Posts Tagged ‘Immigration


A Trio of Sensitive Topics

Every now and then, I have to undertake a quick roundup on contemporary issues that befuddle, perplex, or amuse me. Considering that I have been in a nonproductive haze for the last week or so (it’s a long story, and you don’t want to hear it), this is a good time for me to tackle these mini controversies, these bite-sized morsels of interest that might not warrant a full, in-depth post but that should be addressed.

First, as befitting its status, we will start with the female breast. I think we’re all big fans, but this week, the news about breasts took a decidedly Hispanic turn.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latina moms are more likely than any other group to breastfeed their babies. The study gave no reason for this, but I have to presume that the strong Hispanic emphasis on family (and therefore, upon babies and children) is one reason that Latina mothers are more willing to put up with sore nipples and occasional social awkwardness.

The researchers said that “breast-feeding benefits both mothers and their babies” but add that “the longer Hispanic immigrants are in the U.S., the more accepting they are of using baby formula. They also tend to adopt worse eating habits and lifestyles for themselves.” One researcher said, “Their health actually begins to decline.”

So for all those who say that Hispanic immigrants don’t assimilate, here is further proof that you’re wrong. Given enough time, Latinos from other countries quickly grow obese and sickly, just like the rest of us. God bless America!

Speaking of the American Dream, the favorite immigrant of Republicans, Arnold Schwarzenegger, issued yet another idiotic faux pas this week. My state’s governor said that Hispanics are naturally temperamental and “are all very hot. They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it.”

It’s an interesting theory of eugenics, but then again, it does come from a man who knows a thing or two about mixing races – or mingling circuitry with human flesh, same thing.

I’m not a huge fan of Schwarzenegger’s politics. For that matter, I’m not too crazy about a lot of his movies. So it’s not bias toward the governor when I say that his comments sound more like a moronic attempt to be funny than an outright slur. The target of his joke, a Latina state official, said as much. Therefore, I think we can let the guy off the hook, especially because he quickly apologized. But let’s watch it, Mr. Governator.

This brings me to my final item. It seems that I have fresh competition in the Latino blogosphere. This week, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced that he’s starting his own blog. Chavez said, “I am going to dig my own trench on the Internet,” with the intention of spreading his revolution through cyberspace. I, for one, look forward to reading the insights of a touchy head of state who is, quite frankly, a bit of a lunatic. I’m sure it will not be boring.

In addition to these brief updates, let me thank, as always, everyone who has commented on my recent posts. Yes, I’m talking to you, Niall, Clairela, Pete, and Mary Lynn. And here’s a special shout out to Ankhesen, who posted a treasure trove of Hispanic humor in the comments section for my post “A Priest, a Rabbi…”

Take a look.


Expats vs. Immigrants

The waiter approached our table and recited the specials in a flowery French accent. Because I live in Los Angeles, I assume that every waiter is an actor, especially ones who are speaking with outrageous inflections.

But as it turned out, he was the real deal. Over the course of the dinner, he informed us that former Parisians constituted most of the restaurant’s staff. Evidently, the owner was from France, and he liked to help his fellow countrymen get started in this country.

“So you’re an expatriate,” I said.

“Oui,” he answered.

Now, I’m certainly not going to claim that the French are wildly popular with Americans. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that people in this country were ordering freedom fries.

Strangely enough, I don’t recall anybody asking for a freedom kiss. But I digress.

The point is we can all agree that Europeans, in general, receive kinder greetings here than do people from Latin America. In fact, it’s in the very terms we use.

The French waiter was an expat. It’s a word that evokes a daring and exotic nature, an upscale sensibility. It’s a positive term.

In contrast, we refer to Guatemalans and Colombians and Ecuadorians as immigrants. That word conjures up a lot of connotations, but most of them, alas, are not positive.

What is the reason for this dichotomy?

Certainly, legality has something to do with it. I presume that the French waiter has a work visa. The Mexican busboy, in contrast, may not. But as I’ve written before, the self-righteous screeching over the “illegal” part of the phrase “illegal immigrant” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s a point, yes, but a minor one.

