Every time I watch the news on television, open a newspaper or click on a story about immigration, I try to hide, even as I listen and watch.
What is this pain I feel -- this plunging sadness?
Perhaps it's knowing what all Latinos know, or should know, in their hearts. It is the hurt of being on the fringes of the used, dismissed and forgotten. Knowing that people like us, even related to us, are an expendable, low-cost human fuel.
It is the hurt of a man who must choose whether to voice dissent in defense of his heredity or to remain a silent, unquestioning, good American.
And it is shame. Shame for remaining silent in this spectacle of disrespect for generations of sacrifice and blood given to help build this empire. An elitist, racist disrespect, of which we become part through our silence.
So here I hide, having been afraid to voice my silent rage. Protective of my accumulated wealth. Protective of my public face and perceived status.
Protective. From whom? From what?
Who in the hell am I trying to kid? The truth is:
The only thing that separates me from arrest and the word "illegal" is a generation. There is no legal or illegal in blood lines. Is that safe enough? Is that protective enough? The fact that I call this "my" country and served four years during the Vietnam War, that I pay my taxes and go to AA, have never been in jail and own a popular Mexican restaurant -- is that safe enough?
No. Because, as long as brown people are being arrested, I will be only on the edge of acceptance. As long as I wear this brown skin, look the way I do, I will always be on the list of usual suspects.
I'm just another Mexican in the eyes of an America that has become punch-drunk on gossip, wild rumors and lies. So now we're annoyed and itching to get back at someone -- better yet, someone who can't hit back.
These unfortunates who sit in cells waiting to be deported are my grandparents in the early 1900s. They are my cousins and brothers and uncles who were rousted from their Minnesota homes and workplaces in the 1930s and sent back to Mexico, only to be called back when the Union Pacific needed gandy dancers, Crystal Sugar needed people with strong backs who were hungry enough to work for 12 cents a ton and could handle a topping knife, and a U.S. military seeing war coming with Germany figured brown would work just as well as white and black for cannon fodder.
So as I stand here, yelling into the wind of anti-immigrant public opinion led by a governor whose memory will be reviled by my grandchildren as Minnesota's answer to the segregationist Orval Faubus. Shouting, pleading, demanding that America give my people the same as they give you and yours: the opportunity to live in dignity and without fear.
That America give my people the same opportunity to enter this country legally that it gave your grandparents and great-grandparents. That America give this generation of Latino people the right and the time to assimilate into Americans as your past generations had.
I am not an educated man, but it seems to me that one look at the transformation of Lake Street in south Minneapolis says that the future of this country is worth giving hardworking brown people legal access to the American Garden.
We are here to work and build and fulfill our dreams. We want to love our families and revere the memory of our parents and grandparents, and that of our ethnic heritage. We want to wave the Mexican flag on Cinco de Mayo the way the Irish do Ireland's on St. Paddy's day. In October we want to enjoy German bratwurst during Oktoberfest and invite German-Americans to remember their departed loved ones on our Day of the Dead.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is on the fast track, with aspirations that extend outside our borders and using this human tragedy to further his political ambitions. He is reminiscent of Gen. William Westmoreland, demanding more latitude to chase the brown people. We called it "body count" back then. Today it's a body count by profile.
I ask myself what I would do if I were stopped and asked for further identification. Having already been a victim of racial profiling, I find that prospect very plausible. I ask you, Gov. Pawlenty: What should I do? Shall I give in for the good of national security? Shall I give in because people who look like me take jobs from people who look like you? What would you do if you were me, Governor? You, of whom some people whisper about potential greatness, what do you choose? Submit to bigoted paranoia or hold your head up and say no?
Tell us, Governor. A lot of brown Americans are waiting for your answer.
Joe Minjares, Minneapolis, owns Pepito's Restaurant.
Joe says that he is not "an educated man." Spot supposes that it depends on your definition of "educated," Joe. You seem pretty educated to Spot. For his commentary, Joe Minjares is awarded a Spotty™. Remember, boys and girls, a Spotty is awarded to the author of a letter to the editor, an op-ed piece, or a blog post or comment that Spot wishes that he has written.
Spot also suggests that you check out Joe's restaurant, boys and girls. Here's how to get there.
Tags: immigration, Spotty award