May 7, 2006
Now that all the immigrant marches around the country
are completed, what's going to happen next?
Has anyone given thought to what it's going to take to either
send 12-million immigrants back to "wherever they came
from", as the anti-immigrant folks would like to see?
What happens if they all stay? The costs to accomplish either
approach will be astronomical and the logistics involved boggle
Before I can flesh this out for you and discuss the main
point of this week's column, allow me to give you a quick
test to see if you know some important historical facts that
you'll need to understand to get a real feel for what I'm
You'll probably be surprised at this test and its results,
but believe it or not, what you'll learn is actually a partial
answer to the significance of why we're having this ugly fight
over immigration today in America. If you fail the test, you
have NO business being involved in this debate!
1. Name the first landmark education and desegregation case
If you said Brown v. Board of Education, you're WRONG. Long
BEFORE Brown V Board of Ed, there was Mendez et al. v. Westminster
et al, the landmark Mexican American Desegregation Case from
Orange County California in 1946. The case was decided seven
years before Brown and was argued on Appeal by Thurgood Marshall
of the NAACP, among many others. Marshall, of course, went
on to become the first Black ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme
Court. Our history books associate him with Brown v. Board
of Ed, but this is but one example of how the role and value
of Latinos has been minimized in American history.
2. The U.S. Congress, which several years passed legislation
apologizing for the internment of Japanese Americans during
World War II, and also provided reparation to those victimized,
is now considering a similar measure for which group of wronged
It is considering legislation to apologize to and compensate
American citizens, Mexican-Americans, who were unconstitutionally
deported during the 1930s. I bet you never read that in your
textbooks either. The Hoover administration sent about 2 million
Latinos-including 400-thousand Californians-to Mexico to get
rid of illegal immigrants and open up jobs after the Great
Depression. Congressional researchers estimate that approximately
60 percent of those deported during the 1930s were children
who were born in America and others who, while of Mexican
descent, were legal citizens. The expulsion practice targeted
anyone with a Mexican -sounding name and continued in California
even after the Roosevelt administration cut off funding.
Please bear with me. This is more important than it is interesting.
Trust me on this one. Last question.
3. Galveston is a major port in Texas. After who is it named
and what connection does it have
to the founding of the United States by our forefathers like
George Washington and Thomas
At the time of the American Revolution, almost all of the
modern-day United States, west of the Mississippi River, was
a territory of Spain, including Louisiana and what is now
called Mexico. In the early years of the Revolution, Louisiana's
governor was a young nobleman named Bernardo Galvez, who aided
the American Revolutionaries by allowing tons of badly needed
supplies to be shipped up the Mississippi to patriot forces
in the North.
Upon Spain's official entry into the war in 1779, Galvez
was named General of Spanish Colonial forces in North America.
He quickly raised an army that included Creoles, Native-Americans,
free African-Americans and his own Spanish regulars, as well
as hundreds of Mexicans. He immediately marched on British-held
forts at Baton Rouge and Natchez and he captured the British
stronghold of Fort Charlotte at Mobile. He then directed a
joint land-sea attack on Pensacola, the British capital of
West Florida and commanded more than 7,000 men in the two-month
siege of Fort George in Pensacola before its capture in 1781.
A year later, Gálvez and his forces captured the British
naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas.
He corresponded directly with American patriots Patrick Henry,
Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Henry Lee, and responded to
their pleas by securing the port of New Orleans so that only
American, Spanish, and French ships could move up and down
the Mississippi River. Over the river, a veritable lifeline,
great amounts of arms, ammunition, military supplies, and
money were delivered to the embattled American forces under
George Washington. He was busy preparing for a grand campaign
against Jamaica when peace negotiations ended the war.
After the fighting, Gálvez helped draft the terms
of treaty that ended the war, and the American Congress cited
him for his aid during the conflict. The bottom line for this
military leader of Spaniards, Mexicans, Creoles, Native-Americans,
free African-Americans? The biggest bay on the Texas coast
was named in his honor, Bahía de Galvezton, a name
which we now know as Galveston.
Good luck finding this important and historic Spanish/Mexican
involvement in America's founding.
Now that you have this background, let's get to the main
story. The reason these questions and answers probably surprised
you is that we generally tend to be very ignorant about our
neighbors South of the border. We don't know a lot about them
in terms of their contributions to our nation over the last
few hundred years; we tend to view them as maids, gardeners,
restaurant employees, and casual or construction laborers.
