Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Klan in Manassas

This morning’s Post ran an article about the KKK distributing leaflets in Manassas.

As a blogger, obviously I’d be a hypocrite if I wanted to curtail the Klan’s right to free speech. They can spew any kind of hate they want to. If no one listens to them, they have no influence. But the problem is that there is a receptive climate to the Klan’s message in places like Manassas and Herndon and all those outer suburbs.

This country does have an immigration problem, if that’s the way you want to phrase it. But we have always had an immigration problem. In San Francisco, I learned that in the 1870s, congress passed laws specifically restricting Chinese immigration. Local jurisdiction, feeling that the Federal government wasn’t going far enough to address all those Chinese people destroying their communities, passed repressive laws stripping them of basic rights, such as property ownership and business licenses, and restricting them from working. Sound familiar?

My mother grew up in Homestead, PA, a mill town just outside of Pittsburgh. She tells me that as late as the 40s and 50s, there were still many different ethnic communities in her town, speaking different languages, who only socialized with themselves. There was the Italian church, the “Hunky” church, the Irish church, the Russian church, the Polish church. Language barriers kept them separated, and the Americans who lived in Homestead (who had only been Americans for a generation or two) didn’t like any of them: the Italians were greasy, the Irish were drunks, the Polish were stupid, and the Hunkys were all those things, plus filthy on top of it all. (Hunkys, for those who don’t know, was a catch-all term for Eastern European: Slovaks, Czechs, Romanian, Ukranian, Hungarian. Not only was it a demeaning term, it wasn’t even accurate!) It’s amazing how similar the language used to describe today’s Latino immigrants is to the language used 50 or 100 years ago to describe other sets of immigrants.

Of course, the children of all these immigrants and Americans intermarried and created, guess what, the white America that now has such a problem with Latino immigrants.

When someone says they don’t have a problem with Latino immigrants, only illegal Latino immigrants, they are making a circular argument bordering on the absurd. Illegal immigrants are illegal because we say they are. We create laws that determine who is illegal and who isn’t. Tomorrow, Congress could pass a law changing the status of all illegal immigrants, and granting work visas to anyone who wanted one. Suddenly, there is no illegal immigration problem. But I doubt that would end the debate. People who the Klan appeals to don’t like Latinos, not illegal Latinos.

Their status as “illegal” has nothing to do with free market economics or the right-wing’s worship of the idea of a free labor market. People come to this country to get jobs. If there were no jobs, they wouldn’t come. Manassas is overwhelmed with Latinos because there are lots of jobs for them in Northern Virginia. Otherwise, why would they be there? Just to annoy Americans?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know the Klan has nothing constructive to add to it.

1 comment:

inowpronounceyou said...

As a kid I saw a Klan rally on the news and asked my father who the men in masks were.

Cowards, he said.

That always seemes pretty much dead on to me.