Since its creation, the United States of America have been a country of immigrants, a country that welcomed and encouraged the arrival of new, young, brave and eager immigrants to populate a vast territory, “young men, go west” was a common phrase in the late XIX century on American ports. And so came Italians, Greeks, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Polish, Czechs, Croats, Serbs and Irish, all of them running away from the old continent, searching a bright, better future in a country where neither your social status nor your ancestry determined your present, let alone your future.
Social mobility and the eagerness for richness transformed America into a social utopia, the easiness of the possibility of reaching a better life soon became stuff of legend, thus the American dream was born. However, not only from Europe came the immigrants, south of the border lays a vast, impoverished, dreamy continent which also shares the name “America”, Latin America in order to differentiate the obvious linguistic, cultural, religious and political differences (Although no country in Latin America is the same!).
The American dream represents for Latin Americans something more than an illusion, in the most unequal region in the world, it represents a possibility, a rather bright possibility. Don’t get me wrong, growing up in Latin America is something like a mix of surrealism and traditional legends, it is living in a diverse and colorful environment where sounds and flavors are the result of centuries of fusion and creation. Years of revolutions, blood and powder, dictators, guerrillas, Ché Guevara and football are in the veins of the majority of the people, and so is the custom of looking up to the sky and sigh.
If reaching those dreams means crossing the desert or a river or risking one’s life on a raft, then there is no problem, staying is the same as dying. Due to economic troubles mainly, but also political ones, Hispanic immigrants have taken that step into the American dream, submerging themselves into the unknown, away from their families and into a country that have used the resources of their homelands at will, exploited their people through misery and transnational corporations, and wanted them in the first place.
Immigration from Mexico and other Central American countries was cyclical, during the harvest season, thousands of peasants from south of the American border would flock into the fields reinforcing the manpower of the farms and plantations of the US. During WWII, while thousands of men were away for the war, it was those peasants from the south who kept up production, in fact, that kind of migration was legalized in the “Bracero Act” which made it possible for thousands of Mexican workers and farmers to work and live in the US while the war was on. After the deal ended, still thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans kept flocking every harvest season to the north to help in the places they’ve always worked at, cyclically, returning to their families after the deed was done.
Then in the 1980’s, the US made, in my opinion, a terrible mistake. In order to appeal to a more secure image, the government strengthened the border security; fences, checkpoints, more border patrol, more security checks, crossing to the US became harder and harder, so if you wanted to go north and chase your American dream, well, you should do it illegally still, but coming back and forth was no longer an option. People stood in the US.
After decades of illegal immigration, over 12 million people live and work in the shadows in the US, doing various jobs that sustain the American economy and have widened its culture. Some years ago, noted academic Samuel P. Huntington wrote a book titled “Who we are”, where he explained how “Latinos” are undermining American culture, ripping it apart, transforming old All-American communities and traditions into fiestas and piñatas. He missed to tell now Latino culture has provided so many advantages in every field of life to the US (Take baseball for example, and All-American sport. Who has been considered as the #1 player for the past decade in the Major League Baseball?…. Albert Pujols… Dominican. This simplistic example can be extended into everything; science (Mario Molina, Chemistry Nobel Peace Prize, Mexican), law (Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice, Puerto Rican), politics (Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico, Mexican American), TV (Eva Longoria, actress, Mexican American), music (Gloria Estefan, singer, Cuban American), literature (Paula Fox, writer, Cuban American).
The importance of the Hispanic community in the US is undeniable, and with millions of “Latinos” as the largest minority in the US, and integral migratory reform is important, but not the Arizona way.
Last week, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law an immigration bill that, in brief, does the following:
1. Makes a State Crime to be in the US illegally.
2. Legal immigrants must carry documentation.
3. With “reasonable suspicion”, police must check for documents.
4. Citizens can sue the government for not enforcing this law.
Now, let’s go step by step.
I agree that every country is in its own right to declare illegal migration as a crime, it is a way of exercising control and law to a certain degree and illegal migration is, well… illegal. However making legal immigrants to carry their documents is discriminatory. Why should legal US citizens carry their documents only on the basis that they are immigrants? Don’t they have the same rights as US born citizens? Why taking them in the first place?
However what really has a racist bias in the law is that police can stop you while driving or walking in the street or buying CD, if they suspect you are an illegal citizen. Now, tell me, who will authorities suspect from? The blue-eyed blonde or the hispanic looking guy? Simple answer isn’t it?
The country that praises freedom and equality the most is now discriminating and race profiling immigrants and transforming them in criminals overnight, people that just work and live as any other American, people who is legal that must carry now their papers, like in dictatorship regimes… really, the American dream in Arizona has become an awful, sunny nightmare.
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