Friday, April 23, 2010

Proud to be an American

My ancestors were German. My ancestors were Mexican. My ancestors were Cherokee and Irish and English and French and more. The blood in my veins flows from all over the world, and I take pride in that. My ancestors were nobility, they were underlings, they were social outcasts and blue collar workers and who knows what else. That said, I do not claim to be a German American. I don't claim to be Mexican American. I don't claim to be Native American.

I am an American.

I was born here. I have spent nearly all of my life here. I will probably spend the majority of the rest of my life here, and someday I will more than likely die here. This is My Fucking Country, but it's not mine because I have some kind of racial purity. It's not mine because I have the proper paperwork to verify it. It's not mine because I look the part. It's mine because this is my home. I am a product of my environment, a mish mash of as many ethnicities as you can find. This country is a cultural melting pot, a cultural tossed salad, a frickin jar of mixed nuts! We've got over two hundred years of random immigrant canned hash, more than two centuries of cultural Spam (the "meat" kind, not the email kind), nearly a quarter of a millenia of international outcasts beating their heads against each other recreationally to try and make a place where we can all live without killing each other.

We have had some flubs, but historically, we've moved forward. We did away with slavery, we decided Japanese internment camps where a lousy idea, we got rid of Jim Crow laws, and hell, a couple years ago we even to put a black guy in charge. We have (arguably) worked towards racial equality. Or at least, reached a point where it's not a crime to be the wrong color.

Unfortunately Arizona decided to backpedal on that standard today. In essence, the new "immigration reform" law signed today by Governor Jan Brewer, has made it a criminal violation to not "look American". Or rather, it has made it mandatory for police officers to stop you and ask you to provide documentation proving your citizenship in the event you look like an illegal alien. Cops don't even have the option to opt out, as they will be sued if they do not. Now, some have said that it is possible to identify an "illegal" by simply looking at them. That is, after all, what the law requires police to do, so it must be.

Unfortunately, that's bullshit.

It is NOT actually possible to identify all potential illegal aliens by sight alone. More importantly, it is not necessarily possible to identify all Citizens by sight. It is, however, far easier to identify people of different ethnicities by sight alone. For instance, the likelihood of an illegal Canadian immigrant being identified is pretty much nil, however, the likelihood of spotting a Mexican in the street is very good. Eastern Europeans might easily blend into a crowd of middle class Caucasian Americans, but what about a Pakistani? What about a perfectly legal Puerto Rican immigrant? Puerto Rico is an American protectorate, they have as much representation in our legal system as the residents of our Nation's Capital. So, who do you think this law is directed at? "Illegal" immigrants, or "Un-American" looking people.

This law is about race, no matter how much they may pretend it isn't. It is about people who don't speak the correct language, people who don't wear the right clothes, people who aren't the right color.

Now, I fervently believe something needs to be done about about the fact that the US/Mexican border. Immigration Reform can't be put off any longer without serious consequences. That said, telling the cops to go check the papers on all the brown skinned people is a horrific idea.

Simply, and hopefully objectively put, the law requires police in the state of Arizona to determine whether a person is in the US legally. It requires all immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times, as it also requires police to question people if there is "reason to suspect they are in the US illegally."

This law does away with "innocent until proven guilty". It requires people to prove that they Are, instead of the accuser having the burden of proof that someone Is Not. This law will require racial profiling, because they are relying on police to visually identify potential "illegals". That is less effective than telling someone to walk around and pick out all the doctors in a crowd. They'll look for white coats, or stethescopes, or other stereotypical traits that are not grounded in reality.

I won't pretend for a moment that there are no people in the country illegally right now. And I know the majority of them are hispanic, people who decided it would be easier to sneak into this country than to try and go through the legal paths. Once upon a time I looked into the possibility of moving to another country, and the prospect was daunting. As soon as I knew how hard it would be, I immediately began considering shortcuts and loopholes. Ways to make it easier. These people were faced with a difficult decision, and they chose to ignore the law and pursue what they wanted. I can't really fault them for it, but that doesn't mean much. Illegal is illegal, and things are getting too dangerous on the border to just wish it away.

However, Illegal is Illegal. And racial profiling is Illegal. It's easy, but it's not Right. And it's not effective. This law is going to unleash all manner of hell on the residents of Arizona, legal or otherwise. This law is backtracking on all the civil rights decisions that have been made, it is opening the door for all manner of racist hatred and bigotry, and it is just a dumbass idea from a practical level.

