Thursday, May 04, 2006

How Not to Win Friends

The day after the pro immigration rallies this week, the Standard Examiner published a guest commentary by someone named Ana Ayala called “Sleeping giant Latinos' awakening inevitable, and here!” The article says that Ms. Ayala “is a first-generation American of Puerto Rican descent, and a second-generation American of Mexican descent.” I would have written about this earlier, but I had to let it sit and simmer so that I could approach the matter rationally.

Ms. Ayala is obviously very proud of her heritage. She quotes some statistics from a University of Utah study about the value of Latinos to the economy in Utah. If you read the study you will discover that the statistics cited were cherry picked to support Ayala’s position. While the study is generally positive, there are some negatives as well. Since the study was designed to improve trade between Utah and Mexico, it goes out of its way to avoid the most negative aspects of the immigration issue in Utah.

But it is not the statistics Ayala cites with which I take exception; it is the overall tone of her commentary. It comes across like the Borg from Star Trek Next Generation. Ayala’s message seems to be, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” She says, “Relax. There's nothing anyone can do about Latinos becoming this country's majority population.” She continues, “Obviously, this train is non-stop and on its way to Latino nirvana! For those of you non-Latinos who like and appreciate us, we welcome you on our train ride.”

Ayala predicts a Latino majority in the U.S. as soon as 2010. While the Latino presence in the U.S. is growing, Ayala’s prediction is beyond preposterous (unless you twist numbers by how you define Latino).

Ayala next runs up the racism flag, claiming that being opposed to illegal immigration is simply a mask for good old-fashioned racism. She claims that “Latinos are constantly being told "go home!"” Then she trots out the argument that Latinos were in this country long before most of the rest of our ancestors, so they somehow have a right to be here, presumably regardless of citizenship status.

She next takes on the English language. To those that want immigrants to speak English she flippantly barks, “Enough already! The future in this country is Spanish, like it or not. If you spout, "Speak English!" I say: "Learn to speak Spanish!" It's the wave of the future, and you're a fool if you don't!"”

Next she sides with President Bush, asserting that Americans ought to be glad that Latinos take American jobs. Like our president, Ayala makes it sound as if every Latino in this country is as honest and hard working as the day is long. Like the president, she makes no mention of the gangsters, drug pushers, smugglers, and sundry other criminals that somehow are so casually included in this fine upstanding population.

Ayala takes on those that argue against illegals using our country’s social services, making the completely unsupportable claim that they do not use these services because that would be illegal.

Finally, Ayala once again touts Latino superiority, saying, “You would do well to do right by Latinos. We will one day be the boss to your sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters.”

I believe Ayala makes two serious errors in her thesis. First, she comes across as strikingly arrogant. This is not simply cultural pride—standing up and shaking your fist at your trials. Rather, it is a claim of superiority based on race. This ugly adornment is just as unbecoming of Latinos as it is of others that have worn it. No one can fault Ayala for her heritage. Indeed, we should all probably hold a special place in our hearts for our individual heritage. But we have discovered by sad experience that serious problems arise when that sentiment leads to a sense of superiority.

Ayala claims that her race and culture will consume all others in the U.S. But she doesn’t merely cite this proposition as a cold statistical possibility; she sticks it in the face of non-Latinos and rubs their noses in it. This is simply not a good way to engender neighborly relations. She comes across like Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on his desk at the U.N. General Assembly in 1960 and yelling in reference to capitalism, “We will bury you!” Today we can see how silly and spurious his prediction was.

Ayala’s second major mistake is that she makes no differentiation between Latinos in general and Latinos in this country illegally. Indeed, she seems to go to great effort to equate the two. This does a great disservice to Ayala’s main point that Latinos play a significant role in this country. It does a greater disservice to immigrants that have done what it takes to be here legally. In one fell swoop she lightly tosses aside the legitimacy of our country’s sovereignty. I do not get the impression that she would so carelessly dismiss the sovereignty of Mexico.

Strangely, Ayala, who seems to have a decent command of the English language, rejects that language in favor of Spanish. In reality, if you want to be successful in this country you must be conversant in English. Many people that want laws requiring English to be our country's only official language want those that are currenly not proficient in English to become proficient so that they can become successful. Bill Cosby got into hot water with some people for boldly proclaiming this doctrine with reference to African-Americans.

Ayala’s commentary has some valid points and in it she tries to address an issue that is very important to Utah and to the nation. However, her in-your-face approach is destined to leave a bad taste in the mouths of non-Latinos. If she intended to engender empathy for Latinos, she has only succeeded in doing the opposite. If her intent was to cause ill feelings toward Latinos, she hit the mark.

I would like everyone, regardless of where they were born or what they look like, to have opportunities similar to what I have been blessed with in life. I would like to be a good neighbor to everyone regardless of surface differences. But neighborliness is a two-way street. Those desiring acceptance should refrain from sticking their fists in their neighbors’ faces and telling them that they’re about to be crushed.


That One Guy said...

It is truly odd to me that MOST of those on the Latino side of this debate completely discount, or more accurately, dismiss, the illegal aspect of the situation that is REALLY the only issue on the table for discussion in this debate. Wage issues etc. aside, most of the conflict would be gone if there was an appropriate discourse on the issue: ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. I'll have to let this brew in my head as well for a while - I have strong opinions on this, and I'll need to formulate a rational thought in my head before my mouth starts moving here...


Former Centerville Citizen said...

Yeah, that editorial in the Std-Ex riled me up too. Now that's the epitome of disrespect - defend those who enter the country illegally, and then have the nerve to tell us that we should be learning their language, not the other way around.