involved tossing your ID card into the wind. Not likely to happen you say? Well, it is likely to happen. I have personally seen police come to the scene of a crime and arrest the victim. It is not unheard of for police to plant incriminating items on people or fabricate reasons to stop people. There is nothing quite as dehumanizing as being locked up. Being innocent only makes the wonderful experience of incarceration even better. All your property is taken from you, and you don’t always get it back. You’re searched and tossed into overcrowded cells. Your body and physical space are completely invaded. You may get mixed up in general population with violent criminals and others who would probably be best served by a mental health facility. My heart goes out to anyone who gets incarcerated for committing crimes that didn’t endanger anyone. My heart especially goes out to incarcerated immigrants, who’s backs and sweat are used to to power our economy.
For the people who don’t understand why cooperation is so hard or why it’s such a big deal to be stopped by the police, I invite them to look up some recent popular cases of police brutality. Do it. Go to your preferred search engine, and type in POLICE BRUTALITY. Hit Enter. Hard to stomach, right? These are only the publicized ones mind you. So, homie, maybe if someone threatened to beat the Mexican piss out of you, you’d get it. Until then, you should try to be a little less naive about the abuses that are routinely committed by those undereducated, poorly-paid automatons in uniform and more open to the idea that law-abiding citizens would not want to be harassed by the police.
4. “Illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans. They are ruining the economy”
I hear less of this one, but I still hear it. And I still laugh in the face of anyone who says it. Ha! You know who took your job? Some CEO, COO, CFO or SOB. He sold it to someone on the other side of the world who is probably making some children do your job now. Or maybe the SOB bought a robot to do it. In any case, an immigrant didn’t steal your job. A top-level executive traded it off to increase a bottom-line. While he was at it, he also jacked your pension plan. Now he has more riches than a villain in a science-fiction thriller, enough loot to fly to the moon or cryogenically bank his stem cells and the resultant embryos–all while continuing to profit obscenely as a slick, black, deathwave of an oil spill continues to grow. Meanwhile, you can’t pay your mortgage or keep up with your energy bills. What’s wrong with this picture? Immigrants, of course! They are the ones ruining the economy. It’s doubly hard to see proponents of this argument slaughter the nearest scapegoat because they cannot get close enough to capitalist pigs and dirty rat bastards who are the real thieves. I feel sorry for the scapegoats, of course, and sorry for the slaughterers with their half-brains and all.
5. “Ethnic studies courses breed hatred.”
No, ethnic studies breed knowledge and understanding, which breed respect and power. I know history repeats itself but this latest absurdity about banning ethnic studies is so very uninspired. I mean, America, come on, can’t we get some more original ways to oppress entire populations? Yawn. So, Arizona is taking minority narratives and histories and silencing them; and in Texas, they are rewriting books. I hear the American Free-Market Christian Newspeak Family Coalition is taking over that task. They are busy right now replacing all instances of the word “capitalism” with “free-enterprise system” and “poverty” with “inherent inferiority doled out by God to weak and lowly sinners.” Basically, this ethnic study ban and book rewriting thing are tantamount to a good old fashioned Dark Ages book-burning session. Let me go get the pitchforks and I’ll meet you in the townsquare. (How is Arizona going to do away with all those ethnic studies books, anyway? Maybe they will start using them as currency when their economy collapses under the weight of their lack of tourism, expensive police state and general ignorance.) But, regardless, because history repeats itself, this issue may not matter much. Go ahead, fuckers, take the books, stop the classes, silence the teachers. Let me just get my pen and paper and we can start the clock at 2010. We’ll just get our writers, artists, teachers and leaders together and we’ll start anew writing, creating, sharing and protecting our histories and culture, and in a few years, voila; we will have whole new history books filled with new, fresh tales of oppression. Us ethnics will be back hating you in no time! Ready? Are you ready? Okay, GO! Wait, you are going too fast, Arizona. I can’t write that fast…
6. “The majority of America favors this kind of tough legislation.”
Based on some recent popular polls by Rassmusen and Pew, we have heard that most Americans favor this kind of tough legislation. The “fact” that America favors this legislation is then echoed in major media outlets, and then the apathetic or otherwise distracted public hears this and thinks aloud while sitting on their couches: “Well, I don’t pay attention to the politics much, so if most people are for it, well, maybe this is the right thing for the country. Hey, I need to change the channel, it’s time for Access Hollywood, ah-duurrrr.”
Thankfully, I have taken some social science courses and classes on data collection. These courses may be banned next, so I better go hide my books before someone comes to my house demanding I hand them over. Now, the most egregious error with the Pew study is in it’s methodology. It’s a phone-based methodology and if you haven’t noticed, we live in a cell phone, IM, SMS, email, internet world. If I call and survey only people with landline telephones and then try to say that those results apply to all of America, including American cellphone users (or those without phones at all), I would be one sloppy, lazy researcher. This particular kind of error reminds me of something taught in Social Science 101: The Landon vs. Roosevelt poll conducted by The Literary Digest. Literary Digest had a solid track record of predicting US Presidents but their streak ended when they predicted Landon would beat Roosevelt in a landslide. They used a mail methodology sending postcards to their readers only. Drawing sample from homeowners who read the Literary Digest during The Great Depression will not give you the representativeness necessary to draw accurate conclusions. Roosevelt held office longer than any president in history. Clearly, the snobs at Literary Digest couldn’t read what was really going on with the public.
So, I want to believe that the people like us, who oppose and are outraged by the recent anti-immigration legislation madness, were out and about, busy making things happen, trying to take care of our business, families and communities. Since we were unable to answer calls and take stupid surveys, our idiot, rural, non-cellphone-having dinosaur compatriots were left to answer the survey instead. At least, that’s what I hope happened.
Ah, Hope. Remember that? On Election Night 2008, I stood in Grant Park with one million of my closest friends. We watched CNN report the outcome of each state on the Jumbotron next to the presidential podium. My particular position happened to be next to the media box. A giant camera with a bright light was fixed near us and occasionally would pan over us. We would shout and wave as the camera shot us from above and the same shot appeared on the Jumbotron. As more and more states were read off in favor of Obama, the crowd grew into something unreal. Considering that this was Chicago in November, even the 60 degree weather and rainclouds that held calm seemed preordained. When the election was finally called for Obama, the CNN camera cut from the sullen old faces at the Arizona McCain headquarters and jumped to us in Chicago. People hugged and kissed. People cried and rejoiced.
Someone a few feet next to me pointed at the screen and shouted, “Look at us! Look it’s us! Look what we did! We did it!” I looked at the screen and then back around, at the crowd I was in. I saw in our faces traces of blood from many continents. Each color representing a different obstacle surmounted; poverty, religious persecution, slavery, war and famine; a different history of oppression quieted in the roar of victory that night. Look at us. As long as I live, there will not be many things more beautiful than what I saw and felt that night. Hope was in the air. Look at us. Look what we did. A black man in the White House. We did this. We turned from fear and chose to hope, with which anything will be possible. But quieted only for one night were those histories of oppression. Less than two years later, and a brown face in this country recounts an all-too-familiar history of oppression. It is one of ‘the other’ and it is unwanted. Today, I feel only the dwindling reserves of hope: also known as desperation. Hope is all I have now. Hope that love will conquer hate and strength will conquer fear. Hope is what I have and, like my psychoactive medication, with each passing day I fear it is not strong enough.