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Monday, January 12, 2009

Killing Latinos in New York

This week The New York Times ran a front page story on Marcelo Lucero, an Equadorean immigrant who was stabbed to death in November by young thugs who shouted anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic slurs: Latinos Recall Pattern of Attacks Before Killing. The news story was about the long-standing pattern of hate in the Long Island town of Patchogue, a pattern that was news to the police. The mayor of Patchogue said that the immigration debate painted undocumented immigrants as “animals,” as outsiders who are “expendable.” Immigrants who have brought life back to Patchogue’s Main Street are instead blamed for cutbacks in schools, for crime, for bringing an alien culture and language to New York. One of the youths (all have pleaded not guilty) told authorities that he only went out “beaner hopping” once a week.

The mayor’s point belies the protestations of anti-immigrant talking heads and political demagogues, that they are attacking only illegal immigrants, not legal immigrants, that they are attacking “those who break our country’s laws,” not Latinos in particular. When you obsessively focus on every crime by an undocumented worker, invariably from Mexico, when you wave the flag and accuse immigrants of taking jobs from ‘real Americans’ to exploit economic fears, when you characterize someone who is darker than you and speaks another language as sub-human, the thug on the street with a knife in his hand and with hatred in his heart will not ask first to see your Green Card. He will stab you, and he may not even bother to ask questions later. That’s the reality. Our hateful environment encourages hateful, thoughtless acts.

‘It is okay to kill a person who shouldn’t be here. It is okay to kill someone who does not speak English. It is okay to kill the kind of person whom my mother and father hate at the dinner table. It is okay to kill someone who sounds like the person the red-faced Lou Dobbs is vilifying on CNN every night. No one wants that kind of person here in the United States, I am doing the country a favor, and I will be having some fun while I’m at it, by getting rid of this vermin.’ How long will we allow these poisonous thoughts to seep into American minds? Shall we wait for more killings of Latinos before we stand up against this hate?

The American hypocrisy on illegal immigration is stunning on so many levels. We profit from undocumented immigrants every day. With cheaper food at our tables. With apartment buildings and houses built by these workers. With nannies who take care of our children. American companies are richer because of the work of undocumented immigrants: food producers, home builders, construction companies, restaurants, bakeries. Perhaps we want to keep these immigrants in their shadowy, defenseless status. ‘Make money off of them, and kick them in ass, or kick them out when we’ve finished using them,’ that seems to be the cruel new American credo.

This hypocrisy on illegal immigration extends beyond those in ‘white’ America, descendants of English, Irish, German, Jewish, and Italian immigrants who made their way to the New World by hook or by crook. This hypocrisy extends to some Latinos who have made it here, and want to close the doors to any more newcomers. It extends to some African-Americans who claim a privileged minority status, and so don’t see why any benefits of the civil rights movement should be given to those who weren’t forced to the New World as slaves.

This has never been, and never will be, a black and white issue. We should ask and argue for a return to working out the complex problem of immigration humanely and rationally. We should decry those who use incendiary rhetoric on immigration to climb atop the backs of the weak, for higher ratings or for more votes. We are better than that. Perhaps it is too much to ask of human beings, to see if they don’t recognize that poor, new outsider as someone they once were, as someone who their grandfather or grandmother might have been in another time. It is too much to ask, but we should nevertheless keep asking for America to have an open mind, if we are to keep the best traditions of the New World alive.

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