Insulting a heritage - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Insulting a heritage

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Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 2:45 pm

My friend Alice called while she had several hours' layover before returning to Iraq. The civilian contract worker was home on leave but is now returning.

She wanted to tell me how upset she was about Arizona. In her monologue, she had tales to tell about regional U.S. attitudes showing up in the conflict zone and how Bosnians -- who are Muslims, staunch allies and contract workers -- know to push back when pushed. There are stories about Filipinos who signed on for five years who will not see their families during the whole time.

She talks about her deceased mother, from a native Texan rancher family with limited English ability and her courage to speak up when that needed doing. What would she think about Arizona? How would she feel about the aspersions that she doesn't look or sound "American" enough? It bothers Alice, and she says it will continue annoying her in Iraq.

She has to go, Alice tells me. The PA system says an assembly is about to begin before deployment.

She leaves me in mid-thought about how politics catches you. Bernard Malamud, the acclaimed author, once pronounced that to be alive is to be political. It is a hard truth to accept, especially by nice, mild-mannered apolitical people when they face astringent attitudes.

Also hard to understand is how the air for serious discussion over immigration issues got so sulfuric. The shank was already being heaved as far back as May 2006 when CNN's Wolf Blitzer, interviewing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asked: "Tell our viewers who aren't familiar your personal story, how you got to where you are, your grandparents, your parents... I don't know if they came here legally or illegally. But give us the story."

Gonzales fell into the trap. The aspersion was cast not on who Gonzales was but who his grandparents were. He said three of his grandparents went to Texas from Mexico. Both his parents were born in Texas. But that wasn't enough for Blitzer, who persisted: "When they came to Texas, were they legally documented, were they un-legally documented?"

Gonzales said, "It's unclear. It's unclear."

Actually it's very clear. The attorney general is a U.S. citizen. Otherwise, what is the CNN relevance of pursuing this questioning about a time when "documents" and visas were probably not required the way they are now?

It is faintly reminiscent of the thinking that dominated for three centuries in the New World when a racialism sought to find impure Jewish blood among the Spanish-surnamed.

Again, the impulse is to pry into the personal, to find a "questionable" background. The purpose served is not to get answers but to define a suspicious class of people, then find the "legal" and "illegal" among them, as if that defines who's loyal and who isn't.

The inquisition raises the question of legitimacy. There is also one-ups-man ship here, because the element of doubt feeds the suspicion. Even when someone knows the other person is licit, just by having questioned the legitimacy is to bring up an element of doubt, likely association with a disdained class, making ethnicity in a democracy matter more than respect. After all, it is all about getting the upper hand.

Even in giving, there is a lot of taking. That happened recently when Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News received the prestigious Lovejoy Award for courage in journalism for his coverage of drug trafficking in Mexico. Twenty-one journalists reporting on these stories have been murdered since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The press release announcing the award said Corchado's family "legally immigrated" to the United States when he was 6 years old.

How tasteless, unthinking, uncouth, demoralizing.

Uncorrected, how far will this go?

I think it has already reached Iraq.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at For more stories visit

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