Some of my favorite blog commentors are back. You know the ones. You can spot them pretty easily by the ALL CAPS and the constant use of the words “illegal”, “criminal” and “amnesty”. While I take great issue with the use of each of these words within the specific context of their rhetoric, I want to focus on the first two for a few moments.
While many of the anti’s that argue the most adamantly against comprehensive immigration reform claim that there is absolutely no racism behind their stance, most of us that are working in and for the communities most affected by this legislation beg to differ.
In the past three days I have seen two different news items come across my desk that are seemingly unrelated, but I think they speak to the current environment of the immigration debate today.
The first was the story of a Dallas, TX police officer who wrote a ticket to Ernestina Mondragon for being “a non-English speaking driver”. The Dallas police department is embarrassed and has since issued an apology, saying that the officer who ticketed Mondragon was a rookie and was probably confused. However, it has since come to light that the agency has written 39 tickets for this “offense” in the last 3 years.
The second story broke today, hotel owner Larry Whitten who forced the Latinos working in his New Mexico hotel to speak only English and “anglicize” their names. Employees who had Latino names like Martin (mar-TEEN) where told they must change them to the more familiar (mar-TIN) or from Marcos to Mark. Whitten, however, claims that his actions were not racially motivated, rather:
“It has nothing to do with racism. I’m not doing it for any reason other than for the satisfaction of my guests, because people calling from all over America don’t know the Spanish accents or the Spanish culture or Spanish anything”
Let me first set aside my frustration with the conflation of “Spanish” and “Latino”. They are, simply, not the same thing. But the ignorance doesn’t stop there.
The idea that this has “nothing to do with racism” is an all-too familiar argument that I hear regularly from people who think that I am promoting the “illegalz” takeover of all of our resources and our culture. However, going back to my original point, the use of terms like “illegal” and “criminal” and “alien” by folks like Lou Dobbs have served to criminalize and “other” the entire Latino population, no matter immigration status. Its not about immigration here, guys, its about race.
For this reason, we cannot be fooled by the claim that there are simply talking about “language.” Rather, we must see through this to the core of what is at stake — the assault on the rights of the people who speak the languages, and today we see this in the assault on immigrants of color.
We are all familiar with the Latino scapegoat that has taken such strong hold in the minds of many Americans and some of the most dominant media frames. (Ahem… Lou Dobbs). But we have to connect the dots between this and the criminalization of an entire population and culture.
A recent CNN poll conducted found that people are “more familiar with Latinos” than they used to be, whatever the hell that means. But the findings that are the most shocking, and the least talked about from the survey:
But nearly half of people we questioned said they assume that Latinos who they have never met are immigrants, and one in five believe they are illegal immigrants
So, according to this poll, for many Americans, Latino has become synonymous with the concept of “illegal”. How is that not racism?
As we work towards reform of our immigration system, its not just bad policy that we are fighting, its the increasingly dangerous forces that criminalize and dehumanize entire populations, including but NOT limited to Latino immigrants.