We cannot legislate this problem away, just by making it illegal to be an illegal. Once upon a time, a man told me that people vote with their wallets. If someone doesn't like the way a company does business, they go somewhere else. In this case, how much of Arizona's labor pool is immigrant labor, legal or not? They may succeed in driving out the immigrants, and if so, then what?

This country, My country is made strong by our diversity. It is romantic to imagine a unified coalition of people, striving boldly into the future. The thought of racial purity has attracted so many people through the years. The thought that "We" are better than "Them" and our blood proves it. It's not true, though. We are a mob, a crowd of schmoes and yahoos from any corner of the world you can think of. We aren't boldly striding forward, we're all running into each other, a lump of poor saps jostling each other listing slowly forward. The US isn't a sprinter charging forward, we are a couple rugby teams running desperately and not really making equivalent headway. Except it's not just two, it's ten. Fifty. Hundreds. Thousands. Hundreds of Millions of idiots desperately trying to carve out their own place, their own piece.

And this is our strength. This is how we have come from a rag tag of international outcasts to the single strongest economic and military force in the modern world. Some of our greatest developments came at the hands of immigrants. Foreigners. Aliens. The day we build the impenetrable wall is the day our culture will start to die. We will whither, stagnate, and crumble into ruin.

The American Dream is in full technicolor. Our cultural strength comes from the many cords we have bound together. But it is fluid. The American Dream is constantly in flux, because it is not Just American. It is English. It is Irish. It is French, German, European, African, Asian, and more. Two hundred years ago, the English colonists would never have dreamed of a day when we could instantly prepare food from any corner of the world we wished. I had Chinese food last week, and Indian the week before. I just spent ten minutes cooking an Italian dish (Pizza) and downed it with Belgian Ale. Once upon a time, people hated the Irish flood of immigrants. Another, it was the Chinese. There are people alive today who fought (and others who didn't survive) simply so that a black person could use the same bathroom as a white person. The country changes.

There are people who will insist that this law is good. There are people who will insist that these illegal immigrants are hurting our country, bringing their culture and their language here with them. That's nonsense. Personally, I feel some fresh blood will do this country good, make us even stronger. For better or worse, society will hammer something out, and the country will make due. The truth is that we are living in a time of change. The country I die in will probably look alot different than the country I was born in, but it will be my country.

My America is strong, more than strong enough to survive a couple spanish speaking hispanic people. My America is strong enough to survive the racist knee jerks of some scared white Arizonians. My America is probably even strong enough to survive my crazy ramblings.

But that doesn't mean I have to enjoy the rough patches. And it sure as hell doesn't mean I have to justify my position with the proper documentation. Because My America doesn't go around asking for papers. My countrymen have bled and died all over the world to stop tyrants and dictators who did just that, and I will not keep quiet when they start doing it in my back yard.

1 comment:

  1. While I believe that there are major flaws in this law, I do believe that the hearts of those who wrote it were in the right place. Have you ever looked at a bill from a hospital? So much of the cost comes from providing services to uninsured patients who can not pay. And while there is a large (and growing) number of people of every background who are uninsured in this country, most of this population has traditionally been illegal immigrants who are unable to get insurance. The problem is especially bad in the southwest. Illegal immigrants cannot get car insurance, and when they are involved in an accident, the cost gets passed off to you and me. I am for immigration. You are right in saying that this country is stronger for it. Better for it. But those who do not follow the rules put a large burden on the rest of our society. They make it harder for those who want to enter legally. They make it harder for those in entry level, manual jobs to make a decent wage. This has to stop. Profiling is wrong. There is no doubt about it. But the forcing of immigrants to carry their papers is not profiling. It is the law in most stated that you carry some form of identification with you. If you are stopped by the police for suspicion of an infraction (in a car or on foot) and can not provide identification, the can and will hold you until you can prove who you are. Citizen or no. And being in this country undocumented is a crime. A federal one at that. I can guarantee that the law in Arizona requires that the officers stop anyone who could be a non native. If you are walking down the street speaking French to your friend, then they could assume that you are a native of France and ask you for proof that you are in this country legally. If you are walking down the street talking to yourself loudly and acting strangely, they could assume that you have taken a drug of some sort and stop you. Not a perfect analogy, but it shows my point. Yes, this law has a large potential for abuse, but so do most others. The Legal system is not perfect. But something has to be done. And even if this is the wrong law, it will force an immediate look at the situation, and how to solve it.