KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Racism: Bastante es bastante!

A close relative of mine, near my age and living in Texas, forwarded an e-mail to me from someone she knows, because she agrees with what it said:

After reading some of the reports of the [Day Without Immigrants] walkout yesterday, I got this idea: Why don't we boycott Mexico and anything Mexican on Friday, May 5 (Cinco de Mayo)? That includes Mexican restaurants and anything that may include using "undocumented workers" even if made in this country, such as tortillas from San Antonio, etc. It's hard to know all the occupations where this hidden economy is working, but this would be a start. I know this is a late-coming idea, but I'm hoping others will have the same thoughts.

To carry it further, instead of vacationing in Mexico, why not go to the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, also a U.S. territory, instead? I have been to St. Thomas and San Juan, and can state that the U.S. territories are superior by far, especially since you have the protection of U.S. law. Take this idea and run with it.

Enough is enough! If this unbridled immigration keeps growing, I will have to say, "Basta es basta!"

My relative's friend didn't even bother to get the Spanish right. It's bastante es bastante! (She mixed Italian and Spanish. Basta is Italian for "enough.")

I replied:

You and I will have to agree to disagree on this issue.

The walkout yesterday in New York meant that Southampton, the Long Island resort town full of millionaire movie and rock stars where Ed [my husband] works, had virtually no traffic yesterday. That's because all of the immigrants—whether legal citizens or not—that they pay slave wages to cook, provide child care, landscape estates, staff restaurants, and build gorgeous cabinetry (as Ed does) for them weren't on the job or on their way to work.

Ed works with Marcelo, a legal immigrant from Ecuador who has been trying for years to get the U.S. to allow his wife and daughter, now in kindergarten, to become legal citizens. This guy is talented, works his butt off, and contributes to the economy of this country, yet he's not allowed to have his family here. He is perpetually depressed because he can see them only a couple of times a year, after he's scrimped for months to save up air fare to fly back and spend a few days with them. He came here in the first place to make a better life for his family and hoped to bring them here so they could all have a better life together. But the process of becoming a U.S. citizen became even more insane after 9/11, so his daughter may very well be an adolescent or even an adult before she's living here. He doesn't have the money it takes to pay off the proper government officials to get them here quickly.

The U.S. makes it just about impossible to become a legal citizen these days. It's no wonder, then, that many immigrants get fed up and just remain here illegally.

Ed and I feel so strongly about this that we bought twenty bumper stickers and two T-shirts for Marcelo and his brother, also a legal citizen, to use for yesterday's demonstration in Manhattan. Ed, as foreman, gladly gave Marcelo the day off work (mind you, Marcelo didn't even take a vacation day—he took an unpaid personal day) so that he could join the demonstration in Manhattan. Ever since Marcelo was hired, Ed has stuck up for him at work and gotten him decent pay for a beginner cabinetmaker.

We will be putting bumper stickers on our cars that read "America: A Nation of Immigrants" and "Legalize—Don't Criminalize—Immigrants" because we know that immigrants are not taking jobs away from U.S.-born citizens. Most nonimmigrants won't take the low wages and long hours and the scut work that immigrants are given.

We also know that the big fuss over immigrants has racism at its base, pure and simple. Even Li (Lionel), our future son-in-law who is Puerto Rican, encounters people who assume he's an immigrant who speaks no English and treat him as if he's unintelligent or to be feared.

My relative replied:

Yes, as usual, we are polar opposites.

We live in a place where we cannot even expect to get information in English. Even the teller machines are bilingual.

We will have to disagree on this one, although I won't be buying any shirts or bumper stickers.

What I want to say to my relative but can't, if I want her ever to speak to me again (and I'm not sure I do), is this:

Um ... hello! If the instructions on the teller machines are bilingual and you're in Texas, I know damn well that one of the languages is English, so you are getting information in English. Our ancestors were immigrants, from Ireland, Scotland, French Romania, and so many other places. If they hadn't come to the U.S., you wouldn't exist. You are a member of the white privileged class. But our ancestors, when they came to this country, were reviled and treated as less than human, just as you see Latino immigrants. How would you have felt had you been of our ancestors' generations? Would you not have wanted a chance to make a good life for yourself here? Would you have thought it appropriate that you be treated as subhuman?

Racism—bastante es bastante!



Anonymous said...

You said it! My father's parents came to this country in the early part of the 20th century. Legally, I presume since we don't share a border with Belgium. All day yesterday I kept wondering: how big a deal would this be if it were 11 million Canadians who were slipping over the border and working here illegally?

Anonymous said...

I hope she doesn't plan to eat--not just at restaurants, where most of the line cooks and dishwashers etc. are hispanic, but also produce (picked by hispanic field workers); meat, including beef, pork, and poultry (slaughtered and packed by hispanics); or packaged foods (the plant tours I've been on as a food writer almost always feature workers with a complexion far darker than the one I inherited from my northern European ancestors).

I'm off to Ellis Island tomorrow with my parents, husband, and son, to celebrate the fact that once upon a time, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free--my forebears--could come to the Land of Plenty to make a life for themselves.

The irony is rich.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

You bet nobody'd mind one bit, MaggiRos, if white Canadians were coming over the border. The operative word is white.

Martha, excellent rejoinder!

Kathy said...

Well said, Katharine! My mother sent me a cartoon a couple of years ago that showed a "lazy illegal" (dark-skinned, of course) exulting in the welfare check he's supposedly getting for coming to the US. I replied that the cartoon was offensive and inaccurate, and that if she wanted someone to blame, she need look no further than US employers who recruit illegal immigrants.

I didn't get an answer.

And there's no way I'll boycott all things Mexican on Cinco de Mayo; it's middle daughter's birthday, and she loves that association.

Shannon Morgan said...

I'm glad you said as much as you did, Katharine! I think it's interesting that the boycotter thinks all undocumented workers are from Mexico. And since I live in San Antonio, I'll definitely be celebrating Cinco de Mayo!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Kathy, it's too bad we can't pick our relatives.

Nomadshan, the boycotter and my relative are the kind of people who think all brown people are from the same place, all black people are from the same place, all Asian people are from the same place, and anybody who's not white must not be an American citizen. And I love San Antonio. I grew up in La Porte, Texas, but my maternal grandparents lived in San Antonio. As a child, I thought it was the most beautiful city in the world. I still love mourning doves because of that city.

Rebecca said...

Of course, in Texas the most-widely spoken European language before about 1840 was...Spanish! That's because people of European descent living in Texas were...Mexican citizens! And then all these immigrants (some legal, many illegal) came from the United States, speaking English.

If you want to get right down to it, the descendants of Tejanos have every historical reason to speak Spanish over English.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Yes! Thank you, Rebecca. I wish my relative, who has the same given name that you do, thought like you.

erinberry said...

Oh, the ignorance! That sums it up, that the author of that xenophobic piece didn't even bother to get his/her languages straight!

Good for you for responding to your relative. Of course, clearly she didn't comprehend it all all, because she responded back with more nonsense that had nothing to do with what you'd written.

erinberry said...

Get well soon! :)

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