It's hard for most Americans to have any significant level
of respect for people they only know in a servant class of
existence, and that many of us employ because they're very
cheap to hire, very good at what they do, and their work ethic
in doing it. You have to look at the history of people and
the contributions they have made to our country before you
condemn them outright. It doesn't mean they get a free ride
to be here, but it also doesn't mean you get to attack them
out of your sheer anger and ignorance.
I'm rather tired of writing about the immigration issue because
people on both sides are so firm in their positions and perceptions,
that it doesn't matter what the facts are; each side sticks
to its position. The hostilities after the "Day Without
Immigrants" now include some Black folk, on top of the
red necks, and those who weren't sure what the problem was,
but have decided to take a position against mostly Mexicans
Ignorance is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to permanently
resolving this issue. People are unrealistic in what they
are demanding, and our politicians are generally willing to
give voters what they want, just to stay in office. Since
the polls show most people want a cheap labor pool in the
U.S., then Congress is willing to give us that.
The anti-Latino lowlifes willing to show their anger in public
are small in number, but they are willing to stand up for
their cause, even if they lack any historical or real context
for their position.
For decades, Latinos, especially those from Mexico, have
been mistreated and abused, yet, these facts are conspicuously
absent from our history books. The three points above are
but the proverbial tip of the iceberg. It's easy to hate people
you don't fully understand and whose contributory background
has never spent time in the recesses of your mind.
Part of what makes resolution of the immigration issue hard,
other than the attendant costs, is that while some of you
like Mexican food, Mexican music, Mexican architecture, and
the beautiful Mexican names of our streets, cities, and states,
you hate the actual Mexican who lives here. And you tend to
label all Latinos as just plain Mexicans. Immigrants of all
shades of skin color have always been the scapegoats during
difficult economic times (see Test Question #2 above), and
the discussions today are no different.
One of the most beautiful immigrant marches on May Day was
in Chicago, where immigrants carrying the flags of more than
50 countries, made the point that this issue is about a lot
more than just Latinos or Mexicans. Among the more than 400,000
marchers, I spotted flags from Poland, Germany, Niger, Ireland,
Scotland, the UK, Russia, Haiti, Italy, Greece, China, Korea,
Norway, and others I could not name.
Did you know that in Chicago alone, there are more than 20,000
"illegal immigrants" from Ireland?
So what happens now to the Irish, the Poles, the Germans,
the Italians, the Chinese, and yes, the Mexicans, now that
the marches have ended? The current legislative package being
debated in the U.S. Senate calls for a three-tier system where
residents of more than 20 years can easily become citizens,
those with less than 20 years but more than five or six years
can pay penalty fees and go through the legalization process,
and those here in the U.S. less than five years have to leave
begin the entry process anew.
For those who want to kick out all the immigrants, there
have been estimates that you would have to line up buses from
the tip of Alaska's Northern border, down along Canada's coast,
and from the Canadian-U.S. border all the way to the Mexican
border. Where would we find the money for such a logistical
nightmare, especially with gas at more than $3 a gallon? And
what about the damage to our already fragile environment from
all those bus fumes?
More importantly, how do we determine who goes where? And
what about those who were born here of "illegal"
parents and are now adults with their own children? Do we
send them "back to where they came from" even though
many have never been to their parents' homeland?
It's not clear yet what the final result will be from Congress,
but I suggest everyone take a deep breath and inhale a big
dose of reality. For pro-immigrant advocates, there will never
be full amnesty for everyone here because they have not all
earned it. There is merit to the argument of many, including
people from every nation in the world, that we should not
give blanket approval to illegal entry. Many came here using
the legal process and that seems to have worked very well.
At the same time, we should recognize the accomplishments
and contributions of those who have been here for longer time
frames and have not been a problem and who have become a vital
part of our economic fiber.
By the same token, the anti-immigrant crowd needs to accept
the fact we don't have the money or the logistical or moral
ability to send these people back to the country of their
origin. That's the reality of it, so get over the fact you
didn't like watching 500,000 Mexicans marching in the streets
of L.A. , or the almost half-million in Chicago, the 100,000
in Phoenix, and the tens of thousands in the rest of America's
Let's focus on protecting our borders so we can keep terrorists
out and we will find out that this is a much better way to
spend our limited and precious economic resources on a problem
we all ignored for far too long, both as constituents, and
as elected officials.