NEW N!@#$RS

10 12 2006

So, there’s new n!@#$rs in America….people even African-Americans can look down on.  No, I’m not talking about hippies.  We’re old news, and few enough in number to be mostly invisible.  I’m talking about Latinos.  Nashville is likely to pass an ordinance that insists that English is the “first” language of Davidson County, and that says Latinos have to let whites and Negroes ahead of them in line at drinking fountains.  It’s  a toned-down version of a bill that would have made English the only official language of Davidson County and forced Latinos to drink at separate fountains.  Just kidding about the fountains.  I hope.According to the Nashville Scene, local right-wing talk radio host Phil Valentine said that the US should just shoot anybody caught crossing the border illegally.  As far as I know, there are no plans to prosecute him for these remarks, although if he were a Muslim talking about killing Americans who invaded Iraq, he would have been dead meat himself.   After all, Iraqis are dealing with the Americans who crossed their border illegally by shooting them and blowing them up.  What’s sauce for the goose, eh?

At a recent anti-immigration (i.e.,anti-Latino) rally, the Scene reported that a local black minister railed against the new occupants of the bottom of the social pyramid.  It must feel good to have someone white folks will cheer you to dump on after all these centuries.  One question, Reverend—who would Jesus dump on?

The Scene reports that since word got out that the Marshall County Library has a handful of books in Spanish, and a Hispanic employee who teaches English and computer skills to Latinos, the Library has received a steady stream of angry phone calls, such as “I will no longer use the library as long as Hispanics use it.”  Viva Jose Crow!  Of course, the people who object to the English lessons are the same ones who want “English only” to be the rule.  Logic be damned, our turf is at stake!

And what an ironic turf battle it is, when you think of how we got this turf, and who the Latinos really are.  Our ancestors came here, uninvited and unwanted, in a massive, genocidal wave of immigration that overwhelmed North America’s truly native nations. The Spanish, while they enslaved the native people of Central America, never really eliminated them—and so most Latinos are, ultimately, detribalized indigenous peoples, the cousins of the tribes we destroyed.  This continent is much more their home than it is ours.  No wonder some white folks get so shrill about Latinos and their “threat to our culture.”  Historically, this is the Latinos’ continent, and theirs is the older culture.

The other, likewise largely ignored, irony of this situation is its genesis.  In the early nineties, Democrats and Republicans agreed that creating the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization would be good for business—and what’s good for business must be good for the people, right?

Wrong.  Corporate profits soared, alright, but they soared as major companies jettisoned an estimated thirty million American workers and moved manufacturing out of the US into countries with lower wage rates and environmental standards.   On the other hand, U.S. farm products, no longer kept out of Mexico and Central America by tariffs that protected the livelihoods of small farmers in those countries, flooded our southern neighbors, drying up the economies of rural communities.  At first, the unemployed masses flocked to the maquilas, factories set up by US companies to take advantage of lower wages to manufacture goods for resale into America; but then the lure of even cheaper labor beckoned and many factories left Mexico and Central America for China, leaving millions of Latinos  financially desperate.

Meanwhile, the US has been experiencing a “boom in the service sector economy, ”  and a bit of a boom in the housing market.  “Service sector jobs” is a fancy way to say, “being a servant.”  Now, “service,” can be an act of worship, but in this case it boils down to the likes of flipping burgers or running a cash register, jobs which just about any warm body can do and which pay accordingly.   55% of all jobs in America now pay less than $13.50/hr; 40% pay less than $10/hr.
It didn’t used to be like that.  In most places, it takes the upper end of that to provide minimum support for a small family—what’s called “a living wage”; when it takes both parents working full time to support a family financially, you start creating social and psychological problems that are far more costly than the income generated.

The  housing boom has occurred as the twenty percent of Americans who are getting richer build themselves ever-cheesier McMansions.  These people believe in stretching their dollars as far as they can—so they are always happy to hire the person who will work for the least amount of money, no matter their country of origin or legal status.  Americans who are in the job market bring with them the preferences and expectations of citizens of the wealthiest large nation on earth.  They would like a living wage (generally over about twelve dollars an hour), a chance to get ahead, and some kind of benefits, thank you.  Mexicans are coming from a country where well-paid factory workers make about thirty dollars a week.  Seven-fifty an hour beats six dollars a day, don’t it?

So, the thing that happens when you go from six dollars a day to seven-fifty an hour is that, because you know how to live so cheap, you end up saving a lot of money and sending it home to Mexico.  The most recent estimate I could find was for 2004, when Mexicans sent sixteen billion dollars back to Mexico, more than large corporations invested in Mexico.  This money is not filtered through large corporations.  Nobody is getting rich off it.  It goes directly into the households of about a quarter of the population of Mexico, mostly the poorest quarter of the population of Mexico.

So, when a bunch of racist smartasses start talking about sending all the Mexicans home, they’re not thinking very long term, or very clearly.  Every wealthy person in Mexico understands that the US is Mexico’s safety valve.  Make all those people go back to Mexico, or even a sizable percentage of them, and subtract the money they’re sending home, and Mexico will blow up and things will be even messier.  Think, “what if Iraq was on the southern border of the United States?”  Aside from all arguments of compassion and justice, the pure self-interest of not having a failed state on our southern border is enough to keep any sane politician from doing anything too stupid and drastic.

But, can we count on sane politicians not doing anything too stupid or drastic?  The recent history of the US is not reassuring!  Let’s not forget that those Democrats everybody is now viewing as saviors are, by and large, the same batch who voted for the free trade agreements that created this mess to begin with.  Maybe they’ve learned their lesson; certainly many of those who were elected this year ran on “save American jobs/end free trade” platforms.  Will their resolve stand up to K street’s blandishments?  Steny Hoyer, who will be the Democratic Speaker of the House, is known as “the chief K St liaison for House Democrats,” according to the National Journal.  He has promised that there won’t be “an orgy of business bashing”  in the new, Democratic congress.  Charles Rangel, who will chair the Ways and Means Committee, has promised to work closely with business lobbyists on trade and tax reform.  And what about immigration?

The issues are inextricably linked.  The hapless Latinos who are risking everything to get into this country to find jobs are not the bad actors in this drama.  They are just trying to take care of their families, and they would rather be home with their families than mowing your lawn or shivering through our winters.  The bad actors in this play can be found in the boardrooms and legislatures of America, where policy is fixed in a way that tilts the playing field ever more sharply in favor of the already wealthy, and the bad actors are taking advantage of people’s ignorance to turn poor,  exploited whites, blacks, and Latinos against each other and prevent us from uniting against our common enemy—the selfishly wealthy.  When enough Americans come to our senses about this con game, the resulting political earthquake will make last month’s electoral shakeup feel like a minor tremor.

Buffy St. Marie, Now that the Buffalo’s Gone

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