Current Comedy, 5/20/10: Tales From the Struggle Over SB1070, Parts Three, Four, & Five

III: "Is this America?" or only Arizona?

You know, Arizona as a state has had quite a few nicknames over the years. Famously once known as the home of inland America's #1 tourist attraction (I mean, prior to SB1070, that is), most highway signs still call us the "Grand Canyon State." Also historically, nickname-wise Arizona, the "Copper State," was considered the least precious among the fabled Southwestern heavy-metal trio, "Golden" California and "Silver" Nevada. And though the maps of Spain once labeled it, "Pimeria Alta," referring to the more readily enslaved Pima Indians, Spaniards in the know called it "Apacheria" for fierce Indians who rendered their "rule" farcical.

Later, after the US conquested the land once ruled by conquistadors, our area, the western end of the New Mexico Territory, was the no-man's land outlaws escaped to from both Mexico and the US. It was a time when Americans like the Glanton Gang scalped both Indians and Mexicans for a hundred dollars for every handful of hair. Back then, fittingly enough, our land was called the "Paradise For Devils."

But in this time of the struggle over SB1070 when duly elected avowed White Supremacists write their own updated version of the "Fugitive Slave Law," punishing those who would harbor, aid or conceal an undocumented immigrant, the nickname that most readily comes to mind derives from a time after the Civil War when the territory flooded with former Confederate soldiers who resented Federal control under Reconstruction in the East and darker skinned people in general. Thus Arizona welcomed such civic leaders as former race warrior/Phoenix founder/drug addict/jailbird Jack Swilling and in 1872, the city of Tempe even made being "Sonoran" a exile-able offense.

For over a hundred years AZ was nationally known as an openly racist society, starting from the Battle of Picacho Peak in 1862 when racial-caste defending Arizonans rebelled against their duly elected national government and took up arms against Union troops (only to quickly get their butts kicked, btw). Our rep as racists was clearly intact 100 years later in the 1960s, when, as Bruce Hartford's recent Huffington Post article notes, " Arizona was (and continues to be) one of those states specifically called out by the Voting Rights Act of 1965" for its widespread disenfranchisement of Hispanic voters. The legend of Arizona as a racist state would later be the centerpiece of rap band Public Enemy's 1991 condemnation of the state for refusing to endorse the national MLK celebration with their hit "By the Time I Get to Arizona."

Between the state superintendent of education firing teachers for having Hispanic accents; and every state official under penalty of lawsuit required to investigate a person's personal heritage for as little "probably cause" as them having a Hispanic accent, one wonders if Arizona will ever outgrow its old Confederate era moniker, the "Mississippi of the West."

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IV: "Crappy Nappy"? Is This America?

AZ Central would later run articles covering the national protests around the country that May Day including one that documented the arrest of Illinois US Congressman Luis Gutierrez for civil disobedience at a Whitehouse protest. While rummaging around on Arizona's most popular news site [disclosure--this blog is posted on AZ Central, among other places], in short order i had linked to an article discussing the guilty verdict of a recent case where an undocumented immigrant was accused of killing a border agent. For those who scoff that Arizona is now an enlightened state and racist free, in the interest of waking you guys the heck up, here is an actual comment, typos and all, posted just below the article:

This guy is geting.. Jail time for killing a border patrol officer? He should be held as a HERO.. I can see it now. crappy nappy will be here given this guy a medal.. Obama the Savior/Messiah/God will pardon him.. there will be huge rallies for this useless piece of trash from the "MIGRANT" Community.. I'm amazed the "Migrant" Community aren't protestng this...He only cam here for a better life. How dare hte border patrol stop hiim!!!!! The border patrol needs to be investigated for Racial Profiling.....WHERE ARE HTE PROTESTS !!!!!"

Then the very next comment unabashedly said there should be no limit on hunting and killing illegal aliens and none of the subsequent ones called him out over it. Please, check it yourself: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2010/04/30/20100430BorderAgentShot0430.html#ixzz0muvD3Rx4

And so, I have to ask--are people making this up?