The differentiation, according to one unimpeachable source, “comes down to socioeconomic factors… skilled professionals working in another country are described as expatriates, whereas a manual laborer who has moved to another country to earn more money might be labeled an ‘immigrant.’ ”

It’s an arbitrary, even unfair, definition. But it’s accurate.

Still, that doesn’t explain the difference fully. For example, we would never call someone a Mexican expatriate, even if she were a successful businessperson like the owner of the French restaurant. She is forever an immigrant.

At its most basic level, the reason that we view Frenchman and German women and British people as expats, rather than as immigrants, is because we like them better. We respect them more.

It’s right there in the language.

It works the other way too. Any American adult who chooses to live abroad is an expatriate (with the possible exception of Peace Corps volunteers). It really doesn’t matter if you bum around Europe for years or head up the international office in Hong Kong. If you’re an American living in a foreign land, you’re an expat. You won’t be called an immigrant unless a native resents your presence, and even then, you’re more likely to be called “gringo,” “yanqui,” or “member of the invading imperialist army.”

There is, of course, a long history of Americans moving abroad to have their art better appreciated, or at least to sleep with people who have more interesting accents. It’s the Lost Generation of Hemingway, and the Beat Generation of Kerouac, and the Brooding Generation of Johnny Depp (he lives in France, you know).

So perhaps I will do my part and live out that dream I have about moving to London. It might be amusing to see the British try to figure out if I’m an American expatriate or a Latino immigrant.

Perhaps I would be both.


The Problem with a Faulty Spam Filter

I have a racist in-law. But then again, who doesn’t?

I don’t see a lot of this guy, because my wife only begrudgingly let him back into her life after a decade of exile. She has not exactly done cartwheels over the decision, but we’re stuck with him now.

Clearly, this man is not particularly close to his relative, my wife, or else he would have noticed that she disgraced the master race by marrying a Latino. My guess is that he thinks I just spend a lot of time in the tanning booth.

It’s important to note that my in-law is not overt about his bigotry. He either isn’t as virulent as, say, 1950s Strom Thurmond, or more likely, he doesn’t have the cojones to be upfront about it.

Of course, this brings up the uncomfortable truth that we now have degrees of racism. In the old days, a person was either a hate-filled redneck with a noose in one hand, or he was a progressive, love-thy-neighbor type who was incapable of seeing race, much less discriminating against someone.

But a more nuanced view has come into play in recent years. This viewpoint holds that everyone has some level of unconscious prejudice. At its lowest level, it may be the white woman who grips her purse a little tighter when a black man passes her on the street. From there, we ratchet up the intensity until we reach Klan level.

My in-law is somewhere between those poles. His dancing around the issue makes his prejudice less obnoxious in person and, on occasion, even unintentionally hilarious.

Recently, he sent us a forwarded email that slammed Obama’s immigration-reform plan. Perhaps I should have pointed out to him that there is no Obama immigration-reform plan, per se, but that would have prevented me from savoring the deeply astute political viewpoints that the email expressed.

  • There was a lot about English being under attack.
  • There was something about immigrants breeding out of control.
  • There were a few lines about Mexicans stealing our jobs.

Yes, I learned a lot from my quick glance at the missive. Most interestingly, the email detoured into how Anglo-Saxon culture was the only basis for American values. The email gave white people credit for ending slavery in America (neglecting the obvious fact that white people were responsible for slavery in the first place). I must admit that this was an interpretation of history that I had never considered.

The forward ended, rather ominously, with the declaration that white people can, at any point, take back everything they have generously given the rest of America.

I wasn’t sure what response my in-law wanted. Like I said, I barely know the guy.

Is it more proper to call him on his bullshit? Or would that just be a waste of time that does nothing but jack up everyone’s blood pressure? Is it standing up for oneself and La Raza to go on the counteroffensive? Or is it more dignified to dismiss idiocy with the split-second contempt that it deserves? Like many things in life, dealing with racists offers valid arguments for contradictory courses of action.

In the end, I just deleted the man’s rant and made a mental note to do the same whenever he sends us another email.

He’s since forwarded numerous other manifestos, but I’ve deleted them automatically, declining the opportunity to learn how Obama is a socialist who wasn’t even born in this country and wants to give all my money to gay, flag-burning immigrants.

