Monday, August 30, 2010

The Grass is...Meaner?

Guest essay by Miguel Villarreal

You could say this problem doesn’t concern me. My context is considerably far removed from the harsh realities and repercussions of what I am about to talk about, but you would be terribly, terribly wrong.

A couple of days have passed since the now omnisciently famous “Arizona Law” made its debut on the local law enforcement scene; and a cocktail of widely contrasting reactions have shown up across the board. I won’t be so simplistic as to say, “Republicans have said this, Democrats have said that, and that’s America," because I believe the real heartbeat of the situation lies within the American people and their sentiments, but I do consider that party reactions are at least somewhat dictated by popular demand.

This newly activated thermostat is definitely a result of not just one, but many things; but I think it’s pretty clear that at least a few tectonic plaques have begun shifting since the Obama administration charged into the white house and a few regional elections began entering the political perimeter. It’s really nobody’s fault, political battles will always find an important issue to rest themselves upon; but in this particular case we Mexicans have had to pay for the broken china.

The issue is clearly decisive and divisive, and it’s this way because it is important. It is true that both sides have really good arguments going for them as a whole, but we must admit that certain individuals do hold radical opinions and propose counterproductive solutions, and that these are things that can do no more than enlarge a crack in a pot that has never really been organic or smooth.

More than 30% of Arizona’s population is of Hispanic or Latino origin and, although most of them are undoubtedly legal Americans, a law that gives a police officer not only the right but also the motivation to solicit authentication papers based solely on the physical features of an individual cannot grant them the ability to visually distinguish the citizens from the not-quite denizens, and will inevitably lead to at least partial racial manifestations. At least.

Even an ethical, good-natured, well-meaning police official (of which I am sure there are many) will surely begin perceiving things through racial prisms if the law explicitly orders them to do so. Just the thought of a state in which more than one fourth of its citizens become “potential threats” from one day to the next makes me shiver; I cannot find a single argument that does not tell me how terrible this could be for its inner ambience and stability. What would happen if the state of Louisiana suddenly adopted similar measures in an effort to “deal” with African Americans?

I am the first one to admit that if we Mexicans had a real, substantial migration problem in our southern border, there would be fellow countrymen (politicians as well as ordinary citizens) who would react in similar, discriminatory ways; but that would not mean that they would be right in doing so. That would not exempt us from the responsibility of having to live up to our most rooted, foundational and constitutional ideals when addressing the issue.

Our economies are unavoidably interdependent, our border cultures are (even if our corresponding national prides makes us hesitate when admitting to this) irreversibly interwoven, and forcefully introducing a scalpel into our now-biologically integrated membranes will not only have negative repercussions for us mulatto folks, it will also (and I wish this wasn’t the case) affect Americans, in a deeper way that they can maybe imagine at the moment.

One of the things I most admire about Americans is their capacity solve problems in humane, institutionalized and intelligent (almost prodigious) ways; and, given their track record it is impossible for me to think that this serious, sensitive and bilateral (as in, we would also have to do our part) issue cannot be address in a much more thoughtful manner. The thing is that this has been currently turned into a political issue; a convenient and easily debatable vehicle that is boiling down a very complex natural phenomenon into a game of “is” and “is not." I really think we must take some time out to analyze this challenge with the diligence and objectivity it deserves; because we’re both so close together that we must inevitably tango, and we sure don’t want to be stepping on each other’s toes for the rest of the night.

People could say this problem doesn’t concern me. I am a middle class Mexican student who has had the fortune of being born far away from the needs and wants that prompt our fellow “transnational entrepreneurs” to abandon this incredible land; but they would be wrong. I travel often to the United States; I talk to many Americans and have countless friends there. I admire a great many things about their culture and cannot help but be humbled by Phoenix’s section of the Grand Canyon. Also, I live in Mexico, interact with my country mates on a daily basis, have a multitude of friends here and can’t help but be inspired by the breathtaking stillness and patience of the great Sonora Desert. I’m conflicted, and I really think I shouldn’t be.

It pains me because we are next-door neighbors. It really strikes a chord because we should be complimenting each other, fortifying our mutual economies, forging a stoic North American continent with the quality and stature needed to insure out heads are held high in this ever-evolving and globalized world. It shatters my day because it’s obvious that deep down we both want to be friends (or true allies, at least) but don’t know how to evaporate our skepticism and our fears.

We could think that this issue will transcend no further than a bunch of upcoming primaries, but laws tend to linger for long periods of time and alter paradigms in significant ways. We could assume that what’s done is done and that this cautionary tale is just a waste of energy and time, but I would really hope this not be the case. I cross my fingers that we can somehow alter our course, even if it is just a little, before we find out that we were terribly, terribly wrong.

[Miguel Villarreal blogs from Monterrey, México.]

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