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Sunday, May 23, 2004

Since when are Mexican immigrants terrorists?

David Neiwert has a couple of really fantastic posts up now. This one is about how certain Republicans are using the war on terrorism to implement anti-immigration policies aimed more at intimidating Mexican immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants. (Read the other one he posted yesterday about a fascist-style censorship flare-up in a New Mexican high school, it's also fantastic.)
I grew up in West Texas and I can tell you that there is some outstandingly unchecked racism against Mexicans, particularly recent immigrants, growing out in the Southwest. Of course, everyone there who expresses racist sentiments will immediately backtrack and say that they don't hate all Hispanics, they just have a problem with the ones who come over here and won't learn English. That other people can't or won't speak English is a problem of unparalleled significance, to hear some people talk about it. Neiwert addresses this, rather wittily:

Students of history are familiar with these complaints, since they have been leveled against virtually every group of immigrants to come to the United States. Of course, the language complaint also bespeaks a peculiarly American bit of unthinking arrogance about other languages; Americans are possibly the only people on Earth who are positively insulted that people from other nations have failed to learn how to speak English.

It's true. If you want a laugh, go to El Paso and watch white people's reactions whenever they hear people conversing with each other in Spanish out in public. How dare they speak to each other about things that aren't my business in a language I don't understand! The belief that in America, people should be speaking English all the time everywhere they go has been around long enough that in El Paso, at least, there are a number of complex assumptions that go with it.

* Whenever someone is defending this belief, they will trot out the cliche, "If I was going to move to Germany (or France or whatever, but very rarely Mexico for some reason), I would learn their language." I hear this all the time from people who clearly haven't given it a moment's thought. Yes, it makes sense to learn, say, German if you are going to live in Germany. Of course, in El Paso there is a huge army base filled to the brim with soliders who have been stationed in Germany, some for years. And many of those soliders brought their children over to Germany to enroll them in school there, but only in the English-speaking schools on the American bases. Very, very few people I know of who were stationed in Germany, even for long periods of time, learned a lick of German. But strangely, you never hear the "if you live there learn it" crowd chewing those soliders out for this.
* It's assumed that if you hear someone speaking Spanish, they don't know English, regardless of the situation. And it's beginning to go the other way, where many people hear someone speaking English and they assume that they don't know Spanish. This attitude always amazes me, because El Paso probably has one of the highest percentages of bilingual citizens of anywhere in the country.
* There's a hierarchy of languages. If someone hears two people, particularly two women, speaking Spanish to each other, they will get the disgusted. If someone walks up to a clerk in a store and explains in halting English that they don't really know English and could a Spanish-speaking clerk help them, they often get hostile treatment. But if this situation occurs with an uncommon language like French or German, it's rare that someone gets upset.
* If someone doesn't know English and only knows Spanish, it's assumed that they must be a lazy immigrant. That many people out shopping on a Saturday in El Paso actually live in Juarez and therefore have no real need to learn English is ignored. I know of no one who feels the compulsion to learn Spanish so that they can go shopping in Juarez, though everyone does go shopping in Juarez.

Well, the language thing is kinda funny, if unfortunate. But this whole military build-up on the border is a serious situation. It can only escalate an already hostile-ish border situation. I don't know why anyone thinks that's a good idea.

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I don't know how others feel, but I'm definitely looking into immigration to Canada as an option. The good ól US of A aint what it used to be.

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