I just finished watching Wolf Blitzer’s interview with President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. My jaw was tense throughout the entire interview, expecting Mexico’s President to say something outrageous or ridiculous. I was actually surprised but he managed to make it through the entire interview, which included some particularly difficult questions, conveying a sense that he is in touch with Mexican reality. He is still downplaying the gravity of the situation in Mexico–drugtrafficking, organized crime, daily murders, and the recent abduction of party icon and close friend, Diego Fernández de Cevallos–but at least he has numbers and some facts to support his particular claims about the situation. The problem, as always, is that it is hard to trust the numbers that our political leaders throw around to buttress their claims. My particular problem with Calderón is not only his insistence on continuing a failed military strategy against the drug cartels, one that has resulted in countless human rights violations and the death of innocent civilians, but that his main tactic is to push through the horrors we have witnessed, particularly in the last four months, without any pause. Not once has he taken the time to mourn even as the entire country seems to be falling apart at his feet. But many of Blitzer’s questions forced Calderón to drop his guard, involuntarily, throughout the interview. Blitzer conjured the ghosts of Calderón’s presidency: the accidental death of his friend, Attorney General Mouriño, the recent abduction of his friend, Diego Fernández de Cevallos, and Calderón’s own susceptibility to organized crime. Continue reading
A fantastic commentary on Arizona’s decision to ban teachers with an accent from teaching by Andrei Codrescu. I’m also pasting the transcript below.
Arizona’s new immigration law is outrageous to anyone who’s had the bad luck of living in a country where fear of the police was a constant source of suppressed rage. A huge weight lifted off my psyche when I came to the U.S. from Communist Romania and was told that the police couldn’t stop me just because I still wore my commie trench coat and spoke with an accent.
That was in 1966, and now in Arizona in 2010, the police can target both my trench coat and my accent. The Arizona Department of Education has told schools that teachers with “heavy” or “ungrammatical” accents are no longer allowed to teach English to kids just learning to speak the language.
Oh boy! Did I land back behind the Iron Curtain half a century ago? My last 40 years of teaching would have never happened if the Arizona law had been the law of the land in 1966. Forty years of accented instruction gone by the wayside! Gone also the 40 years when American education, lower and higher, finally recognized the diversity of America.It is amazing that we have to be reminded once again that America was made great by people with accents. Would Albert Einstein have made a better baker? We’ll never know.
Come to think of it, the Arizona law doesn’t go far enough: People with accents should be banned from any profession that involves communication. Politics, for instance. Henry Kissinger’s accent would surely qualify for the ban. And let’s not stop with the foreign-born: Ban all accents. Southern accents, for instance, or Yankee ones. Actually, there isn’t anyone who speaks without an accent, so let’s just ban communicating altogether. This would be a much better country if everyone just kept quiet and handed his proof of citizenship to the police.
Arizona’s immigration law should be rewritten to make every person who sees a policeman just go over to that policeman and hand over voluntarily, and quietly, proof of residency in the respective police district.
Some second and third generation documented immigrants are happy about SB 1070 and they hope it will triumph. These Mexican-Americans, many of whom came into this country legally 40 or more years ago, look upon the new generation of undocumented immigrants as a threat to their own good standing in the U.S. and blatantly qualify them as dirty and noisy, an inferior class of people whose behavior taints the good self-image they have worked so hard to cultivate. In a recent article published by CNN, a Mexican-American declares that she doesn’t mind being called a racist because of her opinions concerning undocumented immigrants: “if wanting immigrants to enter the country legally, like her great-grandparents from Mexico, and obey the laws of the land makes her racist, then so be it, she says firmly.” Sue Schwartz complains that her teenage granddaughter cant’ find a job because she can’t speak Spanish and exclaims “How fair is that?” A Mexican-born U.S. Citizen, Anna Gaines, complains that undocumented immigrants have “one child after another just to earn a paycheck from the U.S. government and they [don’t] care about their children’s education.” For Gaines, this and other behavior from undocumented immigrants threatens the self-dignity that she believes used to characterize documented Mexican immigrants: “There used to be a level of dignity and self-respect. They [documented immigrants] were hard-working people who wanted to contribute to American society because it was better than where they came from.” It is difficult to miss the ideological component underlying Gaines’ opinions, which are shaped by a blatant and self-deluding idealization of the past. Schwarz and Gaines come across as wholly insensitive to or conveniently unaware of the extremely different circumstances that they and their predecessors faced in Mexico when they migrated to the U.S.