All that can wait until my next face-to-face discussion with my in-law, whenever that is. I’m sure he’ll start the conversation with “I’m not racist, but…”

Yes, good times are coming.


Under the Bridge

One of the amazing things about living in a city like Los Angeles is its sheer scope. I lived here for five years in the 1990s, and yet there are whole neighborhoods that I’m only seeing now that I’ve moved back.

Recently, I was running errands and, as usual in this town, driving from one part of the city to the other. I drove beneath an underpass that’s part of a labyrinthine alcove of freeways and bridges. All the concrete and cars blotted out the very sun (ok, that’s a little hyperbole, but not too much).

I had never been to this part of LA before, and my attention was fixed on reading street signs and searching for landmarks. Still, I couldn’t miss the encampment as I drove past it – no one could have.

There most of been a hundred of them, there beneath the intersection of multiple bridges. They were trabajadores, the immigrant workers who gather in places like that to beg, cajole, and hustle jobs.

Some of them were gathered around a pickup, shouting or gesturing in what I presumed was an attempt to communicate to the driver (their day’s potential employer) that they were the strongest and hardest-working of the lot. Others were sitting on the gravel, talking among themselves or playing some card game that was hidden to me. Others lay spread out with cowboy hats over their eyes, trying to catch a nap. At least one small group was cooking something on a portable-stove type thing.

I saw all this while stopped at the light. And then traffic surged forward, and I continued on my task.

As I drove away, I realized that I had never witnessed that before. Despite seeing trabajadores hard at work myriad times, and writing about them at length, I had never viewed the genesis of the process: a swarming in their shanty town where they jostle one another for the chance to labor for a pittance.

For some reason, I abruptly remembered when I lived in New York City, and I saw my first drug deal take place on the street (for the record, I was neither buyer nor seller; just a passing bystander). I had seen plenty of college kids buy pot, but this was different. It was what people really did when they wanted heroin or crack or the mythologized “hard drugs.” The transaction was much sloppier and less dramatic than television makes it out to be. Still, it was an authentic moment – not a fictionalized reference point.

It was like that when I saw the trabajadores. This was an authentic part of our culture, officially underground yet instantly recognizable to just about everyone. But like the drug deal, few people had actually seen it in the real world. We adopt images from movies and news stories, and assume that this counts as experience. But no editor or voiceover or carefully studied camera angle got between me and the crowd in the immigrant camp.

It was real. But of course, for me, it’s fodder. For the trabajadores, it’s their lives.


On Second Thought, Keep Your Tired and Poor

In the two years that I’ve been writing this blog (that’s right, we’re coming up on the anniversary), my biggest surprise has been the frequency with which I discuss immigration. Certainly, I thought that it would be a major topic. It’s difficult to discuss contemporary Latino culture without at least addressing it.

But I figured I would create a few posts pointing out some basics, such as the following:

  • We demonize the undocumented
  • We hypocritically profit from their labor
  • We claim that race is not an issue
  • We latch on to simplistic answers

I figured after that, I would only touch upon the subject now and then. However, crazy news keeps popping up regarding our love-hate (or at times, hate-hate) relationship with immigration. This is perplexing in a nation that was founded by immigrants and their offspring.

For example, it’s recently come out that more than one hundred illegal immigrants have died in federal detention centers over the past six years. More amazing is the fact that, according to the New York Times, the people in charge of these facilities “used their role as overseers to cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media, or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse.”

Basically, lots of noncitizens were being neglected, and perhaps even abused, in these centers. And the reaction of officials was to cover it up. I’m sure part of the reason for this hush-hush treatment is because immigrants are, you know, not really people.

This development comes at the same time that a recent report has assessed the economic impact of immigration reform. The report found that creating a pathway to legal status for the undocumented would pump $1.5 trillion into the economy over a decade. The report said that taking the opposite approach – that is, deporting everybody whose papers are not 100% in line – would cost the country $2.6 trillion over the same time frame.

Of course, we don’t make decisions based purely on dollar considerations (well, maybe Rupert Murdoch does). But these figures are a compelling argument.

Before we get to talk about citizenship and legality, however, perhaps we should make sure that people aren’t being killed in government-run institutions. Yes, that would be nice.


Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Once again, I’ve been far too lax about thanking people for commenting on my recent posts. So let me give a shout out to Stephanie, Louis, Emma, and Pipil for their contributions to the site. Now that my rudeness has been addressed, let’s take a look at my cynicism.

Despite my frequently cynical viewpoint and occasional outbursts of rage (always justified, I assure you), I consider myself a fairly optimistic person. But I’ve just found out that my positive attitude has made me a psychological minority within an ethnic minority.

This is because my fellow Latinos are a little down on the world right now, especially regarding how well we all get along with each other. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that “one year after the election of President Barack Obama, black optimism about America has surged, while Hispanics have become more skeptical about race relations.”

Basically, African Americans are still feeling pretty good about their place in society, while Latinos are, as the headline to the story puts it, “wary” about our status in this country. It doesn’t appear to just be self-loathing or paranoia, either.

Among the interesting tidbits in the poll is the finding that “Hispanics, not blacks, now are seen as the ethnic group facing the most discrimination. Twenty-three percent of all respondents say Hispanics are discriminated against ‘a lot,’ compared with eighteen percent for blacks, ten percent for whites and eight percent for Asians.”

So what do we take away from this finding, besides the facts that black Americans are on the upswing and that everybody loves Asians? Well, it would appear that the unwanted title of most feared ethnic group in America – long held by blacks – is being passed to Latinos.

Clearly, the relentless media attacks – and occasional overt violence – directed toward immigrants has taken a toll, even upon perceptions of Hispanics who are legal residents. Indeed, the article states that “there have been a number of recent attacks on Latinos that advocates say are hate crimes fueled by anti-immigration rhetoric.”

So it’s not just that blacks are feeling better about their status. They’re also perceived better by the majority culture.

It may be that whites are more likely these days to scowl at Latinos than to clutch their purses when an African American walks by. As a result, according to the poll, “Hispanics are less optimistic than other groups about interracial relations. When whites and blacks were asked how well their group gets along with Hispanics, more than seventy percent say ‘very’ or ‘pretty’ well. In contrast, only about fifty percent of Hispanics feel the same way.”

Of course, another reason for the current depression among Latinos is our sky-high unemployment rate. While the overall percentage of Americans without jobs stands at 10 percent, for Hispanics it’s an even more impressive 12.9 percent. That doesn’t lead to cheery feelings.

In essence, we Latinos have backslid. We are now more likely both to be out of work and to be discriminated against than just a few years ago. As such, cartwheels may not exactly be called for.

In the face of this dismal pessimism, however, I remain optimistic. Things will get better for both Latinos and for all Americans. I can’t give you a concrete reason for my feelings. I guess I’m just audacious about hope… or has someone used that phrase already?


Wading into the Great Debate

I’ve avoided commenting on the healthcare controversy too much because, first, it’s a massively complex issue that would require several posts to do justice. And second, I have no desire to spend time purging my inbox of illiterate screeds that insist I’m a socialist under Obama’s evil spell.

However, I do have to make a few points about the legislation that Congress is considering. Because my focus is on Hispanic culture, let me throw some information about Latinos’ healthcare at you.

Hispanics are younger than the general population, and therefore enjoy the health benefits that come with youth. Also, when compared to white people, we tend to have healthier hearts (yes, despite our infamous hot tempers) and are less likely to suffer a stroke.

However, these pluses must be balanced against the fact that we tend to be fatter, have a greater risk for diabetes, and are less likely to be fully immunized when compared to the majority culture.

Most interesting is that Latinos are the group most likely to be uninsured. A stunning 40 percent of Hispanics don’t have insurance, which no doubt accounts for a large chunk of the overall uninsured rate of 16 percent.

Of course, one reason for that is because the current system makes it difficult for immigrants to get insurance. And since we’re on that subject…

It’s telling that despite all the problems, controversies, conspiracy theories, and whacked-out distractions that accompany the healthcare debate, only one concept provoked a U.S. congressman to shatter decades of political etiquette and indulge in a childish outburst. You no doubt remember this magical moment:

What got Congressman Wilson so up in arms was Obama’s statement that illegal immigrants would not be covered under his plan. Now, it’s one thing to shout insults at the president on live television. It takes even more cojones when you’re wrong.

