FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Letter to Birmingham

by ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ

Dear Birmingham,

I write this to you from Tucson, Arizona, from a state synonymous with dehumanization and racial profiling, from a land of fear and hate. Birmingham, I think you know what I speak of. But don’t think I am alluding to your past; also today.

HB 56, the bill that your state legislature recently passed and that your governor signed, is being touted as the toughest anti-immigrant bill in the country, one that was affirmed by a U.S. District judge this September. This measure requires school officials to act as immigration agents and permits police officers to detain people without bail, based merely on suspicion of being in the country illegally. That it has fomented hate and caused panic and fear was the point, wasn’t it?

You might be wondering why someone from Arizona would be writing to a Southern city or state capitol? The answer is simple; Birmingham represents memory; it is etched into the psyche of the nation. It is also seared into Tucson’s memory, not just because many of us from the U.S. Southwest also lived through the civil rights era, but also because on May 3 of this year, one of our elders in our community was arrested for attempting to read the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King Jr. This occurred during a school board meeting, this in the midst of a hostile anti-Mexican, anti-Indigenous and anti-immigrant atmosphere in this state.

Here we have our own Bull Conner; Sheriff Joe Arpaio – the same Sheriff who unapologetically proclaimed on CNN that it was an honor to be compared with the KKK (11/12/07). Here, we also have Tom Horne, former state schools superintendent, who has long invoked the memory of MLK Jr., in his six-year effort to eliminate Ethnic Studies. He claims that doing so would constitute the fulfillment of MLK’s Dream. His successor, John Huppenthal, campaigned on the promise to “Stop ‘La Raza’. ” That is his dream. Against all evidence, he is conducting a modern-day Inquisition into Tucson’s Mexican American Studies K-12 department, attempting to prove its maize-based curriculum is anti-American.

In Tucson, our struggle is not simply about the right of our students to learn Mexican American history, language and culture, but even more so, our struggle here is about the right of everyone to be treated as full human beings. Indeed, this is something that you, Birmingham, know all too well. Last month signaled your grand return to the world stage of dehumanization; it’s as if you had been waiting some 50 years to breathe uninhibited, able once again to exhale the fumes of racial supremacy. This is something you haven’t been able to do since the courts and the civil rights movement forced you to cease your legalized discrimination against  African Americans. But your fight is not really with brown people; it’s just about enforcing the law, right?

Please note that in Arizona, we don’t refer to dehumanizing measures that violate the rights of human beings as laws. Yet, this is beyond how we characterize this new bigotry; we are conscious that Mexicans in many parts of the country are viewed and treated as less than human. The following quote by Otto Santa Ana, in Brown Tide Rising, explains this bias:  “Only humans have human rights.” I am certain that African Americans in the South understand this well.

Here, we have heard your governor, Robert Bentley, brag about the toughness of HB 56. Truthfully, there’s a bit of racial nostalgia and wistfulness communicated in his voice, projecting the sublime and whispered wish: “If we could only also apply these laws to our Black population too.” Am I mistaken, or is he not the same governor who in January proclaimed that only people who believe in Jesus Christ are his brothers and sisters.

As such, I don’t have to wonder what he thinks of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews. But forgive me if this causes me to question whether he considers African Americans, American Indians, Arab Americans and Mexicans as his true brothers and sisters too. As long as they are “legal”?

Birmingham, is this how you wish to be known and remembered? As a place that in the 21st century openly and legally dehumanizes its brown populations?

Birmingham, do you think the world actually believes you when you say you have nothing against brown people, Mexicans or immigrants – that your only beef is with “illegal aliens?” Do you think your ability to discern is credible? Isn’t that like dehumanizing African Americans, but hiding behind “states rights.” Wasn’t slavery and segregation legal in your state, in this country?

So Birmingham, yes, please lecture us on “the rule of law.” And keep listening to your governor, because we here in Arizona are certainly paying close attention. Here are his words in reaction to the judge’s ruling: “…this fight is just beginning… I will continue to fight at every turn to defend this law against any and all challenges.”

Don’t know what you hear, but eerily, we hear echoes of George Wallace: “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

Birmingham, your state legislature and your governor have once again brought “disgrace upon your state.” We know the objective is to take HB 56 to the Supreme Court. And let’s not mince words; we know that ethnic cleansing is not an unintended consequence. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Here, we thank your civil and human rights organizations and your religious community. Please continue to fight. Our memory is long. Yes, we remember the 1950s and 1960s… but we also remember the Trail of Tears.  Please do not permit a new one on your soil. After all, the brown men, women and children subject to this new draconian measure… they are our brothers and sisters… as they are yours.

Sincerely

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail