So there were 30,000 people demonstrating at the State Capitol yesterday, talking about the immigration issue. The Archbishop weighed in. The constellation of left-wing activists, rent-a-Marxists and professional grievance mongers were all present and accounted for. Flags from just about every country in the Western Hemisphere fluttered in the breeze.
Like a moth to a flame, the ongoing debate over immigration is almost impossible to resist. This debate goes to the very essence of what makes this country what it is. It is also a vast buffet of competing agendas and a 55 gallon drum of cynicism. In short, it’s a uniquely American discussion. But what drives the players?
I think we have to look at it with two words – opportunity, and opportunism. Those who come to the U.S. from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, the D.R., etc., are here because life back home is unacceptable. If you’ve ever been to Central America, it’s obvious why someone would risk their life to come to America. In my youth I spent a summer as an exchange student in Guatemala. I lived with a wealthy family who lived in a comfortable home on the outskirts of Guatemala City, who also owned a coffee plantation near Antigua (well known to anyone who has spent time at a Starbucks) and had a vacation home near the volcanic and amazingly gorgeous Lake Atitlan. While I was there, I was able to see how “las indigenas,” mostly the descendants of Mayan cultures, lived. And it was terrible. I saw women washing their clothes in a polluted stream. I saw beggars and sad faced children, the entire panoply of poverty and privation, skulking down the roads, occasionally staring at the tall, nervous young man in their midst. What I learned is that many of these people were unable to speak Spanish, instead conversing in Mayan dialects. So they had no chance to get ahead, especially with a corrupt, military-dominated government that viewed summary execution as an acceptable application of state power.
If that is how you live, picking sugar beets outside Fergus Falls for $6/hour or washing dishes for the Udupi Café in Columbia Heights would be a decided improvement. And chances are good you would come to El Norte. Not surprisingly, some people have made it here. And I don’t blame them for that. It is my great fortune, and an accident of my birth, that I entered the planet in Chicago, scion of middle class parents, rather than in a remote Mayan village.
But there’s a rub, of course. Those who are unable to communicate for themselves often are the mercy of those who would communicate for them. This is where the opportunism of the professional grievance mongers come in. Left-wing movements always trumpet their credentials as advocates for the downtrodden. They regularly issue polemics, make signs, organize marches and the like. Where the nexus between these groups and the immigrant community becomes even more problematic is when you start getting the “reconquista” and “Aztlan” rhetoric. In this telling, evil America has stolen the land from the downtrodden through its 19th century imperialist wars against Mexico. California, and everything in it, rightly belongs to the People, not to those gringos who control and exploit the land now. And the leftist firebrands who swear allegiance to Castro, Chavez and Che will right this historic wrong. And provide banners and logistical support, too!
But it’s rot, of course. The variety and number of Venezuelans who are coming north is increasing now, specifically because Chavez is imposing his own dictatorship. Cubans have long been willing to risk death by climbing onto makeshift rafts, hoping to avoid the sharks long enough to wash up in America. But Cuban refugees are not typically popular, because they are known to do things like support Republicans.
So what do we do? Keep revisiting the matter. More tomorrow.