Monday, April 26, 2010

What Happened to The Melting Pot?

I'm a blue girl living in a red state and I'm very confused. 

Apparently, I am not the only one in this predicament.  Nance is wallowing in the same morass, and has offered to guide the winner of her "more names for shades of red" contest through the parts of South Carolina which delight her.  I've always been a fan of re-labeling, but I don't think she's going far enough.  I think we need a whole new paradigm.

I walk the aisles of supermarkets surrounded by people who are all shades of brown.  Some find their color through tanning booths (our newest addiction - I am having fun considering the treatments..... sunburns? long trips to Chicago in the winter?) but most seem to have been born that way.  I am hard pressed to determine ethnic origins as I pass them near the frozen foods; we're all shivering in our tank tops as we retrieve Popsicles and peas and pizzas.  Goose bumps are goose bumps no matter how colorful your skin might be.

We have a large contingent of African refugees here in Tucson, and most of them are what the Little Cuter called purply, a word she coined to describe our Belizean babysitter.

Of course, the Little Cuter thought that her own skin was light brown and we won't even go to the confusion that flesh in the Crayola box created. 

I've got some cousins who are white, but then so was their mother. Their skin is almost translucent, and I don't imagine that they've spent 10 minutes of their lives on a tanning bed. One's married to a German (and there is a whole 'nother definition of what white meant, but we're not going there yet) and the others chose men of Italian and Hispanic descent to father their children.  Their kids are ...... hmmm.....  

And this is where I stop - because what I want to type is American.  But, Arizona seems to be moving in the direction of color-coding our residents as well as our states, so I must pause and reflect. 

Jan Brewer became Arizona's governor when Janet Napolitano took on Homeland Security.  She was our Secretary of State prior to her elevation; Arizona does not elect a Lieutenant Governor and she was the next in line.  Now, Dear Reader, stop for a moment and see if you can conjure up the name of the Secretary of your State...... take your time.... we'll wait.

Still stumped?  Imagine how we felt when our nonentity 

suddenly became our supreme leader.  (As an aside, I vow that I will never again ignore "the bottom of the ticket" in the voting booth.)  She has annoyed and fumbled and stumbled and prayed but she hit a new highlight on Friday when she signed SB1070, which requires Arizona's state and local police to ask about a person's immigration status if there is a "reasonable suspicion" that he or she is in the country illegally. 

Don't you love the wording?  "Reasonable Suspicion" ...... it's almost oxymoronic.  Aren't most police officers naturally suspicious?  Isn't that their job?  If you are suspicious aren't you looking for reasons?  Isn't it the fact that you are suspicious telling you that what you are seeing is unreasonable?  And what might those reasons be?

Speaking with an accent?  Having purply skin?  Listening to Radio Sonora at full volume as you wait at a red light? Reassurances have been given that documentation can be requested only if one is stopped for "something else", but anyone who's watched even half an episode of Law'n knows that "something else" is easily manufactured. 

Suddenly, running out to pick up a gallon of milk requires not only $2 but your passport.
Having relatives who wore yellow stars makes me sensitive to this issue in ways which may surprise you, and which certainly startled many of my Marin friends.  After all, if you're liberal don't you automatically want to open our hearts and our borders to all and sundry, regardless of paperwork?

Had they been able to walk across the Atlantic, I would have had many more cousins than I do now, for certainly America's promise of religious and ethnic freedom would have been an attractive alternative to the death camps.  But there was all that water standing in their way, and there were rules and regulations and quotas and laws precluding them from joining family and friends here in the USofA. So, they died.  I'm big on fairness, and I don't think that walking in unobstructed should allow a person to reap the benefits of our nation's largess.  I think that we need a guest worker program and reasonable immigration standards which allow farm workers as well as high-tech geniuses to join in our great American adventure.  I don't think people can just appear and vote.  I don't think free social services should be served on gilt platters to those who've cheated their way in and then slip on a banana peel.  

But I hearken back to 3rd and 4th grade, where Social Studies was consumed with "the melting pot."  Immigrants of varied backgrounds were shmooshed together and America was the result.  Alexander Hamilton's illegitimate Caribbean birth was cause for derision in the 18th century, but no one doubted that he was an American.  The founders of our country had all come from somewhere else, and the challenge was to take Virginians and New Yorkers and Massachusetts Bay colonists and create a nation of Americans.

This notion was central to my understanding of our country when I was 8, and it remains so today.  I never saw the need for the school district to teach the Big Cuter's California classmates about Hanukah; I brought in dreidles and a menorah and shared the experience with them.  It was my responsibility to describe this particular feather in the plumage of our country; it was the school's responsibility to educate Americans.  Black History Month annoys me, Diversity Assemblies insult me...... we're Americans and that should be that.  Some are tall and some are Methodists and some are purply and the differences are there, but none should be considered more unusual, more unreasonable, more suspicious than another.  If we'd just concentrate on being Americans instead of appending hyphens whenever we notice a distinction, that is.

I think it's because of this kind of thinking that we are, in the 21st century, legalizing questioning based on an officer's "reasonable suspicion" regarding immigration status.  If you are robbing a candy store and you are dark skinned, can I reasonably assume that you are also an illegal entrant to our fair state?  If you are standing at the corner, looking lost, can I reasonably suspect that you have just hiked here from Michoacan and are looking for your safe house?  I can't come up with a palatable suspicion. It's racism that's not even vaguely clouded or hidden.

I've never understood the objections to a National Identity Card.  But concerns exist and the NIC does not.  Instead of hearing "license, registration and NIC" at a traffic stop, we'll be hearing "license, registration and passport."  We'll be erecting barriers between us, requiring only some of our number to carry identification.  Will we be seeing hoodies with sweat-resistant passport holders? 

I don't like feeling sad about my country.  I don't like feeling embarrassed by my state.  But the birthers are trying to amend our election laws to require samples of amniotic fluid before you can run for President of the United State on the Arizona ballot and I don't know..... I'm confused..... depressed..... outraged.....or just plain sad.