I’m proud to be American.
But I’m a little embarrassed of Arizona.
Although I am no longer a registered voting resident of Legislative District 18 (includes Mesa west of Gilbert Road to Tempe, excluding Dobson Ranch), I still feel responsible for the well being of my state. My people.
Lately, though, I find myself cringing, just a little, when I claim it as my home. How can I be associated with a place so crude? So blatantly heartless? The whole SB 1070 fiasco, the bill that left hundreds of Arizona businesses cut off—boycotted—simply because they lived in a state that could be so downright mean…that was embarrassing.
I try to be compassionate. I wish more people would.
And that’s one of the reasons—the main reason, really—that even though I can’t vote in Arizona any more, I support Jerry Lewis (yes, his name is really Jerry Lewis) for Arizona Senate.
I know Jerry Lewis personally, have been a guest at his house, have been a student in his classroom, have associated with his family and know him to be a fine, fine person.
However, that alone is no reason for you to vote for him. You might not know him. You can’t take my word for it.
But his stance on illegal immigration is compassion, not cruelty.
So I would vote for him on November 8th if I could.
And I hope you do, too.
Where I grew up, in Mesa, Arizona, many of my peers and their parents and their grandparents used the word Mexican as a degradation.
“Those Mexicans,” they’d say, spitting the word like Nazis might spit Jew. Like they couldn’t get the foul-tasting word out of their mouth fast enough. Like it was poison.
There was a robbery at the Circle K down the street: “You can be sure it was a Mexican.” Someone left her bike in the front yard at lunch time and it got stolen: “Some Mexican took it.” “You don’t want to get any Mexican renters; they’ll tear the place up in no time flat.” Watch out for those Mexicans. Mexicans.
But I was raised differently. My parents, both fluent Spanish speakers after being immersed in Central and South American cultures for foreign missions, had seen some of the world. Had travelled it enough to know that not every brown-skinned person was a Mexican. And that even if they were, what would be the big deal? That sure, there might be crooks who happened to be Mexican, but that badness could exist in every race and nationality, American included.
And goodness existed, too.
Mexican is not a dirty word. It should not be made to be a dirty word. And though many people try to instill it with hate and disrespect like that awful N word, it remains, to me, a simple statement of nationality.
Mexican immigrants to the United States—illegal or not—are there because they want to be. Because they feel such suffocating desperation in their circumstances that they will do anything to be there. Sometimes they break the law to be there.
And breaking the law is bad.
But I don’t blame them.
I was ten years old when, on a trip to visit family in El Paso, my parents drove our turquoise Ford Taurus across the Texas/Mexico border into Juarez, a city just minutes away from my grandparents’ house. As we forged the Taurus further and further away from the relative prosperity of our native country—the country where we (who weren’t even anywhere near wealthy) were unimaginably blessed, seemingly at random, to be born—my sister and I, usually so pitted against each other, stopped fighting over pillows and chapter books and cans of Sprite in the back seat. We grew quiet. My sunflower seed intake dwindled with each turn we made until eventually I stopped cracking the salty shells altogether. The David’s bag laid neglected at my feet. I couldn’t stomach them anymore.
Not in the face of that.
As I stared out the backseat window, I was transported to a different world. Sprawled throughout the city in every direction were the saddest conditions I’d ever witnessed. Grimy. Shambles. Shacks. Homes made of cinder blocks. Corrogated tin. Plywood. Cardboard. Cardboard? Yes.
At first I thought they were sheds. My grandpa had chicken coops in his backyard that looked remarkably similar. Chicken coops—where his chickens lived.
Mom, why do they have so many sheds?
Those aren’t sheds. Those are their houses.
They live there?
Yes, Camille. Really.
Yes, Camille. Yes.
We were quiet for the entirety of our little road trip. The thrill of buying Chiclets and soda in real glass bottles had died away, overshadowed by the four and five year-old children hawking necklaces, bracelets, windshield wiping, blood (it seemed like they’d sell their blood for money) in the line of cars waiting to cross back into the United States.
The line going back was enormous. Twenty times longer than the one to get into Mexico.
Why is it so long, Mom?
Why do you think, sweetheart?
Yet here we are. The ’90s are passed, so long ago now it seems like they were really just a dream. Did that all really happen? Zack and Kelly, poofy bangs, watermelon Laffy Taffy? I don’t eat sunflower seeds anymore—haven’t in years. I stopped wearing overalls, I brush my teeth regularly. I wear a bra now. I’ve changed, grown up, learned some things. We have phones that tell us the weather. It’s 2011.
The year 2000 came and went and the ten year-old girl who couldn’t imagine even being alive during the year 2000 has lived—thrived—well beyond it.
But for the majority of Arizonans, even for the majority of my own relatives, Mexican is still—unbelievably, but yet I do believe it—a dirty word.
Really, you guys?