Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Third World Look

Our national debt is staggering, our housing market is collapsing, and we're spending about $2,000 per second on an unwinnable war against a vague enemy.

Regardless, life in these United States would be a bed of roses if it weren't for those goddamn immigrants:

The 55-year-old retiree complains about day laborers waiting for work outside the nearby Home Depot, saying they give his neighborhood "a Third World look."

"Ten or 15 years ago, the neighborhood wasn't like this," Warren said. "The states are overpopulated, there is oversprawl, and immigration is contributing to this."
I'm fascinated by the extent to which complaints against immigrants are visual. Putting aside the trumped-up allegations about crime and disease, anti-immigrant activists seem to suffer from a basic disorientation; they feel that their towns have become alien and unintelligible.

Which, in many cases, they have. The mistake is in thinking that these changes have less to do with, say, retail sprawl than with the migrant workers loitering near the huge, featureless walls of Home Depot.

Here's another activist, explaining what radicalized him against immigrants:
"I see more and more our language is being changed. Things that were written in English are written in Spanish now. You buy chlorine and acid for the swimming pool and it's in Spanish and English now."
This man lives in Huntington Beach, CA, which means that he's probably spent time at Bolsa Chica State Beach, or visited San Diego, or driven through the Mojave Desert, without feeling personally diminished by Californian bilingualism.

But seeing pool chemicals with warnings in Spanish...that's another matter entirely. (What happened to that bright, gracious world of monolingual chlorine labels I knew as a lad?)

The drab pettiness of grievances like these offers a clue, I think, to the emotional appeal of stories about Mexican lepers and pedophiles; they make the crime as exciting as the punishment. It's not simply a matter of "manipulating available data to make as strong an argument as they can," as a UC professor puts it; it's also a matter of enjoying evil and sickness and perversion...not just as alibis for hatred and violence, but as spectacles in themselves.

In an ugly, blinkered culture whose economic logic demands endless sprawl - along with plenty of quasi-slave labor to build and tend it - it's easy to see how escapist fantasies like these would be attractive to what Arthur Machen called "the decorative imagination." It's as if these patriots can only appreciate "our" land by imagining that Mexicans are planning to steal it back from us; it reassures them that they still have something precious to lose.

Still, the fact remains that we shouldn't depress American wages by hiring criminals.

Unless they're in jail, that is:
"We are contacted almost daily by different companies needing labor," says Bruce Farely, manager of the business development unit of Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI). ACI is a state labor program that holds contracts with government and private companies. "Maybe it was labor that was undocumented before, and they don't want to take the risk anymore because of possible consequences, so they are looking to inmate labor as a possible alternative."
(Illustration at top: "The Chinese Question: The Remedy Too Late." From The Wasp, 1881.)


MikeJ said...

He's probably spent time at Bolsa Chica State Beach, or visited San Diego, or driven through the Mojave Desert,

How about or lived in California....

Phila said...

How about or lived in California....

Well, there is that, too.

What we need are some good American place-names, like Chinese Massacre Cove.

Eli said...

Well, anything or anyone that's foreign, isn't *American*, and therefore a terrible affront to the senses.

The purity of America's essence is being compromised!

Phila said...

The purity of America's essence is being compromised!

This post was already rambling, so I left out an account of a Georgia woman who was shocked to hear people talking in Spanish in her local Wal-Mart, and concluded that "Americans" would soon be outnumbered if something weren't done.

We'd better invade New Mexico, before it's too late.

Rmj said...

I've met people who grew up speaking German at home, had to go to school to learn English.

No one thought a thing of it, or of how it was "destroying" their "American way of life."

Actually, what ended the use of German in many German Christian churches was the Ku Klux Klan. There are still stories told of German-speaking pastors being dragged out of pulpits in Illinois, Missouri, etc., and beaten on the street by Klan members, after the US entered WWI.

Such a lovely history of immigration we have in this country....

dave™© said...

Hey, Phila - you gonna make it to the big West Coast Atriot Meet-n-Greet Saturday?

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I've been trying to put words around why people are so pissed off at day labor guys hanging out around the Home Despot and it never quite occurred to me that part of the anger is about the scene, the visual. I mean, really, is anything uglier than a Home Depot? And, duh, the people I know who get pissy about Spanish anything, are people who had their chance and blew it by being small minded. Yeah, they all sold Amway in the 80s and sent whatever was leftover to the Heritage Foundation in the 90s. Anyway, nice post.

Danny Guam said...

