A couple of days ago on the train, I saw a young Black man with a Cubs hat, a multi-colored jacket and a Black t-shirt that read, “You’re in the USA: Now SPEAK ENGLISH!” A large segment of Black communities (and by Black, I mean from African-American, Caribbean Black, etc.) find this meme so self-evident that they’ll completely ignore their own histories. I started making a few assumptions about the young man in my mind. He probably heard this sort of stuff his whole life from parents who were subjected to the sort of bigoted thinking that puts disadvantaged groups against one another regularly. He probably had a few arguments like this with peers who came from different countries too. He probably gets eye-rolls left and right from people who look similarly to him. He’s probably talking about those who speak a “lower class” language instead of the ones that make you intelligent, ones I’m not sure of myself. He probably doesn’t speak or write in the Queen’s English either.
Then again, that’s me making presumptions based on looks alone. My headphones were on full blast (Rage Against The Machine, if you must know), so I didn’t hear a sound from him. I had no way to quickly scan his employment status, Social Security number, DNA, lie detector, parents, neighborhood, voter status, or anything of that nature that would give me reasonable suspicions about any of my previous assertions.
It means I have to do all this guesswork based on only one human sense, my eyes, and that makes no sense.
That’s why the Arizona immigration bill makes no sense to me. After reading through the whole bill (here’s the quick fact sheet), I found a few things disturbing. First, the bill explicitly outlines provisions that justify the “guilty until proven innocent” mentality. No provisions under the bill ensure that law enforcement officials can’t discriminate based on race or cultural background in employment or arrest. Furthermore, the bill gives freedom to law enforcement officials to hunt down, without warrant, anyone they choose just on the premise of “reasonable suspicion,” whatever reasonable means. It’s like a state-level USA PATRIOT Act, but replacing “terrorist” for “illegal alien.” Also, it makes it unlawful for people to pick up workers from one locale. hire them for work, and move them to another place. On the surface, I agree with this, but how effectively will law enforcement officially really carry this out when some of the wealthier individuals in this country hire those very workers?
This bill is symbolic of the constant dehumanization efforts by intolerant and uncooperative government hellbent on proliferating divisions, and laws like this prove me right. In the book On Writing Well, William K. Zinsser believes we’ve become too PC by replacing “illegal aliens” with “undocumented workers.” Usually, I’d agree except that the former accentuates the foreign and inhumane versus the latter highlights the purpose of so many of these workers coming here. While there’s definitely diversity amongst these undocumented workers (Irish, Russian, Chinese, Haitian, Dominican, etc.), only a certain segment of our population gets stigmatized with this bill (Mexican / South Americans) and that’s wrong.
This entire country was built on the backs of undocumented workers from all walks of life and never as a collective had the backing of the United States government. It’s time now for real reasoning. Let’s make just and appropriate laws that address the reason why people hire cheap labor over borders, bring them here, and then dispose of them as soon as they’ve become acclimated to the culture and understand their rights as citizens. Let’s talk more concretely about how corporations would prefer not to pay minimum wage to workers here, thus limiting jobs that people purport lower classes “should take.” Let’s talk about the myriad of “internships” and “volunteer” work popping up all over the country where the places essentially ask these people to do jobs for next to nothing for a promised chance in the future.
And only when we address this do we see that change comes with a sense of love and humanity. Understanding can’t always be signed into law, but we can certainly promote and encourage it as part of the culture. When the protestors wave their signs and strike their fists in the air on May Day (May 1st), trust that this comes from an emotion deeper than anger. We fight, we love. We do so throughout our lives and people definitely know this. Revolutions are born from that emotion.
For sure, a few seats away from the standing young Black man sat a young Mexican man, dirty cap and so beat, he might have missed every stop on the train if not for the constant shuffling of people through the busy stops.
I suspect they were both just trying to get home. Wherever home was.
Jose, who stands in solidarity …