Thursday, May 19, 2005

Turning Point at the Checkpoint

Checkpoints in the Sand

After coming back from my third tour in Iraq, I took two weeks of leave to visit my poor mother. She, in the past two years, testified to the veracity of the Roman proverb that war is the scourge of all mothers. I fidgeted in my chair. The sagebrush, the arid earth, the contrast of blue on brown temporarily snapped me back to Iraq. As I drove back from the airport, my eyes darted across the medians and sidewalks looking for wires and debris - the tell tale signs of an IED. But the majesty of the Tucson Mountains, dwarfs to their elder brothers the Catalinas and the Rincons, brought to me a refreshing spirit. That spirit of familiarity that reassured me. I was indeed home. Things would be alright.

My parents arranged a meeting to see my brother who had taken residence in Southern Arizona. My parents and I listened to a Sean Hannity broadcast in Southern Arizona. Hannity lauded the minutemen – a volunteer militia patrolling the Sonoran desert. They had been intercepting migrants coming across the border in search of a better life. My mother complained about of an argument with a white middle aged co-worker who supported the minutemen’s mundane forays in the desert.

We passed them – the white working class people gathered around the Oregon flag flapping in the wind. At first glance, I thought it was a biker rally and almost invited myself to their picnic as barbeques appeared to be present. By now the discussion for me proved largely theoretical. I took comfort that Arizona – my home state took center stage. As Paula Abdul may attest, there is no such as thing as bad public relations. I sighed that Arizona’s charms had been overlooked by this problem and I took comfort that after four years of war perhaps things will return to normal where we Americans will forget about the important things like price of crude oil and the geography of the Middle East to stupid inane things like the crude behavior of Paris Hilton and the geography of Lindsay Lohan.

Then something happened- something visceral, primordial, an event that tells you what side of the line that you stand on. I had never been to the San Pedro Valley before. The San Pedro, a colossal valley whereby Buffalo Soldiers outfitted at the base of the Dragoon Mountains where the modern day Fort Huachuca now stands, chased after the Saracens of the Southwest, the famous brigand king, the Apache Geronimo across a wide valley toward his ancestral home – the far off mountains of the Mescaleros. Here, Wyatt Earp hunted and killed the remnants of the Clantons along the river by which the San Pedro River with its cottonwood palisade still flows. Surveying the land, here I can imagine the land grant given to the proud governor from the King of Spain that outlined one land grant roughly by the rims on set of mountains, green and lush bounded by the ridgeline of another set of mountains lunar and pockmarked.

But in the desert beauty of the San Pedro, another page of history had been written, the checkpoint, the Alaska barriers, Abrams tank, AK-47 tottering Iraqis with their high tech American counterparts, waving one set of vehicles toward a long, long line where as other more armored vehicle passed without incident albeit with a flick and a smile. No one had patted down a mother in her black veils and robes and children did not wave as we passed, but the northbound traffic had been blocked off. Green suited border patrol agents looked inside the cabs of the vehicles at faces. Some women in blue jeans, brown faces and wearing a gel in their hair to give the appearance of a wet permanent curl had been detained corralled without faces.

It was there I knew what side on.

I went to school with Mexicans. I knew their culture and their history. Mexicans had been my friends all my life. They stood in the pews next to me. I dated their women. They tolerated my attempts at Spanish. I drank their beer and almost did a stint in their prison during a Spring Break adventure. Chongo, who demonstrated his prowess over and over again against more propertied Anglo teams, my Pop Warner team captain hailed of Mexican descent. As my ambiguous ethnicity attests, people considered me Mexican of which I did not protest or contradict. They are a proud and beautiful people, noble, kind, not without their faults but worthy of a lion’s share in regional leadership as promulgated by the Monroe Doctrine. I was proud to be considered one of them.

Yet this station of war had been set up literally in my backyard stood as a slap in the face toward that Mexicanidad that had been imbued in my heart and part of my culture.

I am not going to call anyone racist although within this debate there is room for racism especially when it comes to code words like “National Security.” I am not going to decry the minutemen as vigilantes. They are my people as much as the Mexican and the Navajo.

