by RIP RENSE
SI, SAY WHAT?
FOR PHOTOS YOU DID NOT SEE IN THE L.A.TIMES
walking past a group of about 300 high school kids protesting the
proposed immigration law outside the federal building in Westwood. It’s
about 2 in the afternoon. The scene looks like exercise time at Folsom, what
with the shaved heads, white T-shirts, tattoos, baggy clothes that typify
nice young people today.
They are all waving and
shouting triumphantly at cars honking in "solidarity," and hoisting signs, and
hooting “si, se puede,” of course. As I am walking through the thick of
them---and there is not a single white kid in the group---I figure on
smiling and giving the thumbs-up. I don’t trust angry crowds, you see, and
besides, I’m opposed to the stupid efforts to make illegal aliens guilty of
a felony, too.
Yet as I do this, and eye
contact is made, not one of these kids smiles or nods or gives a thumbs-up
in return. I am merely stared at.
A few minutes later I am
in a small café, chatting with a nice guy behind the counter, who happens to
be latino. I tell him about the nearby protest, which is news to him.
“Yeah, they’re all a
couple blocks away, you know, carrying signs and yelling ‘si, se puede!’”
And as I utter this
rallying cry of the United Farm Workers coined by the heroic Cesar
Chavez, another latino guy at a nearby table---apparently a UCLA
student---looks up at me and glares. I mean glares.
Then it hits me. Only a latino is allowed to speak this hallowed Spanish
expression, and certainly not a middle-aged gringo. And something else hits
me. I got no thumbs-up from the kids at the federal building because I am
Never mind how much
Spanish I’ve studied. Never mind that my high school was a quarter latino.
Never mind how many latino friends I’ve had, and have (how can you
live in L.A. and not have latino friends, if not in-laws?), how many illegal aliens I’ve
enjoyed working with, how many huizas I’ve dated. . .
As placards at the
million-hombre march in downtown L.A. last weekend put it---El Gran Marcha---I
am a “racist pig.”
Yes, it was good that the
alcalde of Nuestra Señora De La Reina de Los Angeles De Porciuncula, Antonio
Villaraigosa, chose to march, and align himself with such sentiment. This is
enlightened, and will advance race relations.
|I would have told him that it is madness to
suddenly declare millions of people who are living and working in
the United States to be felons. What are we going to do, ship them
all to Guantanamo?
led me to another thought: if being an illegal alien is criminalized, the
incredibly peaceful protest of between 500,000 and a million will probably
be the last incredibly peaceful protest on this issue. Si, say Rodney King.
“But you know what really bothers me about this?” I say to my latino pal
at the café (call him Raul.) “You’ve got close to a million people in the
streets, protesting in civilized fashion, but the most you can get for an
anti-war rally is about 30,000, at least in L.A.. Do all these latinos
support the Iraq war?”
He nods and shrugs. I
forget to mention that there were about six cops watching the federal
building protest, but at least a hundred in full riot gear showed up for
about 500 people at an anti-war rally on the same spot last year.
“It’s self-interest,” he
says. “People only get interested when something really affects them.”
But don’t they think that events that threaten whatever peace there is
in the world are in their self-interest? Don’t they think that the future
and foreign policy of this country---is in their self-interest?”
Raul nods again.
“I know exactly what you mean,
man,” he says.
“Look at how many latinos---and
latinas---are in the military,” I go on. “Every damn time you pick up the
newspaper and read a list of the Iraq dead, there are three or four latino
kids! Don’t these people think this is in their self-interest? When you’ve
got military recruiters going to high school campuses and preying upon
impressionable children with low grades and low self-esteem, don’t they
think this is in their self-interest?”
Raul’s eyes widen.
“Hey, man, I signed up
for the Marines. They came after me. I had bad grades and I wasn’t going
He tells me the story. It
was just before 9/11. One night before some basic training, Raul had a
little reefer with some pals, failed a drug test, and was cut loose. The
Joint That Saved My Life.
“I know, I know,” he
said. “I might not be here today. Look, I have friends who are signing up
right now. Hey, I’m not going to tell people what to do with their lives. If
they are comfortable with that, that’s fine. But it wasn’t right for me.”
We talk some more and
agree on a few things. How there is nothing wrong with serving your
country in the military, but this war really has nothing to do with serving
the country---it is serving the extremist doctrine of the current
administration---starting with the permanent occupation of the Middle East,
or, as Raul succinctly puts it, “world domination, man, that’s all it is.”
I change the subject
to the proposed immigration law, but he gets busy. If we’d kept talking,
I would have told him that it is madness to suddenly declare millions of
people who are living and working in the United States to be felons. What
are we going to do, ship them all to Guantanamo? That it is madness to declare
the thousands more who slip into the country illegally every day as felons.
What are we going to do, ship them all to Guantanamo?
I would have told him
that if the country were serious about curtailing illegal immigration, it
might have taken stringent legal action, and sealed the borders, fifty,
sixty, seventy years ago. And that if Bush was really serious about
protecting the country from terrorist attack, he would have sealed the
borders promptly after 9/11. Using the military.
And that while there is
racism involved in this issue, wanting to stop illegal immigration to
this country does not make one a racist. And that all the
businesses that hire illegal aliens, undocumented workers, or freelance-non-taxable-international-labor
consultants, or whatever the hell you want to call them,
are to blame for the problem.
And that all the
government officials who look the other way, and hire illegal aliens as
maids, nannies, gardeners, drivers, cooks, are to blame for the problem. .
excessive government regulation and taxation of small business is to blame for the
problem. . .That crappy working conditions in other countries are to blame for
the problem. . . That greed is to blame for the problem. That human nature is to
blame for the problem. That maybe UFO’s are to blame for the problem.
And that signs that call
people "racist pigs," and glares from a young racist pig who doesn’t like a gringo
saying “si, se puede,” are the problem.
And that guys like Raul,
and guys like me, are very definitely not the problem.
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