In fact, illegal immigrants are not covered under any public option. Nor would they be provided with vouchers to help them pay for insurance. The Senate version of the bill even prevents them from buying insurance on public exchanges.

So it seems pretty clear that they’re not covered, right? Well, what has Wilson supporters screaming that their man was right is that the House version of the bill does not specifically bar illegal immigrants from buying insurance with their own money at full cost.

Regardless of political ideology, it strains logic to say that this provision means that taxpayers will have to pay for illegal immigrants’ healthcare. Actually, it seems to me that it would be the other way around, in that illegal immigrants would pay full price and help lower the costs for everyone. But I’m not an economist, much less a right-wing one.

The only way to appease the nativist crowd is if illegal immigrants are not allowed to buy anything in this country with their own money. Their cash,incidentally, is usually earned by repairing your roof, picking your vegetables, and raising your kids. But that’s another story.

By the way, one late amendment would send the bill for illegal immigrants’ healthcare to their countries of origin, which is at least a creative (albeit farfetched) approach. I’m sure, however, that this idea will go nowhere.

In any case, we can have a legitimate discussion about how much all this costs, and if it’s the best way to address the problem, and how to address the healthcare of non-citizens. But we’re not having that discussion, because too many people are busy shouting “Communist!” and accusing Obama of setting up death panels while dishing out free healthcare to illegal immigrants.

In a decade or so, after all this is sorted out and the United States has some kind of public healthcare, we’ll be stumped over what all the screaming was about. That’s my hope, anyway.


An American Mindset

My return to California has been the recurrent theme of many of my recent posts. Packing up my life has me thinking about the many times I’ve relocated. As I close in on forty, I’ve just completed my sixth major move (the first was when I was an infant). Counting all the minor moves within cities, I’m probably well past twenty zip codes.

Looking at it another way, my wife and I have been together for eighteen years, and we figure we’ve spent about three of those getting ready for, or recovering from, a move. And let me tell you, living among boxes and making appointments to get cable hooked up never loses its exotic luster.


So why do I do it?

Perhaps, among the restlessness and need for change, there is a more basic reason. I think it might have something to do with my family’s recent history as immigrants. There’s a willingness to strike out and explore that many people who are fifth or sixth generation don’t seem to have.

I’m not saying this is either good or bad. It’s just a different mindset.

For example, when I graduated from college, I moved to New York City. Many of my friends were aghast that I would just pack up and leave without a job, bound for such a huge and insane place.

But I knew that my mother had also moved to New York City in her twenties. The difference was that she understood very little English and was on her own. In contrast, I was a natural-born citizen, fluent in the ways of the culture, with a fresh college degree and the companionship of my girlfriend (now wife). I correctly saw it as a no big deal in comparison.

This attitude seems to permeate my family. I recently wrote about Cousin #5, who recently moved to Hawaii. She did it because she wanted to live there, which is a good enough reason in my family (it’s working out well for her, by the way).

The cousins and I all grew up in one city in America’s heartland. Only three of us remain in that hometown. The other five are spread out from California to Texas to North Carolina to Hawaii. One of us actually went back to El Salvador. As such, over half my family’s current generation has said, “Let’s hit the road.”

I compare this to my wife’s family, many of whom still live in the same small Midwestern town in which their original ancestors settled. Most of my friends live in or near to their respective hometowns, be that quant suburb or sprawling metropolis.

Again, that doesn’t make my family oh-so-cool. It’s just different.

So will this tendency to keep moving die down as we age? Will the next generation (my cousins’ children) say, “No thanks, I’m staying here”?

Well, I’d love to discuss that with you, but I can’t right now. You wouldn’t believe how many boxes I have to unpack yet.


I Bet They’re Hiding Under the Bed

One of the wonders of modern society is how even minor controversies can snowball into intense political and sociological debates where, apparently, the future of the country hangs in the balance. Really, even Halloween costumes are enough to create verbal fisticuffs.