I just spent a glorious weekend in eastern WA driving through the desert and swimming in cool water surrounded by basalt canyons and sage covered hills while sweating and drinking massive amounts of beer. The brown skins outnumber the whites in most of the small towns and many signs are in spanish only. There are carnecerias and panaderias and taco trucks or restaurants in most of them. I like that. My ten year old son asked me why there are so many mexicans in eastern washinington and I told him that they do all the work. He seemed OK with that. It's been that way for a long time yet these rednecks are now feeling threatened. I suspect small penis syndrome.

Mike said...

I've noticed bad pollution of the language lately. But it isn't Spanish, it's Corporate.

No hablo mas de synergistic optimization of combined assets, ni de empowerment of associates in vertical niche positions throughout the organization.

A Tabla Rasa said...

I've seen people being resentful of Navajo speakers, too, in AZ.

But part of the visual nature is that they are, well, too tanned. I'm sure that it's just jealous pale-skins...

Oh, and I've heard a guy mutter "Speak English, dammit" when two people were speaking Spanich at a restaurant. Not speaking to him or about him or anything. Just speaking Spanish in public.

Anonymous said...

And yet for some reason these people never complained when the packaging on almost every product I've bought for at least 10 years was printed in both English and French.

Funny, that.

- Mnemosyne

Anonymous said...

What we need are some good American place-names...

How do you think they feel about Walla-Walla, Chicamauga, Kalamazoo, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, both Dakotas etc?

Joseph Dietrich said...

"... The states are overpopulated, there is oversprawl, and immigration is contributing to this"

I'm fascinated by the extent to which complaints against immigrants are visual

And I'm fascinated by people who think that the states are overpopulated. Especially so after moving from a state like Indiana to someplace that could actually be considered crowded.

Oh, and I've heard a guy mutter "Speak English, dammit" when two people were speaking Spanich at a restaurant. Not speaking to him or about him or anything. Just speaking Spanish in public.

That goes to the root of a lot of the nativist mindset. Nativists are afraid: of competition, of being displaced, and in general of anything that threatens change or inconvenience in their lives.

Hearing people saying stuff you don't understand can be scary if you are not used to it. After all they could be talking about you. It signals that the world today is not the world you grew up in, and if you want to keep up you might have to go out of your way to learn a new language. And that is frightening to a nativist.

Linkmeister said...

They probably shouldn't visit Hawai'i, either, what with Kalakaua Ave., Kalanianaole Blvd., Keeaumoku St., etc.

When they do visit, they butcher Likelike Highway something fierce. (It's lee-kay lee-kay.)

Craig C Clarke said...

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most cities had many non-English newspapers. German, Hebrew, Polish, etc.

Some of those cities STILL have Polish-language newspapers. Read by the children and grandchildren of the Polish immigrants who initially read and established the papers.

Some of whom are now complaining that the recent Spanish immigrants are speaking Spanish.

American culture has always been in a state of flux. One of the few things that HAS remained a constant is the children and grandchildren of "those damned immigrants" complaining about "those damned immigrants."

Julia Grey said...

When they do visit, they butcher Likelike Highway something fierce. (It's lee-kay lee-kay.)

What's even funnier is when one said tourist, having caught on to Hawaiian pronunciations, ends up calling "Pipeline Highway" peep-ay leen-ay.

Dan said...

Of course the pool chemicals have information written in Spanish on them. Who the hell do you think is taking care of the pools for the gringos?

Rmj said...

I remember this morning this simple fact:

Leading a national trend, Texas has 43 counties — the most of any state — that are "majority-minority," with non-Hispanic white residents outnumbered by African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and other racial and ethnic groups, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Wednesday.

Starr County, on the border with Mexico, has a "minority" population of 98 percent, the highest of any county in the country.

And the question, of course: When is a minority no longer a minority?

Spanish on bleach bottles is the least of the issue.

Anonymous said...

RMJ, This "trend" is not historically unprecedented. None of the Texas counties originally contained a majority-white population. Then, there was a "trend" that led to a majority-white population. Why, precisely, are we to be alarmed by this? Is it because the White majority in Texas systematically provided inferior educations for it's non-White children for over a century?
(I'll take my answer off the air.)

Julia said...

Me I figure it's the same psychological mechanism that has good ol' boys gibbering like diseased rats with hysteria when they're faced with the idea that some guy in the men's room might be thinking about them turning into a six pack and a pizza afterwards - because they presume that everyone else also thinks of potential sex partners as degraded and disposable sperm receptacles, and it shorts their me/my bitch paradigm. Dammit, they may be working two lousy jobs, but when the skivvies drop they're still the apex predator, dammit.

They've been the apex predators in the voting booth, too, but that's going away. That's gotta scare any government-supported social darwinism fan stupid.


nikto said...

Illegal immigrants pollute our precious bodily fluids.

Also, they might come into your house at night & put chickenbones down your throat.


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