International House of Dan: Editorial review off to a slow start... I still find a way to write too much

Monday, January 10, 2005

Editorial review off to a slow start... I still find a way to write too much

I was planning to take the day's paper and respond to the editorial content, figuring this would give me a frequent sort of things to write about. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Star's op-ed page was pretty lame today, and I didn't find much worth responding to. Normally I like to give links here so people can see for themselves what it is I'm writing about, but I couldn't find links to these items on the Star online. I suppose I could go downstairs and grab the January 10th Metropolitan section and give better citations for what follows, but if you can get a copy of the paper, you'll know what I'm talking about...

There were two items that got a reaction from me as I read them. The first was a letter to the editor from some lady in Texas who believes that illegal immigration is flooding our country with disease, poverty, plagues and locusts (okay, maybe not the last two). She thinks we need to crack down on it, and say "No mas!", which was oh, so cute... I have a few things to say to this woman: First of all, let's get things clear, the "No mas!" and a reference to Vicente Fox make it clear that your problem isn't with illegal immigration, it's with Mexicans. It would possibly be with "brown people" generally, but you live in Texas, so it's Mexicans. This is important to note, you'll see why in a bit.

Immigration is one of those things that I feel pretty strongly about. I don't advocate for fully open borders, but I certainly don't tolerate reactionary racism disguised as concern for national security, or job protection, or whatever. I agree with something I saw in Chicago, I believe outside Centro Romero, to the effect of "no human being is illegal." If we will talk about illegal immigration, let's think about what that is. I don't have links handy, but poke around websites like for some data on the following (granted, it's pro-immigrant, but so am I). If you've ever incurred a late fee at Blockbuster, you should understand how much of illegal immigration happens. A large chunk of illegal immigrants are illegal because of overdue, misplaced, or incorrect filings (overstayed visas, etc.). They showed up to renew their visa on the wrong date, or their attorney forgot to do it, or they didn't understand that they were supposed to, etc., etc., etc. This is like when you get a late fee because you thought the movie was due a different day, or they closed up early and you had to drop it in the box, or you gave it to someone to return and they forgot. Of course, sometimes you know the tape is due and decide you don't care, which is also the case with some illegal immigrants who just blow off their obligations and decide to stay anyway. Obviously, this analogy is imperfect, in one case, you pay a fee, and in the other you can be deported to an abusive country while your wife and children are left behind in a strange town with no source of income, but the behavior behind the wrong is similar. You may think "how irresponsible can a person be to miss their immigration deadlines?", I suppose that when they miss it because they were driving a cab 90 hours a week it makes them more responsible than the (probably) millions of good-ol' American citizens who routinely miss important things like court dates, driver license renewals, or credit card payments... and yes, video return deadlines. I've never lost a job to an illegal immigrant, but I've often been unable to find a movie I wanted to see because someone didn't return it. Let's move on to video theft...

Without drawing comparisons to illegal downloaders, we must acknowledge the immigrants who decide to circumvent our rules and, for whatever reason, just come over. Some do so to escape abuse, some do so out of financial need, I'm sure very few do it to see Mt. Rushmore, but I suppose anything's possible. These are the people the author of today's letter was probably mostly writing about. I know this because she is, after all, talking about Mexicans, who are more likely to jump the border, and not South Asians or Eastern Europeans, who are more likely to overstay a validly issued visa, but less likely to be in Texas. People like the letter's author focus their assault on these illegal immigrants, because what they do seems more "illegal" than missing a filing deadline for some form. These people, one hears, are destroying our "culture" (according to the letter). Interesting...

America is described as a melting pot, and not a mosaic. Let's think about what happens to a mosaic when you add pieces to it: over time, adding enough different color pieces, will drown out the original design, which though outnumbered is still discernible. But if you have a fondue pot and add different things to it, the composition of the whole changes. In a melting pot, the idea is that the "culture" is constantly changing as ingredients are added. It is impossible for Mexicans to destroy Texas culture, because their presence and impact on it is, by definition, a part of that culture. What the letter writer makes reference to, the "culture", is what, then? The way it was just after her immigrant ancestors came here, of course. Let's now talk about that and tie this whole long post together, shall we?

Most of us descended from immigrants, we all agree on that, but we think it's different somehow because our grandparents came over legally. We never question what legal immigration meant then, or the effect their immigration had on the existing "culture", do we? When grandpa came over, legal immigration largely meant getting here, at which point he was checked for lice, pinned with a form, given a new last name and sent on his way. This is not the case today, and the same people who glorify grandpa's triumph over the prejudices of "existing" Americans, are now quick to impose those very barriers on the immigrants of today.

Grandpa was legal, Jose is not, granted. But bear in mind that gramps didn't have to go to the consulate and wait in line every day for years until he got a meeting, and then had to keep coming back and fill out forms for years until his visa was approved, and then arrive here to find a job, and continue filling out forms and going to the consulate for years until finally one day, he was a citizen. Grandpa may not have liked brown people either, but that's because he was a bigot and that was okay in the old country, or because they were moving in next door, it wasn't because of the brown people's legal status, probably because it would have been no different than his own. Grandpa sold all his possessions one day to get the money to come to America with nothing but his clothes and a sandwich. Why do we see him as a hero for doing the very thing we would lynch Jose for doing today? Please tell me it's not only because we changed immigration laws during the cold war, we certainly didn't change lady liberty's tablet (look closely, the statue is probably on one of the 9-11 stickers on your SUV).

One last thing on grandpa. He left the old country for a very compelling reason, probably not to see Mt. Rushmore. Do you think for a second that he would have done anything differently simply because the law prevented it? How much longer would he have toiled under authoritarianism and poverty while he waited for his visa if it had been required? If he had been able to come over anyway, and live under the radar, working horrible jobs for long hours to scrounge up money, the catch being that he would be "illegal", would he have done it anyway? I hope the answer is yes, otherwise, neither grandpa's migration or America itself are as cool and admirable as we probably think they are.

The other editorial piece that bothered me was a very poorly written opinion by one of Clarence Thomas's old clerks, defending Justice Thomas's opinions against charges that they were poorly written. I didn't read the whole thing, so I'm not going to go on about it, it just bothered me that he would start sentences with plural subjects and not finish it that way. (A little example there... nice, yes?).

Not all illegal immigrants are saints, of course, but as a rule, they are not a force of darkness out to destroy us (like grandpa was). All I'm saying, people, is return your movies on time...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting tidbit: WOP was actually an acronym. It stood for "without papers".


Carlos en carga

11 January, 2005 11:21  
Blogger Dan said...

I have heard this. I've also heard that many Italian children were named Tony because they'd been pinned with a note saying "To N.Y.". I don't know if these are facts, or jokes, but they are certainly interesting if true.

Thanks for your comment!

11 January, 2005 11:56  

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