Friday, February 8, 2008

A Window into a Community

Both of my parents are from Mexico and they are both evangelical Christians. My father was an early convert to Protestantism having been raised by an Evangelical pastor in Mexico. As a young man he immigrated to this country and worked at a factory in Nebraska. He absorbed the blue-collar pro-union politics of his co-workers. He remains a blue-collar Democrat to this day voting Democrat no matter how powerful and unremitting the exhortations of his evangelical pastor on behalf of Republicans.

My mother has contributed mightily to the coffers of Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Falwell. While living at home, I read the right-wing missives of these heralds of god. My mother is a hard-core, right-wing evangelical voter. She will vote the party ticket as laid down by Pat Robertson and his ilk. Given the extreme polarity between my father’s views and those of my mother, they rarely talk politics. The intolerance is entirely on the part of my mother who refuses to countenance political debate of any kind – especially with the left-wing views to which my father subscribes.

The only time a political discussion opens up in our family is when I visit my parents. My father and I naturally grouse about the lousy political state of things. We carry this on until my mother joins us and I egg him on to needle her. She shushes my father up and unless I change the direction of the discussion she leaves us alone in the kitchen to drink our coffee and share our views.

My dad reads the local English-language newspaper and watches the local and national news on the English language stations. My mother does not read newspapers but she might watch some of the local news. They both watch Spanish-language television which is ubiquitous in the border area where they reside. Few of their political views are influenced by Spanish language television especially given its constant glitter shows and sensationalistic news coverage. The only other source of political news for either of my parents is the evangelical church that they attend and the numerous flyers sent to them by evangelical organizations such as The 700 Club.

Norquist says. "Oddly enough, people resent the idea that you might throw their mother out of the country."

My sister retired from the U.S. Air Force and currently works for Lockheed-Martin. Her political views might be described best as moderately left-of-center. Her religious views are more in line with those of my parents. Her children speak three languages.

My political views are considerably more nuanced than those of my parents or of my sister. Spanish is my first language and I attended the first few years of grade school in Mexico. Eventually, I made my way to an elite Eastern school and today my views are influenced by the New York Times, Harpers, and The New Yorker as well as by a number of political blogs and other websites.

We have extended family in Mexico. My uncles visit the U.S. at least once a year. We have big barbeques and check out all the second-hand stores for goods that are prohibitively expensive in Mexico.

I have family members who are in this country working without legal documents. They pay taxes, shop at American stores and abide by the laws of this country. Were it not for their undocumented status they would be considered model citizens. Should they be stopped or apprehended by agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE) they would be summarily deported.

It should be pretty clear that as an informed citizen and given my experiences, I would not be particularly enthusiastic about the Republican Party’s nativist anti-immigrant policies. Republican strategist Grover Norquist, a top ally of Karl Rove, believes that the "vicious" rhetoric by GOP candidates could prompt Hispanics to flee "in droves" to the Democrats. "Talking about a strong border is one thing," Norquist says. "It's when you get into enforcing the law — which means deport — that you lose people's votes. Oddly enough, people resent the idea that you might throw their mother out of the country." I could not have put it better myself.

So what does this have to do with the price of tortillas? Namely, that the Republican apparatchiks have been using the anti-immigrant issue as their wedge issue of choice – kind of like the gay marriage issue of 2008. Unfortunately, it is not yielding returns for them. Any redneck who hates Mexicans is not going to put a Hillary or Obama bumper sticker on his pickup and if he votes he will likely vote R despite the nativist rhetoric. There are, however, like the Iraq war, unintended consequences. The nativist rancor has given the racist right cover to push their agenda of hate. As well, the Latino community has more reasons to say adieu to the Republican Party.

The last point is not without consequence. In the last two presidential elections, George Bush was able to make real inroads into the Hispanic vote. In one election he got fully 40% of the Latino vote. No Republican would dream of getting 40% of the African-American vote. At one point, the Latino community was actually in play between the Dems and the Reps. Not so today. If my experience is illustrative of any dynamic, it is that while we – the Latino community -- are not focused on one issue we are quite aware who is behind the current climate of hate. And we are not going to forget. Nor will my evangelical mother.

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