Don't Blame the Aliens
But no, I fell prey to the climate of fear those commercials aroused. I thought of Taiwanese immigrants as good, hardworking and law-abiding people. Mexicans were lower-class, uneducated, violent gang-bangers who had no business being in this country. But as Becky and I made our way back to California, I was deeply disturbed by what I learned about how ignorant views like my own can lead to really stupid and tragic laws.
As a country made up almost entirely of immigrants (except for Native Americans), we seem to have such bizarre and contradictory attitudes about opening up our borders to outsiders. On the one hand, we celebrate our immigrant heritage and that fact that so many people found new lives here in America. On the other hand, anti-immigrant hatred, otherwise known as nativism, has also been a part of the national mindset, going back to the Know-Nothings. We depend on the cheap labor of immigrants to build our railroads, canals and factories. Then we feel threatened by their success or their "anti-American" ways.
Race, of course, has played a huge role in which immigrants we welcome into this country and which ones we don't. In the United States, there are around 5 million undocumented immigrants. Of those, around 2 million are thought to be Mexican. And most illegal immigrants are here not because they jumped the border, but because they've overstayed their visits.
Even so, at the border outside Tijuana these days, there are 10 helicopters with infrared cameras, stadium lights that go on for 6 miles, and 1200 sensors to detect human bodies. All this technology is there for the sole purpose of keeping out a desperate group of people fleeing the poverty of their own country. Despite the hurdles, thousands still attempt to cross the border every year. Many undocumented immigrants have had to hike through dangerous mountains and deserts and over 600 people in California alone are thought to have died of starvation or to have drowned in the river.
One group that is fighting for the human rights of Mexican immigrants and for a more humane policy is the American Friends Service Committee. Their US/Mexico Border Program is run by Roberto Martinez, an activist of 20 years. The Service Committee has put out human rights reports explaining all the ways in which our immigration policies are unjust. Besides increasing risks to crossing the border, people of Latino descent are often stopped for no reason and asked to prove that they are American citizens.
The neighborhoods we grow up in determine a lot about how we view the world. I grew up in a suburb primarily made up of whites and Asians. You would think having lived in California for most of my life I would know something about Mexico and the people who come from there. But the sad truth is that the only contact I had with Mexicans was through my TV set. Whenever political elections rolled around, I would see commercials showing illegal Mexicans trying to cross the border into the US. You would think as the child of immigrants I would have sympathized with the experiences of Mexican Americans.
Making A Difference...For Real
Writing your Congressperson to let them know your feelings on these laws could make a huge difference! And remember that our country is built on the backs of immigrants seeking their American Dream. Let's do what we can to help them achieve it.
Please email me at:
Links to Other Dispatches
Neda - Building a better human - in the 1920's?!
Jennifer - Evolution's gonna make a monkey's uncle out of you!