Reflecting on the Supreme Court's decision to ask anyone at anytime to prove they’re U.S. citizens.
By David Davila (playwright/song-writer)
About a hundred miles into Texas from the border of Mexico, there’s a checkpoint in the road where every car must stop and prove they’re U.S. Citizens. We always called that spot; the place where dreams die. Every Saturday driving to Grandma’s house in Falfurrias from our town on the border of Mexico we’d get asked that same demeaning question, “Are you an American Citizen?”
Of course we all were, but somehow the question always made us uneasy. My mother would stiffen up her posture, lower the volume on the radio, and thicken her Texas accent to ensure the border patrol agent could tell she was legal. She was always scared to death that they'd think she was from Mexico and she'd be held for questioning so long that the potato salad she was taking to grandma's would spoil in the sun.
It's real hot in South Texas y'all.
She was born in the U.S. like her mother, and her mother before her. We shouldn't have been scared of answering a question about where we were born, but those men have guns, and guns are scary.
My mom grew up in a time where she was literally spanked in school if she was caught speaking Spanish. She was made fun of growing up for mixing her "ch"s and "sh"s, and that paranoia doesn't just disappear. Thank God that Mexican Americans stood up to the Educational Authority of the times by organizing walk-outs and letting their voices be heard. There's a great HBO movie about it called WALK OUT. I'm proud to say my parents were part of that movement.
Truth be told, that question served as a reminder that we were brown; a reminder that some people still thought of us as second-class citizens. Growing up in a predominantly Hispanic area, I never felt like a minority, or thought about race, until that question was asked of me. It was only in those moments that I ever felt like I was being judged for being brown. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not even that brown. I’m pretty white for a Mexican-American (it’s the Irish blood on my Dad's side of the family) but the question itself was enough to remind me that I was different from "Regular Americans."
Now the Supreme court has upheld the Arizona immigration law that requires police officers to ask anyone for their US immigration papers when they suspect they may be illegal aliens. Anyone; but let’s be real, they mean anyone with brown skin.
Many of my friends have been very verbal about their support of this law, but my guess is that they've never been questioned by the guys with guns. It does something to you; something repressing. Malcolm Gladwell mentions the phenomenon in his book The Outliers, noting that minority students tend to be more successful when no one reminds them that they're minorities. Which makes me sad for the Hispanic students in Arizona who will be reminded every day.
Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that American’s are pretty okay with immigration unless you’re coming from Mexico. It's like we're scared of manifest destiny reversing or something.
I have to tell you something about Mexican-Americans. We're brown because we're Native. In our blood runs the blood of the Aztecs and the Mayans and hundreds of other nations that were on this land long before Christopher Columbus.
So get over it.
I guess this is a good point to mention that my new play, AZTEC PIRATES AND THE INSIGNIFICANCE OF LIFE ON MARS, is all about this subject... oh... and polyamory... and you're all invited to the first reading. I'll let you know.
Our economy has relied on Mexican immigrants for years to pick crops and mop floors and in exchange we give their children a chance to do more than their parents could. That has been the model of the American dream since the Industrial Revolution. I think we need to wake up and admit that the real issue here is that some (definitely not all, definitely not New Yorkers who are smart enough to smell racism a mile away) Americans are scared of the fact that Hispanics actually have a chance of becoming the majority of people in the United States one day, and this Arizona law is a way to ethically ethnicly cleanse.
What's next for the red states? Maybe they'll want all homosexuals to register as gay. They could trick us by telling us we're signing up for the X-Factor mailing list. Britney Spears is a judge now y'all! I guess I won't be visiting Arizona again anytime soon.
... and now for the 90's jam of the week:
DAVID DAVILA is half of the song-writing duo Havrilla & Davila, author of the Tex-Mex plays, and founder of Lone Star Theatre Co. Wanna talk about it? www.daviddavila.net
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