Friday, September 29, 2006

I'm A Wetback

No, I didn't cross the Rio Grande to the Promised Land. I was born here in this region of the modern United States, just like seven generations (at least) of my family before me. But it doesn't matter to some people. Like that woman I accidently bumped into at Food City last month.

"I am SO sorry"

"Ugh! Go back to where you came from!" - she muttered as she stormed off with her grocery cart with the gimpy wheel.

I couldn't help but laugh at the irony. While she didn't call me a wetback, I've been called it before. Along with a host of other names that I've learned to absorb and transform into something untouchable by the hate of the speaker - orgullo - pride - in who I am and where my roots lie.

There is much gnashing of teeth and swallowing of tongues by anyone who consider human rights something more than a "quaint" notion. It's justified and certainly the response I share in solidarity.

It is also a reaction that is becoming more and more commonplace as the election nears and the rhetoric is ratcheted up. I cringe everytime I hear an elected official or a candidate espouse policy recommendations that are anathema to me. And I think that's a good thing. It's a reminder that I still have a functioning conscience.

People like Arizona GOP State Reprentative Russell Pearce, however, have long been devoid of compassion and fundamental decency. Lofty Donkey fills us in:


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In an interview on KJZZ Wednesday, Republican legislator Russell Pearce called for the reinstatement of Eisenhower’s 1953 immigration plan, “Operation Wetback.” The program, which was abolished a year later, sought to round up and deport all undocumented workers.

On "Morning Edition,” Pearce explained his vision of a pre-civil rights era immigration policy of mass deportation: “We know what we need to do. In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower, put together a task force called ‘Operation Wetback.’ He removed, in less than a year, 1.3 million illegal aliens. They must be deported.”
Operation Wetback was a devastating tragedy in the history of the U.S. but you won't hear much about it in the textbooks. It's too raw in its hatred and bigotry for the American palate.
It is difficult to estimate how many Mexicans were driven from the U.S. by Operation Wetback, but the INS claimed 1,300,000, five times as many immigrants as were displaced during the Great Depression. The San Antonio district of the INS, which included all of Texas outside of El Paso and the Trans-Pecos area, officially reported that it had apprehended more than 80,000 undocumented Mexicans, and officials estimated that an additional 500,000 to 700,000 immigrants in the district fled the country in fear of the Mobile Task Force. The exact toll of Operation Wetback will never be known, but the impact on the Mexican community was destructive. Again, as in the 1930s, families were uprooted and ruined and immigrant communities were destroyed. And again, as during the Great Depression, deportations to Mexico helped defuse the political time bomb of mass unemployment in the U.S. and rescue American capitalism.

Houston Institute for Culture
This particular program targeted Mexicans, but as can be expected from Minutemen-style tactics, many others were ensnared in the round-up
The object of his intense border enforcement were "illegal aliens," but common practice of Operation Wetback focused on Mexicans in general. The police swarmed through Mexican American barrios throughout the southeastern states. Some Mexicans, fearful of the potential violence of this militarization, fled back south across the border. In 1954, the agents discovered over 1 million illegal immigrants.

In some cases, illegal immigrants were deported along with their American-born children, who were by law U.S. citizens. The agents used a wide brush in their criteria for interrogating potential aliens. They adopted the practice of stopping "Mexican-looking" citizens on the street and asking for identification. This practice incited and angered many U.S. citizens who were of Mexican American descent. Opponents in both the United States and Mexico complained of "police-state" methods, and Operation Wetback was abandoned.

PBS.org - The Border

Rightfully so; but if you listen to the screeching tirades from a growing number of (mostly) Anglo politicos/extremists, Operation Wetback may see a comeback.

It crossed my mind for a nanosecond that there could be a strong blowback to a repeat of that dark history, but I have little hope for widespread concern for human rights with respect to border policies. After all, the U.S. Congress just removed habeus corpus as the law of the land and endorsed torture.

It's gone from worse to unconscionable in a short amount of time. Next on the list is tyrannical.

What can we do to stop it? It's clear that the political system is a failed route.

[UPDATE] Okay, maybe not a failed route, that's alittle harsher than I intended; but forgive me for the dillusionment after seeing so many rabid extremists using their bully pulpits to send this country further down the path to hell.

The question remains: What can we do to stop it? (the downward spiral)

2 comments:

Garza said...

Si, es interesante la manera que hemos transformado los terminos despectivos-- como "wetback" y "beaner"-- en terminos de orgullo para nosotros. It's another example of us taking control of the way we see ourselves and are portrayed to others.

I, too, have encountered idiots like that lady you ran into in the supermarket, South Carolina (where I used to work) seems to be full of them lately. But I now laugh at them, at how narrow-minded and pathetic they are. They're a form of entertainment.

In any case, I don't see much point for Latinos to be staying in places like South Carolina, Alabama, Ohio, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Missouri, where the bigots are out in force and discrimination against Latinos is most severe. There are much better people, much better jobs and much better weather in our traditional homelands in Florida and in the SW region from California to Texas. California, Arizona and New Mexico are the heart of the great and rising North America Latino culture. As an added bonus, in these states (as well as in Texas, Florida and Colorado) Spanish has co-equal status with English as a language for official purposes from banks to offices, schools and universities, voting booths and houses of publishing, as a result of the various treaty agreements concluding the Mexican War (and the analogous conflicts surrounding Florida). So we are truly at home here.

Let's just make sure to register to vote and then to cast our ballots in November! The Republicans-- at least a good number of them, with the exception of some decent GOPers like John McCain and Mitt Romney-- have shown their true colors with their anti-Latino hate in recent months, and it's time for us to return the favor at the ballot box by supporting their opponents. Amigo, la responsibilidad nuestra mas grande es votar, solo por votar podemos controlar las politicas que nos afectan tanto!

Man Eegee said...

hola garza. I live in Tucson so the crazies are everywhere, even in our traditional homeland. I agree with you about voting and the need to shame them back into their holes. As for McCain, while he is moderate on the immigration issue, you'll find that it doesn't take much scratching of the surface to see that he's willing to compromise with the far-right fringes of his party for political purposes.