Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mexican-American Immigration and the German-American Ninth-Grader

My ninth-grader came home with a grin and an interesting story:  his geography class was asked to study the border between the United States and Mexico and plan an escape route for an illegal alien from Mexico to Texas.  The teacher asked the students to do the following:

(1) Before leaving, find and purchase in Mexico all needed supplies that can be found more cheaply there.
(2) Select on the map a good place to cross the border into Texas.
(3) Find the kind of job you don't need a green card for in Texas--farmworker?  Stocking shelves at Walgreen's?  Bartending?

"What do you think of that, Mommy?  What would happen if they did that in the States?"  I tried to imagine such a lesson being taught in a geography class in Arizona, where draconian anti-immigration legislation, SB 1070, meaning Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods act, was passed in 2010.  This new law makes it a crime--a misdemeanor, but still a crime--for any alien to be in Arizona without carrying their registration papers with them.  Any police officer may lawfully detain anyone when they believe that "reasonable suspicion" suggests that the detainee is not an American citizen.  Homes of suspected aliens or of those believed to harbor them may be searched.  (This may not sound so strange to Germans, who regularly carry identity cards and are legally required to register whenever they move to a new city.  But the U.S. has no such legal requirement, and most people keep their passports in a drawer at home unless they are planning to take an airplane.)
Shades of the 1930s, when, without due process, many Mexican-Americans were forced or pressured to leave the United States--the exact number of forcibly "repatriated" persons of Mexican descent is not known; Wikipedia puts the figure at "as many as 500,000," adding that "some 35,000 were deported, amongst many hundreds of thousands of other immigrants who were deported during this period."  They were easy to round up:  poor, identifiable through their skin color and their accents, they could be herded into trucks if they didn't happen to have their passports with them, and the border was so close that it never took too long to dump them on the other side of it.  Sometimes, often, they were unable to phone home to let their families know what had happened to them.  The authorities didn't want proof that a person had lived in California for generations.  They wanted those "not really Americans" back where they came from.  They didn't want to make it easy for those with legal papers to get back into the United States.
So, Mommy, what would happen if a teacher taught this lesson in Texas?  Or in Arizona?  My first thought was whether, given lack of gun control, the teacher would survive the lesson if an irate parent unsympathetic to immigrants happened to enter the room.  My second thought was to wonder whether American schools teach anything about the Mexican-American border in the highly politicized border areas, especially Arizona and Texas?
My favorite answer came from the  January 13, 2013 edition of Latino Voices in The Huffington Post, which offered the following banner headline:

7 American Studies Books Banned From Tucson, Arizona Classrooms:

And here they are:

Now, The Guardian says they are only "confiscated" not actually banned . . . what's the difference?  You can't get ahold of them if you are a student in the library of a school in Tucson, Arizona.  

All this reminds me of the Mad Magazine parody of  Emma Lazarus's sonnet welcoming immigrants to the United States, which since 1903 has been engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the statue of Liberty.  The most frequently quoted lines of the original sonnet are: 
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
 Back in the sixties, Mad Magazine re-wrote the lines more honestly, as an accurate depiction of America's real policies, replacing the very last line with:  "And we'll send 'em right back, we'll send 'em right back, we'll send 'em right back to you!"


  1. Hi,

    On a serarate topic, I just read your response to a recent article on misscarriages and wanted to find out more information about your experience. You referenced a post on your blog (here), but I can't search for it. Can you point me to it?

    Sorry, no other way to contact you except posting here.


  2. Sent you an e-mail. Also thought you might like to read Tama Janowitz's essay about having a miscarriage,"Performance Art," in her collection, AREA CODE 212 (2002). She was one of the first to write about what a miscarriage felt like. Also see the last season of SIX FEET UNDER, in which Brenda has a miscarriage.

  3. Of course, it is a crime in virtually every country in the world to be there illegally, so why make such a big deal about the Arizona law? Isn't it a crime to be in Germany illegally without papers?

  4. Well, yeah. But the U.S. has a history of rounding up and deporting legal residents, not just illegal aliens. You can't separate the way U.S. law has been practiced from racist ways of practicing it that are going on right now. Take a look at some of the links to those banned books. Why--if they are really not doing anything wrong or racist-- are school districts banning books?

  5. Funny that you comment on how it is in the United States but you totally neglected the completely racist and horrible way Mexico treats illegals coming into Mexico from their Southern border and the abuse, rape, robbery, extortion and every other kind of depravity, let alone what Mexico does to it's own Aztec native population, living in fenced in compounds in the desert with no power or running water, outhouse latrines right next to their barrack houses, absolutely horrible. I have been to these compounds as a missionary in Mexico, I have seen how the Mexican government treats it's own. I also have many friends from other countries who had to come to America the proper way, years and years of lines and requests to request immigration in their countries, one friend from Russia ten years. What a slap in the face to him and his family who came here looking for a better way and doing every thing they were required to do, and their intent was always (and now are) to become citizens of the U.S. not come here, work as a sojourner, send all their money back to where they came from to buy land, build mansions to someday leave to go back to their country of origin once they had all they wanted, which, growing up in California and having worked in the contracting business I have seen this time and time again. Arizona's new law, since you mention it, isn't anywhere near as restrictive as what the U.S. Federal law is, or is supposed to be but hasn't really been enforced in the last 60 years. I would spend some time researching subjects you blog about a little better before offering any opinions.

  6. How Mexico treats its own is not the issue--that's a red herring. I'm talking about American law and the history of American racism. Yes, it's terrible that Mexico fences in its indigenous peoples and treats illegal immigrants badly.
    NONE OF THIS MAKES THE ARIZONA LAW A GOOD ONE. And none of this excuses the ways in which it has been enforced.
    Since you're a missionary, the idea is to treat people well, right? Isn't that what a good Christian does? Not point fingers about which country is treating them worse.

  7. And here's another one that should be in EVERY ARIZONA CLASSROOM: THE TORTILLA CURTAIN by T.C. Boyle