Friday, April 23, 2010

Gathering Madness

It’s not too late: Call Gov. Brewer NOW & ask her to veto SB1070. English: 866-996-5161- Espanol: 866-967-6018

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It occurs to me that if I were me, the same old Marta – everything about me the same – except that I were of Mexican, and not European, decent, and I lived in Phoenix rather than Philadelphia – it occurs to me that the SB 1070, which seems poised to become law in Arizona, would effectively require me to carry my birth certificate at all times or risk being stopped, arrested and jailed until I could prove my citizenship.

As I write this, I keep checking the news to see if Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed into law recent legislation which would make it illegal to be an undocumented immigrant in the State of Arizona.  SB 1070 would not just allow, but as I understand it, would require police to stop anyone whom they reasonably suspect to be an undocumented immigrant, and demand documentation.  Any suspect who fails to produce such documentation could be arrested and jailed.

It occurs to me, in fact, that if I were me, but of Mexican decent and living in Phoenix, that the danger I face as a lesbian would pale in comparison to the danger I would face as a United States citizen who rarely thinks about her family’s immigration story.

I am not of Mexican decent -- my mother came to the United States as an immigrant from Sweden in the early nineteen-fifties.  She was actually Dutch, but the Dutch quota was full.  My grandmother, Marta, was a Swedish citizen though, so they came from Sweden, on the Swedish quota. 

But for that small fact – Sweden, not Mexico – my citizenship could now be something I must be prepared to prove in the state of Arizona.  The entire rest of my family’s immigration story could be exactly the same and it wouldn’t matter one bit.

My mother and her family were legal immigrants.  They did everything by the book.  They came with almost nothing – almost literally just the clothes on their backs – to make a new life in Flint, Michigan.  Theirs is a classic immigration success story – my grandfather was a waiter, my grandmother a chambermaid, my mother went to school consistently for the first time in her life as a thirteen year old who did not speak English when she arrived here.  They all worked hard, my grandparents bought a home, my mother got good grades, went to college, eventually earned a Ph.D.  She also had a family, named her first-born after her late mother, her second-born after her favorite Swedish uncle, Sven-Erik, and occasionally told us stories of life under Nazi occupation.  But other than that, she raised two thoroughly American kids.  We grew up in Indiana speaking only English, with flat, Midwestern accents.  We have white skin, blue eyes; my nephews (the only children in this country biologically related to that little 1950’s immigrant family) have my brother’s childhood blond hair.  There is nothing to distinguish us from the majority (at least for a little while longer) of full-fledged, legal, born-and-bred U.S. citizens. 

Perhaps for this reason, it’s easy for me to forget that I am first generation American.  That I have only to scratch the surface of my native soil to expose my immigrant roots.  It’s easy for me to view immigration as just one more issue among so many that progressive folks like me should care about.

But the gathering madness in Arizona has shaken me up a bit.  If everything were the same, except that my family were Mexican, not Swedish … Because in Arizona, what “reasonably” marks someone as an undocumented immigrant?  Brown skin and fluency in Spanish, of course.  There’s really nothing else. 

This legislation has me shaken up, even while I am clear that the target and the real victims of this legislation are not anyone remotely like me, but rather are the hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of whom have lived and worked in Arizona for years, who are undocumented.  This bill is very specifically intended to terrorize undocumented immigrants, making their very existence illegal, and I have no doubt it will do a very good job of pushing individuals and families even further into the shadows, into the margins, further and further away from the opportunities and responsibilities and protections of civil society.  That those who crafted this legislation do not care at all that American citizens could be swept up in its police-state tactics is just evidence that SB 1070 is the work of extremists motivated by nothing more than racism and xenophobia. 

We should not oppose SB 1070 because a midwestern white girl like me suddenly, for the first time in her life, is able in some small way to personalize the very real threat facing brown-skinned immigrants.  We should oppose SB 1070 because it is awful, and hateful, and wrong.  But still, I can't shake this feeling, what a small accident it is that I am not, in fact, at risk.  That I am safe and they are not.  In 2004, I felt unsafe as a lesbian, as Dick Cheney and Carl Rove cynically fanned the flames of homophobia.  Maybe the memory of my fear then, whether real or imagined, is also part of why this issue suddenly feels so visceral and urgent.  

Do you have a story, an experience, that puts you close enough to this issue to make it feel real and urgent?  I hope so, because it's time to stand up and let your voice be heard.  Please take a minute to call Governor Brewer, and to ask her to Veto 1070/Veto Hate.

1 comment:

Lilian said...

Oh, I read the most recent post before this one (maybe you should include a link to this one, the beginning of the conversation).

I'm so out of it -- this law is beyond outrageous!!! Yikes!!