On Gaza, the U.S. Border, and Latino Solidarity

I’m sitting on my grandma’s bed—AC blasting and TV blaring—watching the lifeless form of a 20-day-old infant being carried off-screen, dead along with nine others after Israel chose to bomb yet another UN school in Gaza, one that happened to be holding thousands of refugees. Body counts vary. But most estimate that 1,800 Palestinians have been killed in nearly a month of violence, along with almost 70 Israelis.

As both nations cautiously return to normalcy and the war draws to a close, many questions have been left unanswered. Amidst the rubble, the wailing parents, the explosions of rockets that fill the screen, my mind wanders. And I’m left pondering the many ways Brown people in the U.S. have failed Gaza, have failed Palestine, have failed the Middle East, have failed Arab-Americans—the many ways we have failed to step up.

Latin American governments haven’t waited to act. Chile, El Salvador, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil have all recalled their diplomats from Israel. Costa Rica has demanded an immediate ceasefire, while Cuba is calling for a UN investigation into Israel’s possible war crimes in Gaza; Mexico has signed onto the proposal. Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay have all condemned the violence and use of “excessive” and “disproportionate” force. Bolivia pulled no punches, calling Israeli a “terrorist state.” On the other side of the pond, the In Crowd of Spanish film has called on the European Union to oppose the siege and on Israel to end the blockade, calling the attacks “genocide.” And UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described Sunday’s school bombing as a “gross violation of international humanitarian law.”

But U.S. opinion has proved, perhaps predictably, split. And despite the fact that Latinos as a demographic group are becoming more progressive, only 22 percent of both Latinos and white people believe Israel is using excessive force in this latest conflict.

My heart sunk when I first read that number. Because despite all the rhetoric we spew about solidarity, about supporting other communities of color, according to the survey, most Latinos side with Israel. Divergent opinions on what’s happening in Gaza aside, there’s no denying that one player in the conflict has more bombs, more money, more political power. An armed group battling one of the most advanced military states on the planet—that’s no even match; the game is rigged.

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir.

Having matured in the shadow of the United States, Latinos should understand the asymmetrical nature of the violence in Israel/Palestine. Gaza’s on-the-ground reality is a compact horror beyond what most of us are capable of fathoming. But in a broader sense, Latinos (and other people of color) have been there: in Tenochtitlan in 1521, in Chile in 1973, in Central America for the whole of the 80s and in Cuba for well over a century. And our population experiences miniature versions of that oppressive state violence both on the border—Latinos are the only other peoples literally walled off from another country—among the undocumented, forced to live in constant fear of a detention, deportation or worse.

So let’s talk about solidarity. Not just with the people of Gaza, but with our sisters and brothers throughout the Arab world and the diaspora in the West. We’ve got more in common than most of us realize.

Think I’m stretching the connection?

Ann Coulter, my personal favorite mainstream media maniac, linked Netanyahu’s Gaza policy with an ideal way forward for U.S. immigration policy, arguing that the situations are eerily similar:

More than one hundred tunnels [like those used by Hamas] have been found on our border, to smuggle in weapons, guns; they’re invading, they’re murder, they’re raping. The head of the DEA said about a year ago that he thinks the surge of homicides in Chicago is a Mexican drug cartel. We are being invaded, and I just wish people would talk about our border … the way we talk about Israel’s border. We need a Netanyahu here. Yes, sometimes Palestinian kids get killed. That’s because they’re associated with a terrorist organization that is harming Israel. [Israel] is a country, [it has] borders and Netanyahu is enforcing them. Why can’t we do that in America?

Let me give you a second—which hopefully you’ll use to wonder aloud: “What the fuck?”

Few would deny Israel played a role in facilitating violence with the Palestinians. And in our crowd—who could argue U.S. policy both foreign and domestic, hasn’t played a major role in our current immigration crisis, or in the Middle East for that matter? And in both situations—Coulter, Netanyahu and Obama all seem to believe—the politically powerless should suffer the consequences of fighting back against aggression from two of the most powerful states in today’s world.

Disenfranchising Arabs/Muslims and Latin Americans doesn’t stop at U.S. borders. Because in a single day, everything changed for Latinos, Arab-Americans and everyone who looks like us.

September 11 was a tragedy for the country. But the political aftershock of the disaster wreaked irreversible damage on both of our communities. We’ve become the societal pariah du jour—the terrorist and the illegal, the religious fanatic and the freeloader, the jihadi and the Mara Salvatrucha. When our faces appear on TV screens, we inspire loathing and xenophobia; our communities—monitored, deported, raided, attacked—are living a shared reality. And a brown face, any brown face, can fall prey to the popular criminalization of Muslims and Latinos, whether they’re Indian or Filipino, indigenous Americans or North African.

Arab- and Latino-Americans—alongside the Black community—have been hard-hit by voter-suppression laws, practices that keep our communities disenfranchised and far away from political power. We’re the targets of hate crimes, political hate speech, media fear-mongering.

To say that by focusing on Gaza, we’re anti-Semitic; that by organizing around Central American refugee children, we’re ignoring the violence in Chicago—it’s codswallop. Because for people of color in Gaza, the U.S. and around the world, the message we’re told to internalize the same: Our lives aren’t worth as much as the lives of those in power. And to bicker with one another over that fact only serves to cause infighting, to distract us from the shared struggle ahead.

Together, we’re stronger.

So, my fellow Latinos, my fellow people of color, fellow white folks—humans: Let’s make no mistake. Gaza is not an Arab issue, not a Muslim issue. It’s an issue for all of us. And as Latinos—and Arab- or Muslim-Americans—we’re at a unique juncture in our shared histories. Let’s forge ahead, start building bridges that will connect our communities to one another, and with other communities of color. To cast aside the labels and combat the hate that’s meant to divide us; we’re bigger than that.

Anyway, you know what they say about el pueblo unído.

[Photo: Flickr/Albert White]

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