Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Let Me Get This Straight: You Wanna Build a Wall From Texas to California?

The Great Wall of China, which is 5,500 miles long, 25 feet high, 12-30 feet wide at the base and 9-12 wide at the top, was built by the first Emperor of China between 220 to 206 BC, as a means of “border control” designed to keep out hordes of nomadic invaders from Mongolia to the north at an enormous cost. It was paid for by “heavy taxation” - and the deaths of over a million workers.  But you know what? It didn’t work! The wall only served to slow down the invaders as they simply went over and around it. Sound familiar?

The border between Mexico and the US is a rather recent thing. Before 1846, there was no line in the dirt between the two countries. The line was a product of the Mexican-American war in in 1846-1848, when as a result of Mexico’s defeat, it was forced by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to cede to the US Mexican held territories in New Mexico, Arizona, and of course, California. Before this, native peoples traveled and traded freely between what we now call North, Middle, Central and South America. It is Therefore, it is not uncommon today for people of these places to refer to themselves as “Americanos” or “Americans.”

In my tiny barrio in South Modesto during the 1940s, we grew up surrounded by "Mojados", or what we commonly called, "Wetbacks", a reference to how they crossed the border by swimming the Rio Grande.  They seemed normal enough to me: families, young kids, old men whose only dream was to work the summer seasons in the fields or the canneries, send money to their families in Mexico, and return home for the winter – until next year. Most had absolutely no intention of staying in the US.

As a kid, I even worked alongside them in the fields, picking apricots, peaches and grapes. I remember the dreaded cry echoing through the trees: "Ahi, viene La Migra!!" – “Here comes the immigration!!” And them scattering across rows of fruit trees, over fences, and into irrigation ditches. Those caught were deported, and most, in a matter of days or weeks, simply waded back across the Rio Grande, at great personal sacrifice, to pick again until the next time.

In the Woody Guthrie song “The Deportees”, he sings of a tragic plane crash in “Los Gatos Canyon” on January 28, 1948, in Fresno County near Coalinga, California, that resulted in the deaths of 28 migrant farmworkers who were being deported from California to Mexico. Guthrie begins his ballad by denouncing the inane practice of deporting illegals during harvest time: “Oh the crops are all in and the peaches are rotting; the oranges are packed in the creosote dump. They’re flying em’ back to the Mexican border, to spend all their money to wade back again.” Creosote, a coal tar mix, rendered the fruit inedible and some believe, was used to drive up prices. Of course, as Cesar Chavez uncovered, these kinds of practices were sometimes done by some unscrupulous ranchers to avoid paying workers: simply call the immigration department just before payday.

More importantly, Woody’s song sought to humanize the plight of illegal aliens in the US by noting of the plane tragedy that the 'radio said they were just ‘deportees'”.  But he has real names for them as he says his farewells: “Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita, adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria, you won’t have a name when you ride that big airplane; all they will call you will be ‘deportees.’”

Today’s immigration debate is highly complex, divisive and contentious and it appears to have no one solution that makes everybody happy.  President Obama’s policy of mass deportation has split families in two. Children of illegal immigrants, born here, US citizens by law, are left behind, though some Americans would like to change the constitution to deny them this right to citizenship.  American employers, addicted to cheap labor continue to knowingly hire undocumented workers. Americans insatiably addicted to drugs, help fuel Mexican drug trafficking. Children of illegal immigrants have lived here all their lives, graduated from our high schools and universities, speak flawless English, are fully Americanized - who know no other country - are being denied citizenship and jobs.
Yet, the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today are embedded into our way of life, and to remove them is like cutting off an arm or a leg to save oneself.  Every Hispanic knows someone who is here illegally, an uncle, a brother, a neighbor. Some of them have lived here illegally for generations, undetected, having raised their grandkids among us. They are our brothers, fathers, wives, sisters and neighbors. We go to school with them. We work with them. We break bread with them.  They pick our fruits, our vegetables, cook and serve our food in restaurants. They pay taxes too. Each time they buy food and clothing, or purchase a car, and depending on which study you rely on, either cost US tax payers in social services or wind up paying their way or even helping to build our economy. If they are illegals or criminals who have broken the law, shouldn’t it be “illegal” too for us to collect taxes from them? “Notice: Illegal Aliens do not have to pay sales taxes on any items purchased in this establishment. Thank you. The Management.”

In the popular imagination, Americans today picture hordes of Mexicans, poised at the borders ready to rush into U.S. to get a “free ride”, and take away people's jobs (most which Americans would never condescend to do anyway.) Ironically, many of our own Hispanic Gente also embrace the myth. The truth is that most Mexicans are perfectly happy in Mexico and never even think about emigrating to the US. They go about their daily lives, working, toiling, and surviving with no intention of ever leaving their country, and yes, occasionally fantasizing about visiting Disneylandia or Las Vegas sometime. After all, the U.S. comes to them: Walmart, Costco, Burger King, MacDonald’s.
Sadly, the Nativist chants: “round em’ all up and ship em’ back where they came from”, “increased security of our border”, and “build more fences”, abound. 

In a recent Letter to the Editor of our local paper, an outraged writer says “We simply need to build a wall along the Mexican border from California to Texas that is impenetrable.” What appears impenetrable is this guy’s warped mind! Does he know what that would cost? Has he ever seen the impenetrable terrain that the 1500 miles of rugged mountains and desert between the two country’s poses? “It would not be difficult to do”, he continues. “And [it] would cost less than what American taxpayers spend on the ‘finger in the dike’ system we have now.”

I would suggest this guy go on Wikipedia and read up on the Great Wall of China. Look on the bright side: If we build our wall and it fails to stop illegal immigration, as it probably will,  we can always use it as a tourist attraction like the Chinese do?  “Get your Tacos. Hamburgers. Popcorn here! Barato!!”

1 comment:

Vanessa Quiroz-Carter said...

Great post! Pinches locos! There has been talk about "THE WALL" for years. How about we just humanize workers, hmmm? I have heard the Guthrie song before, but totally forgot about it, thanks for reminding me. It makes me so sad to hear raza agreeing with these racist policies; I'm like, ey, learn your history pendejo! Really great post.