Are those comments really written by a spoof satire site that is parodying the worse of the worse of the redneck mentality that is behind this bill or is this the rank and file of Pearce supporters? This being Arizona one cannot be too sure. Certainly when it comes to the wiles of the AZ GOP, their motives are hard to discern but their actions are generally clear--if it is good for the public, they'll work against it.

Make no mistake, the AZ GOP Lege' is not actually attempting to solve an immigration issue. They are pandering to the racist ranchers in the southern end of the state and reveling in their power to punish their enemies. It brings to mind last year's outlandish budget cut package for education, which bragged about noble belt tightening but held hidden daggers among the supposed budget cutting shears.

Besides lopping off hundreds of millions of dollars in school funding, handicapping schools across the state, also included provisions to punish the teachers who had protested against said cuts. If the range of punishable offenses in the new immigration law were not enough to convince you that the White power structure of AZ intends to punish those who challenge it, note that at the same time as the immigration bill, the AZ legislature has also passed a law banning Ethnic Studies as not American enough.

Once again the AZ GOP has decided there is not time enough to make life better for its residents, but there is time enough to restrict their freedoms and frighten their children; that there is not money enough for schools and traditional forms of public safety, but there is enough money to marshal all law enforcement throughout the state to investigate a person because his shoes might look foreign. In their public speech and even in the lines of SB 1070 itself, every sentence from those guys is built to be an affront. Jeez. If they are going to argue from that kind of a hostile disrespecting position I say, no kowtowing to that crap. That is the same kind of Bush-league attitude that always gets this country in trouble.

But there is hope. You know in the Tea Party, demographics suggest that about a third of those who participated were newly politically active for the first time in their lives. Which, paradoxically is a good thing for the left; because the more the novices learn about the difference between the reality of America and O'Reilly/Hannity/Beck's twist of it, the sooner they will fall away and scorn the whole bogus enterprise as a boondoggle and then, if the hardcore Tea Partiers haven't already killed us all, the left will gain, when the right finally earn their inevitable backlash.

Like I say, if we live long enough. Certainly hope for that change led many to the capitol that day. Judging from the spontaneous crowds of more than 20,000 who also showed up in Phoenix and joined the million or more around the country who marched that day, it seems I am not alone.

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V: The First-Timers

That May Day morning, as the crowds began to gather at the state capitol to protest SB1070, the crying woman stood off to one side, some distance from the main rally. Though I had come for the bombast and high theater of speakers and posers who typically standout at such an event, the crying woman caught my attention early on. I had seen her there sobbing for quite a while before going over to check on her.

She laid her head against a capitol courtyard palm tree, hiding herself in its noontime shadow as she sobbed. She asked me not to take her name. She said, "I'm better off over here. I don't need to be around the others. It gets me too upset. This whole thing is very emotional for me," she waved at the air in her face to try and stop her tears. "All the hatefulness, all those sheep following along," she waved her hand off towards the city of Phoenix somewhere.

"Like they needed another reason to hate us. All those politicians are doing is serving up hate. They're ruining it and for what? This isn't trying to make the state any better. It's all they know to get votes. They will do anything to get votes. They don't care who gets hurt. They're supposed to make things better but they're going backward."

She spoke with one hand across her face and the other hung and/or twitched at her side. At her well-manicured fingertips stood her poster. Though many people circulated the ready-made factory printed posters of Phoenix activists ¡Puente!, or the California-based "Mexica Movement," the May Day March was telling as to the wide assortment of handmade signs created by people who had obviously never protested before. In fact, based on the sheer number of original signs, I would guess more than half of the protesters there that morning were heart-felt novices.

Much like the crying woman and the sign she had made for that day. It was obvious that when she was younger, she was the kind of student who earned extra credit on their class reports because of their sincere and elaborate posters. As meticulous as her polished nails, her heavily decorated foam backed poster board had hand shaded printed text and enlarged color- copies of family photos of generations of clearly Hispanic soldiers --her grandfather, her father, and her brother, she explained, who gave their lives for a country that now attacked her. She was not young and a couple of the pics were older still, men in uniform, frozen forever with their young earnestness. There were also pics of period era military campaign pins, slogans men died by: a red-white-and-blue "Land of the Free," a cross-stitched sampler, "I Serve My Country," and a more recent star and stripe bordered, "United We Stand."

