Friday, April 20, 2007

Not about race?

First of all, PLEASE read the description before being offended!

I debated whether or not I really should put this picture here - especially since I don't want someone to see it on the Portal and be offended without reading it first. There are some things about Omaha that are not so high on my list of things to show off. One of them is rather political. Omaha has a surprisingly volatile history as far as racism is concerned. The more I have read about that history in the past few days, the more surprised I have become. The following is an article that I wrote and submitted to the website of one of our news stations here. I will translate into Spanish soon, and post that as well.

Protesters lined up on Dodge Street Saturday with dozens of United States flags and homemade protest signs. With their signs and battle cries, their negativity towards what lies south of the border was much more evident than their concern for the supposed purpose of the protest.
This rally was announced as a protest against the sentences imposed by the U.S. government on 2 border patrol agents, Ramos and Compean. Groups present included the Nebraska Minutemen and the United Citizens of America. They claim to only want to enforce the laws regarding illegal immigration and to secure the borders. Everyone knows the immigration situation needs to be resolved. The laws are not working and the system must be fixed. Everyone has an opinion of how that needs to happen.
On the surface, the mission of these groups might appear noble. However, when you look beyond these highly repeated mission statements and focus on what they are actually saying and doing, the image begins to change. To begin with, I only saw one sign about the two border agents, and heard almost nothing. What I did see were signs saying things like “Illegal aliens, get out!” and “Illegal? NOT welcome – but I’ll exploit you!!” I have photos of all of these signs, along with video of some of their statements. I heard such things through the bullhorn as “Defend an illegal alien and you defend a rapist!” and “Stop the flow of disease – Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, and Pinkeye!” They are making bold generalizations without documentation to back them up.
The other principal misrepresentation that I see has to do with race. The website announcing the event clearly states, in bold letters: “This is NOT about race.” Yet their actions show differently. I don’t remember ever seeing such a blatant example of racism so clearly directed at a certain population. In this case, the hateful, dehumanizing statements were directed at Mexicans. Among the homemade signs were such phrases as “Go back to Mexico!” and “La Raza-it should be La Racist!”. One protester was so riled up he crossed the street to yell in the faces of the counter-protesters, and had to be taken away by police. The most shocking of all, from this group of flag-bearing patriots, was a huge Mexican flag on which someone painted a black circle with a line through it. The few Mexicans that were actually present among the small group of counter-protesters were speaking perfect English and saying that they were born here. The protesters did not bother to listen to any of that and continued to blindly scream at those who were, in reality, fellow citizens. This kind of blind hatred needs to be recognized for the racism that it is. One thing is to be against illegal immigration. It is quite another to assume that any person who looks “latino” is illegal and to insult them.
As an observer of this rally, I am concerned. A brief glance could lead to either dismissing the event as nothing or to embracing the cause based on a mission statement that is no more than an excuse for deeper motives. The simple use of the term Minutemen provokes images of armed militia ready to fight. Another sign at the rally warned, “Americans, Unite – or face Civil war!!” They say that history repeats itself. I sincerely hope that Omaha is not a community that wants to see acts of racist hatred from the past repeated in our city. I believe that, as a community, we must be aware of events like this. We cannot afford to ignore it or we run the risk of the situation escalating beyond control. Racial mob violence has led to an ethnic group being forced to leave Omaha in the past (1909, South Omaha’s Greek Town), and I do not want to ever see that kind of destruction happen again.


Kate said...

I'm not shocked that you posted the photo. Immigration is a very complex issue with strong feelings and emotions attached to it. Citizens need to be well-informed on all sides of the issue. Racism is ugly regardless of where and why it surfaces.

Mark said...

I was on the other side of the street with the Minutemen and United Citizens. I do not belong to either group. I agree with Kate that this issue is complex. It seems the meaning of the words we use causes confusion.
To me, a Mexican is a citizen of Mexico. Their ethnicity may be Hispanic or indio or something else. To say "Go Back To Mexico" means "leave the USA because you entered it in violation of the laws and statutes set forth by the Federal Government concerning the presence of foreign nationals within our borders." Kinda wordy. But it's not about race. You could compare it to the tradtional Latin American slogans "Yankee Go Home" (slang for Americans) and "Gringo Go Home" (slang for Americans of Northern European extraction). One is about nationality, the other race.
The man you mentioned being arrested had gotten overly upset (my opinion) when someone on the "Mexican" side of the street treated the American flag in, what he considered, a disrepsectful manner. Not about race.
Were you present when two men showed up, one carrying a Nazi flag, the other carrying an Aryan Nation flag? If you were, then you saw all the "American" protesters move to the other side of the street because no one wanted to be mistakenly associated with those racist losers. One man from the "American" side was so angry that those Nazis had showed up, the police had to detain him.
Finally, the motto of La Raza is, en inglis, "For the race,everything. For those outside the race, nothing." Should La Raza change its name to "La Racist"?

Anonymous said...

Poll: Is it OK to desecrate Mexican flags?