I cannot disparage the minutemen for there are passionate about their country. In a country that has too few volunteers, I salute their sacrifice as a kindred spirit in the care of our great country. They have done what the Border Patrol could not or would not do.

Further, I love Sean Hannity and I thank him for bringing attention to this issue. Though I think Governor Schwarzenegger sounds very Wilsonian in his rhetoric, and though I like his movies and I will probably vote for him as President provided that he and his in laws can amend or bypass the Constitution. But remember Arnold that Pete Wilson never made it to the Presidential chopper.

I want to thank the President and former President Clinton for their work in addressing this problem and bringing real solutions to the table. President Bush is correctly proposing an immigration policy that concurrently cracks down on illegal immigration while encouraging and expanding legal immigration – even going so far as proposing a policy that is in everything but in name - an amnesty program. We must urge Congress for immediate passage.

I do reject the libertarian call for an open border on absolute terms as an invitation to chaos. Further, with all due respect to the Stature of Liberty who had been fashioned by a Frenchman, I find no mention of huddled masses in the Constitution. Sovereigns wield the unimpeachable right to enforce who comes into our country and removing those that it does not desire . Ask the Europeans what they think of North African émigrés.

I do not nor do I think Mexican-Americans object to stricter border enforcement. What I cannot abide is lies. It is a lie to think that this border security is done in the name of National Security and not in defense of Anglo-Protestant Nativism – a vestige of the Black Legend. Not one of the nineteen hijackers entered through Mexico. They all came direct or by Canada.

What this is about is aesthetic composition of our body politic. Do we want brown faced Catholic Central Americans coming across the border, living in our homes, working jobs that we don’t want and doing things that we don’t do – like Banda, mariachis and speaking Spanish? Do we want all these kids running all over the place? Or do we want to keep things the same as they have always been?

I believe this to be the secret heart of Tom Tancredo’s rhetoric.

Personally, I think these are legitimate questions that should be discussed dispassionately without the name calling. But let us call it what it is, we want to be able to determine what future generations of Americans will look like because as of now, over fifty percent of us are Hispanic – a demographic Karl Rove exploited in the last campaign.

There are other deeper issues to at stake namely: that if you want to stop people from coming over, you have to make where they are living a better place to stay. Americans living in small towns know that, they see their young adults leave their towns like Pied Piper toward the universities never to return because as in Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador, there are no jobs.

I am a second generation legal immigrant myself. And if I lived in the barrios of Guanajato or the countryside of Michoacan and if I was going no where fast with no opportunity and no chance of being anything but a beggar or thief, I would say two words the first being a four letter one and the second being “this” and I would probe that border until I got something for me and my own. That’s just being a man even the minutemen will concede this.

Until the family of nations within North America addresses the economics that plague the region – we will always have immigration problem. I charge our diplomats and theirs to come to agreements that will keep our region competitive and offer hope to those who would like to stay and work and not have to depend on their expatriate relatives for the crumbs and scraps from the table of plenty.

Latin America must follow the examples of Peru and Chile in adopting free market reforms, Columbia in aggressive enforcement of the narcotics trade, and Costa Rica in the rule of law - turning away from corruption and bribes and renew itself in the hope of future partnership. Convincing of that course is going to take money and it is our interests – the U.S. and Canada to see that it happens.

As to the aesthetic question as to whether ‘tis nobler keep things as they are in Tancredian stasis or embrace a browner future – as long as they speak English in schools and in business with me , I don’t have a problem with it. Catholic families will renew our desperate and lonely spiritual vacuum secularism, degenerate theological liberalism and “preach but do not practice” Protestant and Catholic religiosity. Fact is we need them more than they need us. Lastly, mass immigration of Latins, will be a political boon to the party of the status quo. Democrats Harry Reid of the Senate and Nancy Pelosi of the House who oppose any changes to Social Security will note a USA Today article which declares that without said immigration Roosevelt’s Ponzi scheme known as Social Security will be insolvent.

So when I visit the San Pedro again, I will smile and answer the border agent that “Yes, I am a U.S. citizen.” But that does not mean I will be silent any longer.

I am James A. Bretney and I invite you to look toward the Undiscovered Country.

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