Saturday, March 25, 2006

Immigrant Song

The local Phoenix newspaper published this letter to the editor earlier in the week and it really upset me when I read it. Illegal immigration is a major political issue in this state.

I have to admit that Arizona and I have been going though our honeymoon period. I love the desert at dusk when you can see the wide open spaces and the mountains in the background. I've been pretending that I'm in the old west and it doesn't take much pretending; out here on the northeastern edge of Phoenix some people even ride horses to the supermarket. Anyway, I almost forgot that the old west had one other element which was absent in my fantasy: rednecks. People for whom "Remember the Alamo" means more than remembering where to return your rental car. I'm talking about people like those little men, with little minds. I believe they prefer the term minute instead of little, but they have no relationship at all to the revolutionary war militia who believed in freedom from tyranny. These rednecks are just hate mongers whose minute minds don't understand that their way of life depends on illegal immigration. They don't understand that the riches of this land were built on the backs of slaves, indentured servants, peons and now illegal immigrants. Why else would George W. support amnesty and an immigrant worker program? Because it's good for business. Cheap labor is grist for the mill.

Rich is a relative term. The only way for someone to be rich is for someone else to be poor. Here in the U.S. we are rich because we pillage the rest of the world, we buy cheap goods manufactured by people who are made to work in inhumane conditions, we outsource our labor needs to third world countries and we turn a blind eye to illegal immigration in order to provide cheap labor. It's Economics 101, baby. We create situations all over the globe that make people want to leave their destitute nations and come here to the land of milk and honey, and then we feign outrage when a few tenacious souls actually make it here. And what do they get when they get here? You know as well as I do. They take the shittiest jobs, the worst working conditions, and then they get blamed for taking American jobs and welfare. But who else is going to keep the grass trimmed on all the golf courses when it's 100 degrees? Who's going to wash those shiny new Humvees?

In the past few months that I've been in Arizona I've seen so many "help wanted" ads in this ever-expanding city, that I can assure you that nobody who wants a job has anything to worry about. But it's not the jobs that this woman is complaining about. She is complaining about the immigrant children taxing the Arizona school district with their lack of English skills. She tries to sound concerned about their ability to succeed in the U.S. without English skills. Well, guess what, we Hispanics already know that. But let's not kid ourselves, people have been speaking Spanish on this continent for much longer than they've been speaking English. You can't simply erase the history of Arizona. Arizona was part of Spain and then part of Mexico, and as such was Spanish speaking. Having a Spanish background is an undeniable and inextricable part of American heritage, especially in the Southwest. No amount of intolerance will ever completely remove Spanish from our lexicon. We don't need a bully telling our kids that she's not going to tolerate them if they don't learn English. And what exactly does that mean, "we will not continue to put up with them"? What are you going to do, meet them in the playground after school?

Shame on you, Chelsea Taylor. As a veteran teacher, I've taught hundreds of kids to speak English and never once did I have to threaten one. I think the one who is not going to be tolerated is you.

I don't think that this woman represents the majority. Most of the people I've met out here are not racist, hate mongers. But it only takes one to piss me off.

I'd like to close this rant with a little ditty by Cholita which I think pretty much says it all: "Beans Are Not Enough." Here are the lyrics so you can sing along!

Beans Are Not Enough

Here in the USA you eat sushi and pizza
Sprouted grains and whole wheat buns
But in the fifth world, children are starving
They're eating beans and constantly farting

But you don't care, you don't give a damn
You've made them your sacrificial lamb

They can't eat their Wheaties in the morning
Have a croissant or baguette
Cappuccino, latte or espresso
They don't have that kind of shit

But in the fifth world, children are starving
They're eating beans and constantly farting
But you don't care, you don't feel their pain
You fool yourself, you won't take the blame

Beans are not enough...
Oh Jesus, Mary Magdalene
Virgin Guadalupe, Pepe and Lucretia

Dip your finger in the water, come and cool my tongue
Cause I'm tormented in the flame...


Rick said...

Thanks for mentioning the indentured servants in your rant. That's how my family (at least the surname part) wound up in this country: abducted from southern England and shipped off to Massachusettes for 13 years of labor (the kid survived and was set free, well, loose is more like it; he was lucky in that way).

The "rich", relatively speaking, always have benefitted from the labor and suffering of the poor. Whether we look at George W.'s grandfather's war profiteering throuh his business with the Nazis or the inner workings of Los Angeles.
There have been some films recently that deal with this very issue: Land of the Dead, Spike Lee's new one: Inside Man, and some others currently slipping the slippery surface of my mind.

Anonymous said...

you should of been here in LA on Saturday.
The biggest rally LA has ever seen!

Anonymous said...

hell yeah, Go ALice.
i sure would hate to be on your bad side.. Watch your back Chelsea Taylor! Alice will kick your Ass Mentally & physically.

Paul said...

Hi Alice -

I really enjoy your blog and love your music. I thought this was an excellent post as well, though I do have one relatively minor point:
you state that people have been speaking Spanish on this continent for much longer than they've been speaking English. Firstly, that's not really true (earliest permanent English settlement is 1619). Secondly and more importantly, however, I don't really think it's a terribly germane, persuasive, or productive point.

Allow me to expand on that a little. I should state right up front that I'm Italian/Irish by descent, born & raised in California. I'm very left-wing, but I have always found the "Aztlan" wing of Chicano activism kind of silly, with its barely suppressed fantasies about "reclaiming" parts of the former Mexico "stolen" under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The point I'm trying to make is that this land, if it truly _belongs_ to anybody, belongs to the native inhabitants, who were initially massacred by the Spanish, then the Mexicans, and then the Americans.

After all, most of what the U.S. took from Mexico had only been "Mexican" for about 80 years at the time anyway (before that, of course, it had been part of the Spanish Empire, and before that, it just belonged to the peopole who lived here, the Native Americans), so it's been "America" for much longer than it was ever "Mexico" by now. I think it's kind of a dead-end argument.

To put it another way, there's plenty of blood on plenty of non-Indian hands and I think that the rights of current Mexican workers in the U.S. are probably best addressed with attention to their extraordinary contributions to America's cultural and economic well-being, not by reference to vaguely retributive notions of historical propriety.

Just my $0.02. Thanks for a passionate and thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post.

- Paul