Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On a melting pot

Okay, so I'll admit to bearing some guilt in the current immigration controversy. Whenever the topic comes up, and I'm doing my well-intentioned best to support policies aimed at helping immigrants in the US, in my head, I'm helping the guys lined up at the Chevron on Roswell Road waiting to get picked up for a day of construction work. I'm thinking of the women (and kids, sometimes) picking onions in Vidalia. And I think that, in thinking that way, I'm making things better, but (hat tip to Rox Populi) Alisa Valdes-Rodriquez shows me the error of my ways.

She writes an open letter to the media, correcting them (vigorously, at times) on their framing of the immigration debate. The entire thing is worth a read, but a couple of things jumped out at me and made me reconsider the way I see it.

1. The vast majority of Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. (75 percent of us) were born and raised here, including many of us who have roots here that predate the arrival of the pilgrims.

2. "Immigrant" is not synonymous with "Latino" and the media should stop pretending they mean the same thing.

3. The CNN analyst who said today "Keep in mind, Latino voters are LEGAL immigrants, not illegal immigrants" should be FIRED for sloppy thinking. MOST LATINOS ARE NOT IMMIGRANTS AT ALL, PINCHE CABRON.

4. Immigrants to contemporary USA come from EVERYWHERE. There are, for instance, 100,000 Nigerians in Houston, and tens of thousands of ILLEGAL Irish in Boston. If this debate is truly about immigration, as opposed to racist portrayals of Latinos, please curb your coverage to be more responsible.

Mea culpa. As the descendant of (relatively recent) Slovak immigrants, I should remember that a tan doesn't immediately imply immigrant status, nor vice versa.
6. You can be a Mexican American and never have had an ancestor come over the US border; vast portions of the United States of today USED TO BE MEXICO or SPAIN. If you failed to learn this in high school, your teachers should be fired.

Oops again. Yo no cruce la frontera; la frontera me cruzo. I know that came up at least once in history class.
8. The US has TWO international borders, not ONE. To date, not a single terrorist has gotten to the US through Mexico; to date, at least two suspected terrorists have arrived here through Canada. In fact, I would not be surprised if, while the media and xenophobes are focused on the Mexican border, terrorists figure out that it might be a good idea to walk over from Vancouver to Seattle for a latte.

This is actually something that I haven't missed, but I know a lot of people have. Although my understanding is that Vancouver to Seattle is a bit of a hike.

Regardless of your feelings on immigration/illegal immigration/guest worker programs/amnesty/etc., you have to admit (now, at least, because I'm fairly sure I didn't before) that the current debate isn't about that. The current debate isn't about border security or American jobs or healthcare. It's about people who feel uncomfortable around Mexicans unless they're watching their kids or weeding their gardens.

If we're going to make this square, we're going to have to reframe the debate to address immigration of all people, for all reasons, through all borders. Otherwise, we're going to have to rename the current frame to better reflect its real underlying concerns.

Something tells me that the "That Tan Guy Stole My Job Picking Onions" debate isn't going to be the barn-burner they expect.

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