Fear and Loathing of Mexicans

Not to be outdone the late segregationist, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer will go down in the history books as an ardent xenophobe and racist.

Brewer’s hatred of immigrants and disregard for the civil rights of Latinos (both legal residents and citizens) have come to fruition in Arizona’s recently passed laws aimed at criminalizing immigrants, racially profiling Latinos and denying racial minorities the right to learn about their history.

I’m speaking, of course, of SB 1070, the unconstitutional law that requires police officers to demand legal documentation of individuals suspected of being undocumented immigrants under the premise of “reasonable suspension” and HB 2281, the racist law that bans ethnic studies (optional courses, as a matter of fact) in public schools.

Instead of chastising Brewer for her racist legislative actions, President Barack Obama recently invited her to the White House to discuss the controversial immigration law that the president referred to as “misguided.”  This is the same president that had a “Beer Summit” at the White House with a racist police officer, Sgt. James Crowley, shortly after he arrested Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—a distinguished African American scholar—in his own home.  This high profile arrest can be traced to Gates’ initial “inability” to verify proof of residence to Crowley even after Gates provided his Harvard faculty identification card.

As any parent should know, this is no way of rewarding bad behavior!

Better yet, instead of meeting with Brewer in a one-to-one meeting usually afforded to world leaders, Obama should chastise the rogue governor and take direct action against Arizona’s racist agenda.  Obama can learn a thing or two from previous presidents.  For instance, in 1963, then-President John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard when Gov. Wallace attempted to prevent two African American students from attending the University of Alabama under a federal court order to desegregate public schools.

An ardent segregationist, Wallace, who operated under the political platform “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” eventually caved under pressure when confronted by the military might of the federal government.  Taking this historical event as a “teachable moment,” Obama needs to use all of executive powers, including unmatchable oratory skills, to immediately repeal both SB 1070 and HB 2281.  While Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder contemplate legal action, individuals of Mexican decent in this desert state live in a constant state of fear, anxiety and financial insecurity.

When she originally signed SB 1070 into law on April 23rd, Brewer assured the public that racial profiling would not be tolerated.  However, what does she—a white, privileged politician—know about racial profiling?  I wonder if she, or any member of her family, has even been a victim of racial profiling?  More specifically, has she ever been denied a taxicab in the city of New York or other major city because of the color of her skin?  Has she ever been pulled over by a police officer for simply being in the “wrong neighborhood” or because she allegedly “matched the description” of someone suspected of committing a crime?

While Brewer and the supporters of this anti-immigrant law attempt to frame this policy measure as one of “crime” and “safety,” especially with the law’s official name, “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” they have yet to produce any hard data correlating immigration with crime in the state.  There is a word in the dictionary for making false accusations: slander.

While much of the attention in the media has been given to this cruel immigration law, Brewer wasted no time in attacking the Latino community, once again, with the elimination of ethnic studies programs in public schools.

In an Orwellian maneuver, Brewer, the architect of this ban—Arizona’s school chief Tom Horne—and other supporters argue that ethnic studies programs allegedly promote ethnic chauvinism, reverse racism against whites and the overthrow of the U.S. government.  It is amazing how educational programs aimed at providing a more ethnically diverse interpretation of American life and history have now become eminent enemies of the state.

For instance, how is teaching a Latino high school student about the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the fact that Cesar Chavez was born in Yuma, Arizona, suddenly un-American?  How is teaching a young Latina student about Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the UFW, now a criminal act?  Does this mean that Latino and Asian students can’t learn about the unconscionable Japanese American interment camps, where the state of Arizona hosted one, during the mid-20th Century since this falls under the purview of “ethnic studies” programs?  The only logical conclusion here is an obvious attempt by those in power to erase the history of discrimination and social injustice committed against racial minorities in the state and beyond.

Finally, if we critically examine the motives behind these anti-Latino laws, it’s clear that many people in Arizona and beyond fear and loathe the long-term consequence of Mexican immigration in particular and the demographic boom of Latinos in general, resulting in the browning of America.

ALVARO HUERTA is a doctoral student at UC Berkeley. He can be reached at: ahuerta@berkeley.edu




Dr. Alvaro Huerta is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning and ethnic and women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm,” published by San Diego State University Press (2013).