Saturday, May 24, 2008

Immigration - Racism - Ethnic Cleansing

We're reading a lot about the anti-immigrant riots and deaths in South Africa, the deportations and anti-Gypsy pogroms in Italy and the difficulties of ethnic minorities like Tibetans in China.

An epidemic of xenophobia and ethnic hatred appears to be gripping the planet - in what is already a difficult moment.

In the US, anti-immigrant ferver is at a high-level among a certain segment of the population. Stoked by unscrupulous, yellow journalists like Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, hate crimes against Hispanic immigrants are skyrocketing. And it's not just hate crimes; as communities add repressive employment regulations, voting restrictions, health-care limitations and educational obstacles in the path of local Spanish-speaking minorities. What's up with that? Seems mean-spirited and short-sighted. And another good reason to turn off CNN & Fox news.

Senator, and presidential candidate Barak Obama yesterday called Limbaugh and Dobbs to task - placing some of the blame for the spike in hate crimes directly at their feet. Read about it here. This is an unusually blunt, honest and courageous stand for a politican to take. Props to Obama for his honesty and guts.

It may come as an unpleasant surprise to some to learn that we've been here before in the US. The Mexican repatriation of the great depression is still a black-mark on the US human rights record. As the US economy deteriorated in the early 1930s, approximately 500,000 Mexicans and their American-born children were deported. 60 percent of those rounded-up and sent to Mexico were US citizens or legal residents. That's right, if you were brown and spoke Spanish you got put on the bus and deported. Sounds like ethnic cleansing to me. As might be expected under such circumstances, families were split up and lives were forever changed. Historians at the time and since have documented incidents including deporting families without providing them an opporunity to dispose of property or collect wages, and deporting the aged and infirm. Not a stellar moment for human rights and compassion.

It is important to remember that Hispanics were among the first settlers and property owners in much of the Western United States. Especially in California, which was a part of Mexico until the Mexican-American War of 1848. The Californeos were a mixture of Mexican and colonial Spanish settlers. And some supported independence from Mexico. In the treaties that settled the entire affair, all were promised by the US government respect for their residency and property. Again, that was not to be the case as most were forced from their land and ultimately treated as second-class citizens. A similar scenario played out in Texas, were Hispanic Tejanos fought side-by-side with their Anglo neighbors to establish the Lone Star Republic.

California has been a focus of ethnic tensions. The Zoot Suit riots of the early 1940s saw white servicemen being bused into Los Angeles for the sole purpose of beating anybody young, male and Mexican American. 5,000 servicemen by some counts. The Los Angeles Times lauded the military brawlers for having a "cleansing effect" on the City, while first lady Eleanor Roosevelt correctly labeled the activity "race riots."

Later, on August 29, 1970, journalist Reuben Salazar was assassinated by a Los Angeles Police officer while covering an anti-war demonstration. The officer was never prosecuted, though his blame was clear to all. At the time, Salazer was the voice of the Hispanic community and a celebrated journalist. Los Angeles is now, by the way, a majority Hispanic city and county. Ah, the irony.

With a woman and a mixed-race man in the Democratic presidential primary, one has to wonder if the current anti-immigrant movement is not the last-stand of angry and frightened European-American whites. You know, those who fear people of color, competition and change. Those who would turn-back the hands of time to another era. Well, the train has left the station. We're all on this trip together, and we'll be joined by others along the way. Time to get with the program, and start re-building our damaged nation together IMNSHO. Enough of this divisive immigrant bashing and mean-spirited ranting on the public airwaves. It's just not right. And if we're not careful, we may follow in the footsteps of South Africa or the Zoot Suit Riots.

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