Wednesday, May 24, 2006
My upside down world ... also known as "Betty and the Bigots" ... .
I'm having such a difficult time these days; losing the ability to separate myself from the conversatives on the issue of illegal immigration. It's really terribly uncomfortable, sitting here watching CSPAN coverage of the senate debates on the immigration bill. I simply cannot imagine how on earth I manage to find myself nodding in silent agreement with the obviously racist tirades on the need to seal the southern borders against the invasion of illegals; poor people simply seeking better lives for themselves and for their families.
It's far easier to hear my own arguments reflected in the comments of CNN's Lou Dobbs because he, at least, applies some reason to the debate -- and his arguments sound a lot like my "wrong conversation" thesis. But there's a thin line there somewhere, one that I seem to have crossed -- where it all falls apart and I'm increasingly disturbed by how really close I'm coming to thoughts I once detested when applied to me and to those I love. Why is this different? Why does my American self bristle at the sight of Mexican flags being proudly paraded through our streets? Why am I so angry with President Fox when he seals his own southern border then comes to my state to ask more freedoms and acceptance for his citizens whose rights he should be championing at home? What's wrong with all this? Is what is not being said the culprit in all this? And ...why do I feel so guilty when people I trust and respect are over there on the other side asking for my understanding (Senator Barrack Obama, Attorney Van Jones, Rep. Maxine Waters, etc.)? What am I missing?
At the end of the day I still find myself resentful of having the debate framed by bigots who are usurping the language and tactics of the Civil Rights Movement. It's like Ward Connerly's anti-Affirmative Action arguments that are shaped in the same way -- using Dr. King's model as his own and therefore feeding the fires of discrimination unwittingly and creating supportive arguments for the opposition to all that I believe in. It's all so convoluted ... confused -- and why do I feel so defensive?
Why does only Lou Dobbs suggest that industrial, corporate, and agricultural interests be held to paying a livable wage so that those "jobs no American wants to do" would be filled by our own citizens who cannot live or support families on what illegals are paid? Why can't we talk about the millions of displaced service workers (black) abandoned to poverty and the streets because there is no way to support families and move into the mainstream when not even those "jobs no American wants to do" are available to them at a wage that will pay the bills and educate the young?
The unspoken beneficiaries of the current lack of a coherent policy are illegal laborers who are able to send back to Mexico billions of dollars to aid that economy, and corporate farms, hotels, hospitals, and large contractors whose profit margin is bloated by exploitative cost estimates that distort our own economy and overload our social systems.
Many newly-arrived illegals from below the border unwittingly benefit from white racism and have little reason to not take advantage of this fatal flaw in this nation's never-quite-attained self-portrait of the ideal democracy.
Are my feelings of today colored by those years when I worked in support of Cesar Chavez and the cause of the United Farmworkers? Those marches are still vivid in my mind. I remember how hard he worked against the guest worker "Bracero" program designed and executed by the owners of large farms in the Salinas Valley and was a thinly-veiled strategy to import scab labor designed to kill the farmworker's crusade to gain a living wage and humane working conditions. What's different now? Why am I still stuck there -- with the vision of feisty delegate, Dolores Huerta, at the '72 Democratic Convention where we combined the lettuce boycott with the business of the convention and won both? There was little indication of black/brown tensions at that time. I recall sitting two rows behind her waving my "boycott lettuce!" sign while the Alabama delegates in their straw hats and red/white/and blue outfits sat happily and defiantly chewing on lettuce leaves just one aisle over. Those were the bigots! We were all progressives seeking economic justice for all. What has changed?
And why does it feel as if the entire country has shifted far to the right, leaving me out here on the far left, alone, without having been aware of the changes that led to where I now find myself? I distinctly remember always thinking of myself as a political moderate. What happened to that? And, as a Liberal, why do I feel abandoned?
Is it true, then, that if the political extremes get too far out on their own paths -- that these eventually collapse into one indistinguishable whole, unrecognizable by either side?
Wish I could hear from you ... there are so rarely any comments from those who are reading here ... even when my words are truly controversial. Am I the only one with such questions? Am I the only one who hasn't gotten all this figured out yet? I'm both confused and deeply troubled ... .
Photo: Traditional Mexican dance performed by students of the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts -- where children come to learn through their own cultures and through those of others. The West African dance and Mexican dance classes are among the most popular. Most of these children are from very low income families and attend through a generous largely grant-funded scholarship program. The EBCPA is in its 39th year of operation in the heart of Richmond's historic downtown. I'm working to build strong ties between that institution and the park for which I'm responsible for community outreach.