"We fought for this." She wiped at her face. "They died for this, for this? The way they treat us, pressing for hate just to get vote. They're going backward."

*

Sergio the marble-mason had a hard hat to die for. Red, White and Blue to the bone, Sergio's scuffed but bizarrely grime-free shiny white hard plastic hardhat was festooned with US flags, along with his name, "Sergio" in vinyl letters and a couple of judiciously placed Mexican banderas as well. He was dressed in a hyper-neat and ironed near-parody of a construction worker's day labor clothes, so clean it was more like a costume: long sleeve white shirt, loose dark pants, and polished but battered work boots.

Sergio is a marble mason, a skill which brings him top dollar in the suburban homes of Phoenix; but one he learned in his native Mexico. It was his first protest as well. "You can't do nothing, you have to do something. I work hard, hard as anyone. Masonry is heavy, dirty work. I feed my family, I make beautiful things and then they treat me like I am a stealer when I walk in a store. I have to do something." He had come empty handed, but open hearted, and cheerily greeted any who passed by within greeting range. "I am so happy to be here." He paused to wave at the general crowd. Some waved back. "This beautiful day. The people saying what they feel. It makes a difference, yes? It makes a difference?"

It took me a second to realize the question wasn't rhetorical. His eyes quite seriously told me what he hoped he would hear. I said yes, but quickly changed the subject.

*

Paloma Cordova, a beautiful dove-like creature, was perched upon a rock to get a better view and like Sergio wore her message with her clothing, a simple green tee with a neatly hand-lettered logo: "Do I Look Illegal?"

I laughed, "Well, I guess we all do"

"My point exactly," she said and we set to talking.

An primary school teacher in the Tempe school district, Paloma's students already had it hard before SB 1070--gang violence, deteriorating neighborhoods, up at night from shots in the dark. Now the new law had shifted the continuing crisis into panic-mode. "They're afraid of every knock at the door. They're just little kids and they fear for their life. Will mom come back tonight? They are just children. I don't think the legislature thinks about that."

*

Mesa-based private investigator Lupe Daniels thinks about it, the red flags in the new law, its impact on families, the way prejudices can turn peace officers into enforcers. He's seen it firsthand. He says he's even written a book about race relations, police corruption, and secret brutality against Hispanics in Mesa. "Oh, I have seen it all," Daniels shook his head. "You would not believe the things they get away with." He hastily gave me a card.

"No, I have been studying the Mesa police for a long time. This law will give them the idea they can do anything. That is why I am here. You can't let them think it's OK to treat us like this. This is America. We are Americans too."

A decorated veteran, Daniels wore ball cap emblazoned with the words "Bronze Star" and "heroism" and boasting a thickly embroidered image of the medal and its ribbon. His sergeant's bars were pinned there as well along with a lapel flag. Like so many people i talked to that morning, Daniels was hyperbolically clean and neat.

In scanning my photos now for the past three week, i am in fact still impressed the inordinately large percentage of protest attendees who were impeccably dressed. Even the white chicks in anarchist chic were spot- and wrinkle-free. And folks, when the anarchists are neat and presentable, you are talking a movement to be reckoned with.

Her skimpy black tank top and peek-a-boo bra straps went well with her unusually form-fitting cargo Capris and obviously ironed Zapatista-style black bandana/handkerchief/anarchist mask and oversized Jackie O style shades. Even the scrunchie that held her blond ponytail matched. And to top it off, her choice of chrome I-Phone made it clear she was a revolutionary maybe wasn't actually struggling much, but who understood the importance of accessorizing.

Despite the blatant contradiction of her mask's implied anonymity, the whole outfit begged for attention and within time an eager AP reporter was dutifully submitting questions to her. On a college campus she would be the envy of all the hippest trust-fund hippies. That morning, in that place, with all the heart-felt first-timers about, she was little more than a joke.

So I politely laughed and moved on.

Next week the finale.

--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ.