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This is What Apartheid Looks Like


Those who think that there’s an immigration crisis in Arizona are correct, however, this is but part of the story. The truth is, a civilizational clash is being played out in the same state in which the state legislature questions the birthplace and legitimacy of President Barack Obama and where Sen. John McCain competes with Senate hopeful, J.D. Hayworth, to see who is the most anti-immigrant.

It is also the same state that several years ago, denied a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., and that today permits virtually anyone – on the basis of trumped-up fear – to carry concealed weapons anywhere.

Welcome to Apartheid Arizona – the land of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, “States Rights” and a desert that has claimed thousands of migrant lives. By way of the same extremist legislature, the battle here is even much larger and more profound. This civilizational clash is being waged daily here via more bills involving who belongs, what language can be spoken here and who and what can be taught in the state’s schools. This is beyond the notion of who is “legal.”

Whoever said that this crisis is proof that the illegal Mexican American War never ended is partially correct because this conflict is even older than that war in which Mexico lost half its territory to the United States. The irony regarding the recently signed SB 1070 – which permits law enforcement to question people about their citizenship, based on “reasonable suspicion” – is that those principally targeted will be those who look the “most Hispanic.”

“Looking Hispanic” has always been a misnomer; what it really means is those who are dark and short and who look the “most Indigenous.” Truthfully, here in Arpaio Country, that profiling that everyone fears is already here with us. And to dispel illusions, the darkest amongst us have always been subjected to racial profiling by the “migra” and by law enforcement agencies everywhere in the country. This is true whether we’ve been here for a few days or for thousands of years. And to dispel further illusions, this civilizational clash alluded to is national in scope; witness the many hundreds of anti-immigrant bills nationwide since 2006. Only its epicenter is here.

What is changing with SB 1070 is that racial profiling is no longer outside of the law; here it now has legal cover. But to be sure, people of conscience will never accept it as law. And just as Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva is calling for a national and international boycott of Arizona – many are calling on law enforcement to have the moral courage to refuse to recognize SB 1070 as a law and simply view it as a proposal until the courts decide on its constitutionality.

SB 1070 brings us to a moral precipice. After World War II, a consensus developed here that it had been wrong to have incarcerated the Japanese in internment camps because such action was morally wrong. Virtually no one had the courage to assert this while it was happening. Law enforcement has that chance today, to refuse to obey SB 1070 that is both, morally repugnant and outside of the U.S. Constitution.

Regarding the larger civilizational struggle, the context is akin to when Europeans first came to this continent. The conquistadors came for gold, land and bodies (slaves). The friars, on the other hand, came for souls. Similarly, the migra and extremist legislators want bodies deported; the state school superintendent, Tom Horne, wants souls.

Last year, the state legislature attempted to eliminate Ethnic Studies from the state’s K-12 curriculum. The real target was Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) program. After young students ran from Tucson to Phoenix in 115 degree heat, the bill was defeated. This year, a similar, yet more preposterous bill is back. HB 2281 seeks to outlaw curriculum that is anti-American and that advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. The bill creates a mechanism by which books will be judged to be in compliance. American Indian and African American classes are exempted and thus the clear target again is the MAS program. Horne is on record claiming that only things from Western Civilization (Greco-Roman) should be taught in Arizona schools. Pre-Colombian Indigenous knowledge from this continent – the foundation for the highly successful MAS program – is considered outside of Western Civilization.

Amid the immigration crisis, the legislature is slated to also pass HB 2281 this week. This conjures up the line from the movie, The Other Conquest: “They came for our souls, but they didn’t know where to look.”

President Obama and Congress may yet nullify SB 1070 and similar bills nationwide, but this will not discourage those who continue to want our bodies… and souls.

ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at



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