A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
This morning, I took down my American flag.
I always fly the flag for holidays and such. I like the flag. For one thing, I think it’s pretty, a bit busy, but nice to look at nonetheless. But more importantly, I’m a Vietnam veteran – I gave much for that flag. I’m also a leftist, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let the far right own this symbol.
But today, I took down my flag. I had it up for Labor Day. I just left it up. Today is the day after Trump moved to end DACA. Also today, some workers were doing home improvements on a neighbor’s roof across the street. The workers spoke Spanish with a Mexican accent. I wondered what they thought of a guy who would fly the American flag today of all days. So I took it down. But I also made a decision.
I’m going to buy a Mexican flag. I’ll fly it alongside my American flag. In doing so, when we fly those flags, this household says, “Amamos nuestro país, y amamos su país. Odiamos las paredes. En esta casa, damos la bienvenida a nuestros hermanos y hermanas mexicanos. Las paredes caen. El amor perdura.” We love our country, and we love your country. In this house, we welcome our Mexican brothers and sisters. Walls fall. Love endures.
26% of all DACA recipients have a child, who is an American citizen. If my math is correct, in the worst case, 208,000 mothers and fathers could be torn from their children by a political party that prides itself on its “family values.”
I never thought it would come to this, but, OK. White people, we need to talk.
But first, a rule. Unless your name translates as something like Three Trees or Smoke or Spotted Horse, you don’t get to complain about immigration.
And, yea, I’m talking to you Piscicelli.
And you, Scarlett O’Hara, with your Confederate flag – Where do you think the name O’Hara comes from? Yea, and don’t think the Klan never lynched a Catholic.
And you, Stephenson. Just because your ancestors got kicked out of a nice WASP country, yea I’m talking to you.
I am an historian. Because of that, I am uncertain if history really teaches anything. I do feel, however, that history can be useful as an analogy or a comparison. Thus do I risk the following.
I wonder if the United States is at its Nuremberg Laws moment?
A lot of folks think that one day in Germany, everyone was happy and free, and, during the next, Jews were getting slammed into the camps. But the process was much more gradual. A lot of small erosions of the soul, a lot of small surrenders to cruelty and racism. Think about it. Would you risk your job because a Jew can’t work for the army? Would you risk your job because a Jew can no longer play in the symphony? I seem to recall local laws about Jews not being allowed to own certain pets or belong to the town’s chess club – would you protest over that?
And when few objected to all that, the next step was easy. The Nuremberg Laws. These Nuremberg Laws excluded Jews from citizenship, and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with anyone of “German or German-related blood.” They were disenfranchised, deprived of most political rights, and even deprived of the ability to marry the one they loved.
Let’s be clear: these laws were aimed at a specific group of people simply because of who they were.
The repeal of DACA? This repeal is aimed at folks who are young, vulnerable, and mostly brown. And let’s be clear. This repeal doesn’t only affect Mexicans, but it mostly affects Mexicans. The Nazis didn’t only persecute Jews, but they mostly persecuted Jews. 79% of DACA recipients are from Mexico. A typical “Dreamer” lives in California, Texas or Illinois, is from Mexico and came to the U.S. at 6 years old.
They contribute billions to the economy. But this is vastly more than an economic issue.
Yes, they came here with parents who broke the law. But to punish the child because of the actions of the parents, I don’t want to say this is medieval. I studied medieval history, and we would do the Middle Ages a disservice. But to punish the child because of the actions of the parents, to say these “Dreamers” technically broke the law is a concrete form of ideation that leads to a primitive form of moralization.
So why do I wonder if the United States is at its Nuremberg Laws moment? Because I think there are moments in history, moments future folks will look back upon, and they will ask a simple question. Where did you stand? Did you stand with your Jewish neighbors? Did you stand with your Mexican neighbors?
This measure aims to persecute folks, many of whom are brown. Let us not forget that Trump attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in the US but is of Mexican heritage. Then-candidate Trump claimed Curiel could not impartially hear the case because of his Mexican background – and that is by-the-book racism. And the repeal of DACA is by-the-book xenophobia.
“They are not our friends, believe me,” Trump said of Mexicans. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
A friend of mine, a former student, was in New York recently. Someone asked him, “Why do all you Mexicans want to come to the United States?”
“Well, I can’t speak for all Mexicans. Me? I came here for the Metropolitan Opera. Do you like Offenbach?”
We have allowed racism in general, xenophobia in particular, to become part of our national dialogue. We have become anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Mexican.
No one that I know is pointing an accusing finger at conservatism. The fault does not lie with the ideology of Ronald Reagan, Jack Danforth or David Brooks. The fault is entirely with Donald Trump and all that he has wrought.
In the interest of full disclosure, I used to live and work in Mexico City. To me, there no longer is any such thing as xenophobia. I simply can’t be that abstract anymore. There is only anti-Jacobo. Anti-Alejandra. Anti-Beatriz. Anti-Ana. Anti-Roberto. Anti-Veronica. Anti-Laura. Anti-Miguel. Anti- the people I love.
Copyright 2017 John Samuel Tieman