Wednesday, May 5, 2010

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Today is Cinco de Mayo, a very unique holiday, where people celebrate for the sake of celebrating, often forgetting what the holiday was supposed to be about in the first place.

It's been almost two weeks since Arizona passed a new immigration law that would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and would require police to check the immigration status of anyone when there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are here illegally. What this amounts to is a carte blanche for police to harass and intimidate Mexicans and other Hispanics/Latinos.

This is within the context of an economic crisis in our country, with a pronounced rise in nationalism and xenophobia, as displayed by people like Rep. Duncan D. Hunter who won't let the Constitution get in the way of good old-fashioned race-baiting, and Mr. Tim James who has decided that #1 on the list of Alabama's concerns is foreign-language driver's tests. America has seen this before, and we'll see it again. Waves of ignorance and intolerance ebb and flow in this country. For now, we can take solace in the fact that, in the long run, they never win.

While I was surprised by this new law in Arizona, I was much more surprised by the intensity of the backlash to it. The University of Arizona and Arizona State are seeing students and potential students withdraw from the schools, the Major League Baseball Players Association has publicly condemned the new law, and now there's currently a campaign to move the MLB All-Star Game from Phoenix.

So now on Cinco de Mayo, another sign of solidarity: Today, for Cinco de Mayo, the Phoenix Suns will be playing against the San Antonio Spurs in jerseys that say Los Suns. In Suns owner Robert Sarver's own words:
Our players and organization felt that wearing our 'Los Suns' jerseys on Cinco de Mayo was a way for our team and our organization to honor our Latino community and the diversity of our league, the State of Arizona, and our nation
"The frustration with the federal government's failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law. However intended, the result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question, and Arizona's already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them."
I'll be rooting for the Spurs anyway, but I appreciate the show of support, and I wouldn't be mad if the Suns won this one, and then lost all their subsequent games...

One point that really gets on my nerves is when people try to ignore the historical precedents of past waves of immigration, or try to pretend as if the modern wave of Mexican immigration is some sort of exception to the rule, that Mexican immigrants do not "assimilate". Two points on this:

1) First generation immigrants tend not to speak English well or adapt to American society. We shouldn't really expect them to. It's the subsequent generations that end up "Americanizing". This time is no different than past waves of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Poland. The only difference is that the immigrants aren't white.

2) "Assimilation" in America does not require the new immigrants to reject their nationalities, languages, and culture. The story of the American melting pot is not one in which immigrants come to the United States, shed their identities, and pick up the culture and traditions of British colonists. As Mexican immigrants become "assimilated" they, and generations of their children, will become more "Americanized" while simultaneously, America will adopt the traditions and customs of Mexico.

For a concrete example, look at Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. It is a day to celebrate the victory of the Mexican army over Napoleon III's forces in the Battle of Puebla. Apparently, in Mexico, this isn't even that big of a deal. In the United States on the other hand, this is the Mexican holiday, where we celebrate all things Mexican (albeit in a purely American way). Compare this to, say, St. Patrick's Day. It's a day to wear green, pretend to be Irish, and drink. A lot.

St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo are more American holidays than they are Irish or Mexican ones. I intend to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with 29 cent tacos from Del Taco, an American fast-food chain where I can order tacos and burritos with burgers and fries on the side. It's only in America where a place like Del Taco can happen. It's the same America that can have ridiculous movies like "Machete". We're a nation of immigrants, and they only make us stronger.

So whether you're a Mexican or not, go out today and enjoy yourself. Celebrate what makes America such a great place to live. Have a beer. Eat a taco. And don't let Jan Brewer or Napoleon ruin your fun.


Sarah Jones said...

Very well said, Bill. I specifically like that you pointed out that America is a country of immigrants.

People lose sight of the fact that there isn't one clear cut definition of what an American is. That's what I love about this country. I can't say what an American looks like. There isn't a hair color, or a religion, or a genre of music that we can put a blanket statement over the country with.

Granted, it isn't necessarily fair to do so to other countries but I hope my point isn't totally lost.

Thomas Wachtel said...

I'm just going to say that Machete looks freaking amazing.

And that this was a really good post.