It's not our regular stuff; not today. Normally I'd have a lowball full of gay hatred on tap or the burning Red of war death decanted. Don't spill it; once you get it on your hands it never washes off and that bouquet sure lingers. While that Red brings sweet, powerful catharsis and that Gay Hatred false piety (it's sacramental wine to some, you know), neither are good enough today. Today I've tapped a keg of the oldest brew: racist xenophobia, that hatred of the unfamiliar "other". Hear the cries of all human history repeated ad nauseum as that cool, black sludge fills your glass. Let's raise it now in toast to a nation that never repents, but only forgets, the transgressions of its past. Drink it down because you must, because you live there too, and feel what blackness you've allowed to pass your stained lips...
By way of a little back story, Gifted-1 and I both grew up on conservative northern Illinois. I'd been kicking around blogging about this first story ever since I caught wind of it from David Neiwert's blog. It's so close to home for me, which makes it more poignant than it might have otherwise been. From the Rockford Register Star:
A Freeport-based Aryan Nations group plans to rally Saturday in front of the Ogle County Courthouse in what the organizationÂs leaders are calling a nonviolent Âvoice of opinion about current immigration laws.Â
Members of the Aryan Anarchist Skins, a white nationalist group, will demonstrate at 2 p.m. on South Fifth Street between the old courthouse and the Ogle County Judicial Center, said Lisa Shultz, a Âsergeant officerÂ for the group. Shultz said she expects up to 200 people to attend the rally, though the group itself has just 10 members.
Representatives of other Illinois white supremacist groups and possibly some from other states might convene with the Skins on Saturday, Shultz said, but she knew of no specific Aryan Nations groups planning to attend.
This event, of course, has come and gone with little fanfare, leading me to conclude that it didn't make much a splash in little Oregon. I grew up less than 10 miles from there and I can certainly understand why a racist hate group like this might feel they have a sympathetic ear or two in the area. Jobs are rather scarce in Ogle county and many of those jobs are being occupied by Mexican immigrants. Rochelle, which is probably 30 miles or so from Oregon, has long been battling gang and violent crime issues due largely to poverty. A lack of jpersistentstant low standard of living and plentiful Mexican immigrants, all of which can be found in these former farm communities some two hours or more west of Chicago, combine to create a very hostile atmosphere for hate groups to exploit. Add to that the fact that Ogle is one of the most reliably conservative Republican counties in Illinois and you've got a sure recipe for trouble. Fortunately, there wasn't any, this time.
My reason for using a source story for this post that was prior to the actual event is terribly selfish, I'm afraid. My fear is that if I looked to closely at this event, I'd see someone I knew there. I have much family in that area. I also know that many folks are committed to the belief that legal immigration is an anachronism of a naive past and illegal immigration a criminal assault on the American way of life. I'm selfish in that I don't want to even know if any of my family or school-days friends share that belief, though I'm certain some of them do. I don't desire the confirmation.
In the broader sense I see this kind of event as the natural evolution of the immigration debate. The more and more harsh the rightwing rhetoric gets about this issue, the more justified these sorts of hate groups feel in spewing their racist bile. The Aryan Anarchist Skins are just a bunch of ignorant, maladjusted animals incapable of dealing with the modern world. However, the viciousness of the GOP noise machine towards this issue, especially as it relates to the House bill, begins to lend the tiniest bit of resonance to the hatred espoused by a group like this in the ears of those closet racists uncomfortable with a changing America. That's irresponsible, ideologically-blinded governance at its worst, and it's bringing the ugliest elements of our nation too close to my former home. Just knowing that the Aryan Anarchist Skins felt confident enough in the reception they'd get to show up in Oregon dulls the patina on my childhood memories of the area. What a shame that racism and nativism has been granted a foothold by those whose job it's supposed to be to uphold our civil liberties. November can't come soon enough...
The other bit of news I have, in this same vein unfortunately, comes from too close to my current home in Wisconsin. It seems the newly-elected mayor of Arcadia, Wisconsin has become frustrated with our government's refusal to codify into law his hatred of Mexicans so he's taken the first step himself. From the Winona Daily News:
Arcadia Mayor John Kimmel has infuriated the Hispanic community with an inflammatory proposal to eliminate undocumented workers in this western Wisconsin town.
Kimmel laid out a five-ordinance plan in an Aug. 10 column in the Arcadia News-Leader, that would, among other things: make English the official language in Arcadia, a city of 2,402 people, require an American flag to fly alongside any other national flag; alert federal agents to resident complaints of undocumented workers; and ensure signs are only printed in English. Kimmel considered monetary penalties for some but hasnÂt finalized anything.
First of all, the only part of Kimmel's agenda that actually has anything to do with undocumented immigrants is his proposal to alert federal agents about resident complaints involving illegal immigrants. Notice that he's not actually responding to the presence of the undocumented workers, who may very well be present in Arcadia, but to the complaints of residents about such. Of course, since undocumented Mexican immigrants (and, rest assured, Kimmel's talking only about Mexican immigrants) don't generally where signs proclaiming their undocumented status, the residents of Arcadia really have no way of knowing who is and is not undocumented. Not that it appears to matter to Kimmel.
As I drive through Arcadia each day, I've often wondered at the public reaction to the two Mexican grocery stores in the downtown area. I hate to assume the worst about those whose skin color matches mine, but sadly we pasty folks have a piss-poor track record in the racial tolerance arena. Thus, while I'm dismayed by Kimmel's overt attack on the local immigrant population, I'm certainly not surprised. Making English the official language is nothing more than a mean-spirited slap in the face. It's just a petty way of making Mexican immigrant feel a little less welcome in an area where plenty of work is available for all who seek it. It's a way for Kimmel and those supporting him to essentially tell the immigrant population that they are not welcome and are not regarded as neighbors (or people, for that matter). It's an abuse of office that I hope brings Kimmel every bit of the derision he deserves.
As a final bit of hypocrisy, I think his flag and sign restrictions are stupidly racist as well. This part of Wisconsin has a huge Norwegian immigrant population, complete with Norwegian flags and Norwegian signs, neither of which have been an issue for over a hundred years. Of course, those Norwegians, almost all second or higher generation immigrants, all look just a little different than the new wave of immigrants from Mexico. I'm sure you can guess...
It makes me sad to see how our Congress's refusal to enact any kind of compassionate program to deal with the immigrant question has led to such overt racism bubbling up. Perhaps that racism was always there and it's only now that I'm seeing it clearly. Either way, it shows that racism and nativism thrive just as well here as any where else in the world. We should be better than that.