Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Celebrating International Immigrant Bashing Month

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

798 words

It's March again, and time to celebrate International Immigrant Bashing Month. Take your pick of dragging away elderly Chinese men when they pick up their grandkids after school in Paris, or yanking women from backpack factories in Massachusetts.

If that doesn't do it for you, follow the advice of New Jersey deejays and report your neighbors to the INS if they have so much as the whisper of an accent. They're taking your job, goshdangit, they're "invaders," fight back.

From Marseilles, France to Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where the mayor is bringing suit to purge the place, you can work with likeminded folk to enjoy the benefits immigrants bring, without actually paying for them. Bash an immigrant today!

Not amused? That's pretty much the message of the right-wing from Europe to the U.S.

If you listen to the left, all you hear is a whole lot of nothing. That is, until elections roll around. In the U.S., now, there's a half-hearted attempt by both sides to naturalize a few illegal immigrants and maybe give back healthcare to their newborn American babies without demanding the infants' passports, driver's licenses, and credit history.

The issue is almost as invisible in the non-immigrant LGBT community. We don't have anything to say until a friend's lover is about to be deported, or for a few brief minutes when some Iranian queer is about to be sent back to face the hangman's noose. Never mind that plenty of us immigrate for the same reason as everybody else, bread and freedom.

Sometimes I get the idea we think it is, well, impolite to talk about immigration, racist even.

That delicate, magnolia blossom sensibility of noninterference means that the only people talking about immigrants are the crapules on the right that essentially want slaves to pick up their garbage, pluck their chickens, clean their hospitals and schools (but not use them), and never, ever open their mouths.

I'm not a radical opener up in terms of national immigration policies, believing neither in drawbridges and moats nor absolutely free entry with no requirements whatsoever. The issues are complicated. Social services ARE expensive. A rapid influx of immigrants CAN change the whole character of a previously homogenous community or nation, forcing them to grapple with tough issues.

But in economic terms alone, most "developed" economies would spit at the seams without immigrants, and democracies owe it to their ideals to offer refuge to at least some of the neediest, especially when it is first world wars that have screwed up their lives -- Iraq ring a bell?

What concerns me most is what happens to people both legal and illegal that have already settled in a place.

Except maybe for the very young, immigrating isn't something you do on a whim. The journey itself is often grueling, dangerous, and expensive. We've all heard reports about things going wrong in the crossing of Mexican deserts, or in the dark, airless container ships from China.

In Northern Africa, people gather from all over the continent to pay an enormous amount for the privilege of climbing into an open leaky boat and setting sail for any rocky beach considered Europe. A lot of people drown. That's desperation.

Once you finally get to a place like L.A., or New York or Paris, there's a chance for humiliation and harassment every time you go out the door. Maybe it's your race, or the way you walk. God knows opening your mouth is an ever present source of danger.

It's a little like being queer. Remember in the old days, when the typical explanation to bigots claiming gayness was a choice was a detailed list of the obstacles we face followed by the question, who really would choose that? -- the torture in schools, gay-bashing, discrimination in jobs and housing?

Immigrants have their own balance sheets. You may gain economically, live a less dangerous life (unless you get stuck in the ghetto, or beat up by cops, or die in transit), but you give up a lot, too, hearing your language around you, being able to express yourself or defend yourself, knowing the customs, playing a role you understand, having respect, family, a real identity, not to mention the land itself.

In places like Little Havana in Miami, if you could draw back the curtains of some of the houses you'd find old men sitting motionless on the couches with stunned looks on their faces. I have that same look sometimes in Paris, and the stakes for me aren't nearly so high.

It's far worse for the kids in their teens and twenties who face the opposite. Suddenly deported because of irregular papers, they find themselves in troubled countries where they don't speak the language, have no relatives, no connections, no nothing but the passport.

The real racism is not to talk about immigration, but to turn away.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

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