That’s why I’m not surprised that the 2010 census has people tossing around accusations of nefarious intentions, with counteraccusations of idiocy flying back. The fear and hatred of this tedious government exercise has a long history.  And with the loathing of the current administration so potent among right-wingers, it’s no wonder that the tinfoil-hat crowd insists that filing out the form will somehow end up with you in a government-run gulag.

But I expected the neocons to get upset over the census. What surprised me is that some Latino groups have joined people like noted nutjob Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in calling for a boycott.

The thinking among some Hispanic organizations is that skipping the census is a great way to protest the lack of immigration reform. The Rev. Miguel Rivera, head of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, says that his group has talked 2.5 million Hispanics into refusing to be counted. Rivera hopes that some states will lose representation in Congress due to the undercounting. He believes that “If politicians don’t see the need for immigration reform, then we don’t need those politicians anyway.”

I can’t be the only one who sees the ineffectiveness of this take-my-ball-and-go-home approach. The census only reapportions congressional delegation. It doesn’t add or eliminate anything. So I don’t see how giving, say, Kansas more votes at the expense of California is going to speed up immigration reform. If anything, this strategy increases the odds of a spectacular backfire.

census raceQ8

Then there are those who don’t necessarily want to boycott the census, just alter it beyond recognition. A Republican-sponsored proposal calls for a freeze on Census Bureau funds if it doesn’t reprint its forms to ask respondents if they are citizens. I, for one, can’t imagine who they are targeting or attempting to intimidate with such a question.

We’ll ignore the fact that the party of fiscal responsibility is demanding that the government throw away the 400 million forms that have already been printed and start over, at no small expense. Instead, let me point out that presidential administrations of both parties have repeatedly agreed to count everybody, not just citizens. It’s pretty much settled law.

I’m also wondering about those conservatives who supposedly want government off our collective backs, and think it’s unconstitutional for the census to ask how many bathrooms you have. But it is ok for the bureau to throw in a last-second intrusive question designed specifically to frighten people. I see; it all makes sense now.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me admit that I was once one of those dreaded Census workers (it was a temp job on my summer break from college). I spent three months going door to door in the most wretched parts of my hometown, asking bored or annoyed residents how many people lived in their crumbling shanty of an apartment.

It was a pretty miserable experience, but it paid better than fast food. At no point did I swell with pride that I was helping continue the vital work of Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, etc. Neither did I worry if I was assisting the government with its final preparations for the mass arrest of citizens. It was all rather dull.

I miss those days.


Trick or Threat

First thing this morning, I noticed this intimidating fellow staring at me from my computer screen:


Of course, it’s the infamous “illegal alien” costume that got many immigrant-rights groups up in arms. For those who didn’t get enough of the strained attempt at humor, there’s also this version:


Yes, they’re undeniably offensive, and Hispanic groups are correct to call out the merchants on selling them. I doubt anything similarly offensive to Africa Americans would pass the gatekeepers at Target, Walgreens, or Amazon, all of whom briefly sold the items.

Still, let’s leave the backlash over the costumes at a firm but diplomatic rebuke. The costume makers were clearly attempting a play on words rather than making an outright derogatory political statement. And those words, “illegal alien,” actually went out around the time that Genesis recorded that cheesy song (what was that all about, by the way?). These days, “illegal immigrant” is used more often, or “undocumented worker” if you prefer to be sensitive, or any number of racial slurs if you prefer not to be.

In fact, getting apocalyptic about such things only gives ammunition to minutemen wannabes. Those are the guys who scream about everybody being hypersensitive and that freedom of speech is being suppressed and that, while we’re at it, nobody speaks English anymore. Let them look foolish, rather than indulging in an argument over something so trivial.

In fact, we can consider this a brief skirmish that’s already been won. Merchants have realized that it’s unwise to needlessly piss off potential customers just to appeal to a bunch of xenophobic frat boys. Perhaps this is another example of the growing power of Latinos to exercise some economic and political muscle. And maybe it shows that the establishment is ready to acknowledge that Hispanics are, you know, human beings, more or less.

With that settled, let’s put the controversy behind us and try to recapture the spirit of Halloween. Let’s stick with outfits that are completely appropriate for the holiday and that we can all agree form the basis of good wholesome fun.

That’s right – slutty nurse costumes for everybody!

August 2020

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