Enough Mexicans have been the target of hate crimes in the past few months, at least in the East Coast, for Mexicans to start feeling like these are more than just random hate crimes targeted at anybody who is not white. Instead, it really is starting to feel like there is a particular strain of anti-Mexican sentiment on the rise in the U.S.A. It is worse when this sentiment comes not only from certain factions of the wider community but also from the police. In Seattle, a video taken by a reporter emerged in the past few weeks showing a policeman, officer Cobane, beating a suspect while calling out: “I’m going to beat the (expletive) Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?” The suspect was not guilty and he turned out to be a document Mexican immigrant.
The status of his papers should be irrelevant–the police should have no right to attack anyone in any way whether or not they are guilty unless they are threatening them in some way–but in the current political climate it cannot be dismissed. One of the most troubling things about the SB 1070 Arizona law is that it legalizes assumptions. It allows people who form part of a community to agree on what an undocumented immigrant looks like and on how an undocumented immigrant is likely to act and then legitimizes these assumptions. By legitimizing these assumption, SB 1070 also legitimizes all the stigmas and prejudices that the category of “undocumented immigrant” already carries with it. Implicitly agreeing on an idea of what an undocumented immigrant looks like and acts like, Arizona is doing two equally harmful things. In the first place, it is turning a Class B misdemeanor into a crime which strips the “suspect” from all his or her rights to walk freely on the street. Second, it basically institutionalizes the idea that all undocumented and documented immigrants are either guilty or potential criminals.
It is not difficult to see that the Seattle policeman who violently attacked this innocent Mexican might have been acting under the assumption that all Mexicans are, first, undocumented, and second, criminals. It is troubling enough to hear people agree on what Mexicans look like since it is a clear manifestation of how little some Americans know about their neighbors. In the context of the recent hate crimes that have taken place on Staten Island and now this act of intolerance in Seattle, it is even more troubling to see how easily “Mexican” has become the synonym of criminal, cheat, freeloader, and dirty, even as undocumented workers are exploited 24 hours a day every day of the week in the biggest cities and the smallest towns of the country. It has never been harder for a Mexican to earn an honest day’s pay. Undocumented and documented Mexican immigrants might get paid at the end of the day, but social assumptions about our culture deprive workers from their right to feel that their work is honest.
It is always pleasing when unexpected sources express solidarity. Yesterday, during his commencement speech at Emory University, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed his disagreement with Arizona’s anti-immigration law in a humorous and effective way:
“I was also going to give a graduation speech in Arizona this weekend,” Schwarzenegger joked. “But with my accent, I was afraid they would try to deport me.”
Part of the irony derives from the fact that he is European and while he might have been subject to discrimination 100 years ago, today he fits comfortably in the governing and naturalized class of immigrants. If only it were possible to conceive that in 100 years, those who are undocumented immigrants today will fit so comfortably into this class.
Yesterday I spent most of the day navigating New York City with a camera crew from Mexico’s Canal Once, a kind of Mexican PBS. One of the members of the crew turned to me and sarcastically declared “Hoy es 5 de mayo.” What he was really declaring is “Who cares? Certainly not Mexicans.” Only a few seconds later he followed up with exactly this comment. I had to pause. Really? Mexicans don’t care? Well, they might not. But Mexicans on both sides of the border should care. It is no small matter that in the U.S. this date is meaningful enough for the White House to host its own 5 de mayo celebration. Every major city in the U.S., and I imagine that smaller towns as well, celebrate this date. It is an opportunity for both Americans and Mexicans to see the massive presence of Mexican-Americans and Mexicans in the U.S. in a positive light–Mexico is a nation with a rich culture and history. In addition to pondering on the meaning that 5 de mayo has acquired since Mexican-Americans turned it into an official holiday, Mexicans on both sides of the border should also take this opportunity to consider why 5 de mayo is the holiday of choice for the Mexican community in the U.S by remembering the battle of Puebla in its broader historical context. In addition, we should consider the meaning that it has gained in the context of current U.S.-Mexico relations. For instance, in his 5 de mayo remarks, President Obama celebrates the decision of many undocumented workers to join the Navy and the Army as a clear sign of Mexico’s and the U.S.’s shared ideals. For some of us such an association might ring a disturbing note and precisely for this reason it is worth considering what 5 de mayo means today. Continue reading