Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Just Because? (reposted from La Voz, September 30, 2004)

In elementary school we awaited with happy anticipation for "Field Day", a day just for silly fun. We competed in sack races and bobbing for apples contests. Teams were divided in colors, the blue team, the red, the yellow and so on. No reasons for that order of things existed, except for the need to have different teams. All one had to do was cheer and defend one's team. Why? "Just because."

Now we come to another "Field Day" of sorts with higher stakes, the presidential elections. One of the issues pressed for in the presidential debates is the issue of illegal immigration; let's be frank, Hispanic illegal immigration. It is expected that Hispanics choose a team. It is assumed that Hispanics will choose the donkey team. Yet, Hispanics should be first in rejecting those assumptions since all assumptions about the Hispanic electorate are misleading.

Hispanics have grown increasingly tired of being either ignored or taken for granted by politicians who try to get their votes every few years using Mexican sombreros and taco-eating photo-ops on the electoral stage. So, Hispanics should move to a new stage, from claiming a right to be Hispanic or accepting the designation of Hispanics imposed on them by cultural elites to demanding and accepting an American identity. To be Hispanic is to be American. And to be American is to be Hispanic. Hispanic culture is American culture. Hispanic values are American values.

One of the most valuable of American cultural values is respect and appreciation for the rule of law. Illegal immigration breaks the law and breaks that bond of common values. Calling illegal immigration something else by use of euphemisms is harmful to the Hispanic community in its relations and aspirations with the rest of the community as a whole. If one comes from another country and does not have proper legal rights and documentation, one is here illegally, not just "undocumented." 

Yes, we are aware that we do not want to diminish the character or person of the illegal immigrant who comes looking for better opportunities. But that is not the point. The point is that American born Hispanics, and Americans of Hispanic heritage, should see this problem as Americans and not as politically bipolar persons.

Hispanics do not need to struggle between two identities, nor do they need to have a separate identity either. To have two identities in one is the American Hispanic experience. Although this seems to contradict all previously said, it is the only way to affirm the real identity that needs to be affirmed, and that is, the American identity.

At a recent university forum on immigration a member of the audience asked one those questions that seek self-affirmation, and through which it was declared that the proposal of President Bush was “just another way to exploit the undocumented workers whom are already exploited.” This is typical of the debate which assumes that all work is exploitation and that all illegal immigrants are just passive victims. While we do have illegal immigrants that are being used by employers that break the law, those illegal workers come for and accept those jobs voluntarily.

And yet, it should be recognized by all Americans, that the problem of illegal immigration is the problem of the border, and that border has a history of mutual illegal two-way immigration. Failure to recognize this fact is simply a state of denial, or worse yet, a form of intellectual dishonesty.

Being anti-Bush for its own sake should not blind “immigrant advocates” to the fact that his immigration proposal is a step, if not in the right direction, at least to promote the conversation that is not taking place. And if it is to be criticized it should be criticized from the perspective of being an American. Why should an American of Hispanic descent or a naturalized Hispanic American be defending illegal immigration is beyond explanation. It is only understandable from the perspective of advocacy propaganda or a militant mentality.

From a liberal perspective, any step toward the betterment of their legal status should be seen as a step toward the betterment of their condition in general. The fact is that illegal immigration, as it is today, is a mutually beneficial and hypocritical situation. Any step toward some formal and legal recognition is a step toward the moral liberation of both sides from an impossible situation, and toward the voluntary betterment of the present conditions in its social implications and for national security. To discard, without consideration or dialogue, President Bush’s proposal just because it comes from President Bush, or a Republican, is to do so “just because.”

Hispanics need not feel trapped in the middle of this important issue, yet they could be a bridge. Not a bridge to bring people together superficially but to make us aware that we are together in this boat of economic interdependence, like it or not.

The story of America is a story of conflict, negation and affirmation, accommodation and commitment. Yes, commitment. In the end that is what makes of anyone an American, not provenance but a commitment to American values. A common task ahead of us is the preservation of the American entity; one that is neither a nihilistic competition on the contributions of one demographic group over others, nor the establishment of moral superiority of a particular group over all others. The future of America is guaranteed in the preservation and transmission of its values, not in the affirmation of separate demographic entities.


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