The current anti-immigration nonsense in Arizona would be funny if it wasn’t so terrible. A state comprised of territory swiped from Mexico in one of America’s most egregious instances of imperialism, and which has a Spanish name, has now enabled law enforcement officials to demand extraordinary documentation from anyone they suspect might be “illegal”. That takes some chrome-plated balls, or some extreme ignorance of history.
Of course, the rationale behind these anti-immigrant measures is along the lines of, “This time is special. These people are taking over. They don’t want to speak the language or be a part of our culture. They’re not like the people who used to come here.” It is the exact same rationale that’s been trotted out by every anti-immigrant faction against every single group that’s ever come to these shores. It wasn’t true when the anti-Irish Know Nothing Party spewed this nonsense in the early 1800s, and it isn’t true now.
People who think immigrants want to come here just to loaf around, collect welfare, and live high on the hog have no idea what it means to immigrate, to leave the place where they were born and start a new life in a strange land. I think about my grandfather, who left Ireland, his wife, and his two children behind to move to New York all by himself, because he could only afford to come here alone. He worked for two full years until he could send for his family and begin to build a life.
Can you even imagine doing that, for one second? And no, moving from one state to another is not even close to the same thing. People who are lazy and looking for a fast buck don’t immigrate, because such people have neither the motivation nor the fortitude to survive such a move.
My grandfather’s experience happened almost 60 years ago, but I feel like this is still a fairly typical immigrant experience. And my grandfather had the advantage of speaking English (of a kind, anyway) and belonging to an ethnic group that was already assimilated. I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone who doesn’t speak the language, and who can’t help but look “foreign” to most Americans.
We should want people to come to this country from other lands for the same reason we’ve always wanted new arrivals. Because an immigrant is someone who woke up one day, looked at the messed-up world around him/her, and said, “I’ve had enough of this shit.”
They may have felt this way because they weren’t free to say and do as they pleased. Or maybe their homeland offered them no opportunity to rise above the station to which they were born. Regardless of the reason, while everyone else around them said, “I guess this isn’t so bad, I don’t mind living in abject poverty, and the secret police are using softer jackboots these days”, immigrants said, “Fuck this, I’m out.” We should want the kind of people who want better for themselves.
Countries like France and England agonize over who can truly be English/French. America should be above that. The great thing about being American is it is an evolving thing. Anyone can potentially come here and consider themselves (and be considered) American. A hundred years ago, the idea that an Italian could be an American was ridiculous to many people (as this horrible cartoon should display). Now, every single person in this country eats pasta at least once a week, and there’s few cheap meals that are more American than a slice of pizza. So why are so many people bent out of shape about Mexicans coming here? We already know their food is amazing!
This obsession with exclusion and purity is both racist and shortsighted. Everything good about our country, everything the world loves about us, comes from the mixture of different cultures. Just think of all the music that was born in America, and how none of it would be possible in a homogenous society. Even the best music from other countries is a result of people in those countries trying to imitate American music they liked. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards trying to sound like Howlin’ Wolf = The Rolling Stones.
It reminds me of a joke I heard years ago (apologies to the comedian whose name I can’t recall). He said races should be forced to mix, for the good of humankind. Because if you get two ugly white people together, you get an ugly white baby. You get two ugly black people together, you get an ugly black baby. You get an ugly white person and an ugly black person together, you get Halle Berry.
It’s chilling that there is a state in the union where police officers now literally ask to see people’s papers, a la Nazi Germany. And of course, despite assurances that there would be no racial profiling under this new law, there were egregious examples of it within hours of its passage, like an American-born truck driver who was slapped in handcuffs because he couldn’t produce a birth certificate.
And yet, I don’t fear for the future. Maybe I’m naive, I but I feel like laws such as this are so antithetical to what America is that they are doomed to fail. Maybe it’ll be in a few months, when someone challenges the law and it’s struck down for being unconstitutional. Maybe it’ll have to wait a few years, when there’s not a racist monster in the governor’s mansion. But it will happen.
I look forward to that day, and to the day when the descendants of Mexican immigrants are seen as just as American as everyone else. And we will all band together as one to keep out the influx of extraterrestrial migrant workers from Omicron Persei-8. Cuz they ain’t like you or me–they got three hearts and antennae!