Hard-working immigrants should not be treated as 2nd-class citizens

May 4, 2011 

Earlier this year, something prompted me to look into Childfund International, an organization that facilitates sponsorship of needy children worldwide.

Upon discovering a photo of 7-year-old Jose on their website, it didn’t take me long to agree to sponsor the boy from Teziutlan, Mexico. It must have been something about his penetrating, dark eyes and Dennis-the-Menace expression.

Contrary to what many believe, tomorrow’s Cinco de Mayo (fifth of May) celebration is not Mexico’s Independence Day, which falls on Sept. 16. Instead, it commemorates the battle of Puebla in 1862, at which the Mexican army was victorious over superior French forces. In fact, the day goes virtually unnoticed throughout most of Mexico, something comparable to Flag Day here.

In the United States, however, Cinco de Mayo enjoys enhanced significance as a celebration of Latino heritage and pride – as well it should.

History books gloss over the fact that the first Europeans to populate the territory that is now the United States were predominantly Spanish-speaking, not English.

The first settlement within our borders was established under Spanish rule in 1565 at St. Augustine, Fla., 42 years before the first English settlement at Jamestown, Va. The capital of Santa Fe, N.M., was established in 1610, a full decade ahead of the Pilgrim startup at Plymouth, Mass. Spanish settlements and missions in Texas and California were thriving in the early 1700s, long before the American Revolution.

In our era, the furor over illegal immigration continues unabated, particularly in Arizona and other conservative havens. Among their latest indignities is a bill that would require children born to undocumented parents in Arizona to receive a special “second class” birth certificate, stating that Arizona does not consider them true citizens of the state. Another measure would bar undocumented children from enrolling in school.

Troubled economic times often lead to minority scapegoat syndrome. A University of North Carolina sociologist found that during the first part of the 20th century, lynchings in the South tended to increase as the price of cotton decreased.

As the Legislature struggles with painful budget cuts, such as health care for undocumented children, the Democratic majority can at least take credit for rejecting ill-conceived efforts to demonize immigrants, including a frivolous attempt by Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to revive a bill to require verification of citizenship for driver’s licenses.

Listening to radio talk-show hosts speak of lazy, good-for-nothing immigrants who want a free ride courtesy of the American taxpayer is not only discouraging, it is patently false. True, Mexico has its share of mendicants. But these are not the people who are coming here.

On a recent excursion to California, one motel manager told me she favors hiring Mexican immigrants because, in general, they are happy to have the job and are more dependable.

And I would submit that anyone who toils to bring food to our tables does more for the human race in a single day than Donald Trump ever has.

So the question I have for the anti-immigrant contingent is this: Which is the greater social ill, undocumented immigrants willing to work hard for less than they are worth in order to build a better future for their children, or American citizens on the dole who consider such work too demeaning?

So long as humans inhabit the planet, someone is going to have to harvest the crops, clean hotel rooms and help in the kitchen. But no one wants to be relegated to a permanent underclass.

That’s why in my letters to Jose, I encourage him to pay attention to his teacher and set his sights on achievement now.

David Rupel is a retired systems consultant with DSHS whose varied interests include social justice and travel. A member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors, Rupel can be reached at Davidr1949@yahoo.com.

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