Our place in history ...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Where is the voice of reason?

I wrote the following over three years ago. Recent hostility against "illegal aliens" moved me to revisit it. Immigrants without documents to protect them are the easiest and most vulnerable targets for those who seek validation through the mass support that can be gained by manipulating rage and fear. PEW Research data confirms that hate crimes against Latino/Hispanics have risen to an alarming rate. As much as talking-heads, politicians, and conservative activists claim that their "crusade against the illegal invasion" is not motivated by xenophobia and racism, the result of their unholy war has been violence against men, women, and children from Mexico, Central and South America. No terrorist acts have been prevented by the so-called Minute Men. No wall across the border, English-only law, or move to alter the Fourteenth Amendment (so the children of immigrants can be denied US Citizenship) has brought an end to Al-Quaeda, fast-tracked the implementation of the policy recommendations made by the bipartisan 9-11 Commission, or brought "red" and "blue" together.


I am an American in need of a hero, in need of hope. All those
feelings of resilience and community felt looking at the rubble of
Trade Center Plaza, and the smoke rising from the side of the Pentagon
and that field in Pennsylvania, gone.

First there were attacks and shootings of brown people who "looked
like terrorists," men with turbans, women with covered heads, and
Islamic children walking to school. Heroic firefighters, members of
police forces, and public servants in and out of uniform squabbled
publicly over the look of proposed statues, as well as the licensing
and copyrights of ground zero videos and photographs. Both stories
featured on the news.

Money raised was selectively given to victims. In death, some lives
are worth more than others, the government told us, because in life
certain people earned more money than others. OK, the public said.
That's fair. Don't survey the widows, the grieving children, or those
left behind. Washington knows the difference between right and wrong.
We're sorry but we can't give you money at all. Why not? Because
your husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, son, and daughter
were illegal immigrants. We owe them and you nothing. And you can't
have any either … why do "gays" always want "special" rights?

We won the "war" in Afghanistan. (Did we?) I saw some Americans not
come home on TV. I saw some families not cry tears of joy. Aren't we
still there? When we leave will they have an infrastructure and
democracy, or just a new reason to "hate" us? President George W.
Bush said that the war would take a long time, that we must be
patient, that all nations that aid, and abed, terrorists are our
enemies, and that we will find Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda
members and bring them to justice. But I'm not sure who we're
fighting anymore, how long I should wait to remember, or who our
enemies are.

Is Bin Laden dead or alive? Does it matter anymore? Fifteen of the
hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, now we're relying on them to keep
the peace in Middle East, and to help us attack Iraq. Where did all
of those countries that swore solidarity to our quest to stamp out
terrorism go? I thought Saudi Arabia was our enemy because of their
efforts to aid and abed terrorists, why is President Bush trying to
convince us that they are not? When they passed the Patriot Act and
when we were all flying red, white, and blue flags, my government told
me that the world could be divided into good and evil. What happened?

Every time I turn on the TV I see dead bodies. Dead Israelis. Dead
Palestinians. Dead men. Dead women. Dead children. Dead children!
People in Europe blame the Jews. We blame the Palestinians. In
Europe there are lots of Islamic people. Here there are lots of Jews.
In both places the governments are run by Christians, Christians that
watch Jews kill Palestinians; Christians that watch Palestinians kill
Jews. On the news they say that the "Bush Doctrine" dictates that we
don't negotiate with terrorists and that the Palestinians have no
democratically elected leader. But I thought the reason they were
fighting was because they don't have a sovereign country. How can you
elect a leader when you don't have a nation with citizens and borders?

They also say that the Europeans are anti-Semitic. I understand that
children in France have to hide their stars of David, and can't play
outside. If that is true, then at least part of Europe has not
changed. Funny though, during World War II France was our ally. They
weren't Nazis. They didn't build concentration camps … did they? I
don't remember there being a lot of pages dedicated to those opposing
the Vichy government in my history textbook. Israel has a right to
exist according to the United Nations. Egypt recognized the Jewish
state over twenty-five years ago. Why is Israel's existence still an
issue? And why can't we all understand why the Palestinians want to
be free?

In elementary, middle, and high school I learned that Patrick Henry
said, "Give me liberty or give me death!" I went to college in New
Hampshire. Its state motto is, "Live free or die!" My parents, who
both went to school in Mexico, learned Emilio Zapata's version, "It is
better to die on your feet than to spend a lifetime on your knees!" I
am disgusted when I see people with bombs strapped to their bodies.
But how am I supposed to pretend as though I can't paraphrase their
final words before they go.

My president cannot convince me that our government is not
contradicting itself. I teach kids in a Latino/Hispanic neighborhood.
More than once I have been asked if I am a spy. At first I thought
they were afraid of terrorists, then I understood. Not long ago,
these kids came home and heard that immigrants were costing California
money and that they didn't deserve to go to hospitals or learn in
school. Last year, they were told that immigrants were to blame for
drugs, crime, and disease. Today, they 're told that terrorists are
crossing the border with them. The children I teach are afraid …

They are afraid of the government they pledge allegiance to every
morning, afraid that their English and the flag stickers on their
notebooks won't be enough to protect them.

"If they took the people that were from Islam that were US citizens
and the ones with the Green Cards, they might come for me and my
family," one boy says to me.

'You're being silly,' I say. 'Do your math …' I wonder of lying to
him is wrong.

I am an American in need of a hero, in need of hope. All those
feelings of resilience and community felt looking at the rubble of
Trade Center Plaza, and the smoke rising from the side of the Pentagon
and that field in Pennsylvania, gone. And I am not alone.


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