Immigrant bashers have no shamePublished 10:02am Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Column: Notes from Home
When I was growing up in Arizona, immigrants were a reality that we natives learned to live with. Every time we turned around, there they were, talking to each other with their oddly accented English.
Although many of our leaders talked about how much money immigrants brought into our local economy, we knew better.
They didn’t understand our traffic laws and were always causing accidents. They crowded into our parks and libraries. Hospitals tried to meet the demands they placed on medical care. Developers bulldozed cacti and mesquite trees to build more and more houses, condos and RV parks for them. Water scarcity became an issue; we all seemed to have forgotten that we lived in a desert.
Individually, many of these immigrant invaders were very nice — once you got past the cultural and ethnic differences — but more than once, we “natives” would whine: Why don’t the snowbirds just go back home?
The last time a column starting with this story appeared, I made people angry, including some friends and neighbors who travel south each winter. They weren’t my target, but you take the lumps with the plaudits when you write in a public forum.
That column came to mind recently because something inside of me snapped when I read yet another of the anti-immigrant letters that some local people keep sending to the newspaper. Get rid of the foreigners, their credo seems to be, and we’ll be living in the land of milk and honey. The views of the immigrant haters in those letters aren’t being challenged by other public voices, so I’m left feeling that the “silent majority” must agree with those views.
I most certainly do not agree, and what’s more, I am angry at those people and their prejudice. How dare they say such foul things about people who came to our country from somewhere else. How dare they draw connections between our current troubles — unemployment, environmental stress, financial meltdowns — and the presence of the foreign-born in our communities.
They want to start with the ones who came here illegally to work, then go after their children — including the ones who were born here, who’ve been raised as English-speaking Americans. Immigrant bashers want to change the constitution to say that being born here isn’t good enough; you have to have parents who were born here — legally.
Well, if those letter writers are serious about getting rid of foreigners, then they better not leave their own families off the deportation list. Unless their names are Red Cloud or Running Deer (or of that variety), they don’t belong here either.
Here’s the truth about Americans: We’re all foreigners. We’re all immigrants. And I suspect there’s more than one illegal or questionable alien hidden in the family history of even the most self-righteous American family.
Here’s another reason we should start with ourselves if we’re going to be consistently anti-immigrant: Our ancestors came here for the same reasons that modern immigrants come here. Mine came to get better jobs in the jewelry factories of Rhode Island. Others came to plant crops and raise animals, for themselves or for their employers. Still others came here to escape starvation or violence.
Aren’t those pretty much the same reasons immigrants come today? Why was it OK for the men and women named Behling or Westrum or Diaz (pronounced Dye-Azz) to set down roots and raise families here, but not OK for people named Massoud or Ghilo or Diaz (pronounced Dee-Ahs)?
What do these letter writers think is going to happen to jobs if we really do build a really big wall and then kick out the foreigners still left? Do they think the low-wage employers who rely on new immigrants — willing to work harder for less money than the native born — are just going to raise their wages until the so-called “natives” agree to work? No, of course not. Since employees are just another expense that interferes with profits, they’ll move their operations to where they can get the workers they want.
So what sort of economy will we be leaving for our children if jobs go to countries where those undesirable foreigners live? Would our communities be thriving then? More importantly, as we throw around all of those hard words about foreigners, what sort of lesson will we have taught those children about how to treat people who really aren’t all that different from our own great-grandparents?
Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column usually appears every other Tuesday.