Blog Archive

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Easy to blame `foreigners'

The Miami Herald
August 29, 2010

Last week in New York, the police arrested a 17-year-old, charging him with robbery and menacing activities as hate crimes. According to police, the youngster, wielding a knife and yelling anti-Mexican slurs, attacked a 15-year-old Mexican boy to steal his iPod.

Earlier this month, a grand jury indicted a 17-year-old on four charges of assault and robbery as hate crimes. The youngster attacked an 18-year-old to steal $10 while hurling anti-Mexican insults.

The attacks are the latest in a wave of crimes this spring and summer against Mexicans in Staten Island, one of the four boroughs of New York, the most diverse city in the nation and one that boasts of a legendary tolerance for newcomers.

After all, this is the city that served as a port of entry to thousands of immigrants -- primarily, but not exclusively, from Europe -- during the late 1800's into the early years of the 20th century. This is also the city that still beckons immigrants with its Statue of Liberty and its implicit promise that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

It is now clear that a handful of people from here and there are tolerable for New Yorkers of a certain disposition. An exotic accent, a scarf wrapped around the head, a long tunic, or a dark skin tone add to the flavor and the myth of the city. But too many of one group makes other groups nervous, it seems. In Port Richmond, where 11 Mexican men have been attacked since April, the majority of the students at the local public school were once black. Now, the majority are Latinos; mostly Mexican.

In these times of economic uncertainty -- the stock market continues to plunge, home sales are down and unemployment remains stubbornly high -- it is easy to blame the ``other'' for all that ails the country. Neighbors of the boy most recently arrested in Staten Island told WABC reporters the attack was not motivated by racial hatred but by grim economic realities. ``I don't think it's a hate crime, it's just a recession out there.''

In America, when the pie shrinks, no one wants to cede a piece to a "foreigner'' -- be it a German, Chinese or Mexican. As early as the late 1840's, during the years of the California Gold Rush, laws were passed ordering all foreigners to vacate certain mining areas. For years, Germans were a target (Benjamin Franklin once wrote that Germans were of the "stupid sort''); then, the tide turned against Catholics in general (priests had to hide their collar to walk the streets of Maine, New York and Boston where mobs attacked them or their churches); and Italians were once considered unacceptably dark.

In the early years of the 20th century, as the country was at war and, later, battling the Great Depression, acts of violence against Latinos became almost common place. Between the years 1900-1936, there were 174 incidents of civilian violence toward Mexicans in the United States, most of them in Texas, according to Francisco Arturo Rosales's book, Pobre Raza!: Violence, Justice, and Mobilization Among Mexico Lindo Immigrants, 1900-1936.

Later, between the years of 1954 and 1959, more than 3.7 million Latinos were deported, most of them without due process. The massive round ups and deportations were based on physical appearances. If border patrol officers thought a person "looked Mexican,'' whatever that means, the person was deported to Mexico. Non-Latinos and many non-Mexicans ended up on the other side of the Rio Grande.

Thirty-five years later, the passage of Proposition 187 in California in 1994 gave rise to a 23.5 percent increase of hate crimes against Latinos in the Los Angeles area. In 2000, in Farmingville, New York, two white men stabbed and beat two Mexican day laborers after luring them to a warehouse with promises of work. Three years later, in the same town, five teenagers torched the home of five Mexican immigrants.

And the list goes on: killings or attacks have recently been reported in Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Texas, Utah and, yes, even Florida (in September 30, 2007, Jose Gonzales, a U.S. citizen in Avon Park returned home to find his car and garage destroyed by a fire set by an arsonist who also spray-painted an obscenity against Puerto Rico on the garage walls. No arrests were made).

Lest some of us think we are safe because we are bilingual, educated, non-Mexican and legal residents or even U.S. citizens, consider the case of Pedro Corzo, a 35-year-old Cuban-born regional manager for Del Monte Fresh Produce. In January 9, 2004, Corzo was gunned down in Dateland, Ariz. The killers -- two cousins ages 16 and 24 -- were traveling through remote sections of southern Arizona with the specific intent of killing Mexicans at random.

In the eyes of the new nativists, we are all Mexicans. foreigners.html#ixzz0y0ANVDla