Spot the Mexican-American
I am sure Union Square
has seen bigger demonstrations of workers' solidarity in its storied past (this was where Eugene Debs
, after all, made some of his great speeches), but I think the historians would be hard pressed to find a more colorful gathering than that which thwacked drums and blew whistles and chanted "Si, se Puede" (Yes, it's possible!) and generally thronged the Square yesterday afternoon.
The place was packed with workers expressing their solidarity with immigrants (legal or otherwise) who are being victimized by the House of Representatives
and Lou Dobbs
. They recognize it for what it is, which is not a serious attempt to address the issue of immigration or of protecting borders. It has a far simpler aim: Kick the Mexicans out.
I say this with feeling since, in one of my personal history's minor but delicious ironies, as a resident alien from Britain I am not a citizen of these United States and so have taxation without representation
. Even though I am here legally, and have all the advantages that my skin color, first language, and education can offer, I am thus in essence no different from these workers: I pay taxes but cannot vote or be on a jury or retain the protections of the United States. I could be sent "home" any time.
I also cannot complain about the protestors waving Mexican (or Brazilian, or Honduran, or Nigerian, or whatever nation-state they are currently not living in) flags instead of Old Glory. Every day, I listen to the BBC, read the British newspapers, follow the game of cricket, and hone my accent in front of a mirror (I'm kidding about the last one). In other words, I don't so much cling on to my culture, as revel in it: I enjoy being in two worlds, and have no problem in feeling as engaged with the well-being of the U.S. and its citizens as I am concerned about the well-being of the U.K. and its citizens.
Now, I am sensitive to the loss of American jobs. Indeed, every day I resist the siren song of Indian editors and software companies, as well as Chinese printing companies, asking me to send the work of my company to them for much less money. I am also aware that too much of the immigration debate is about Latin and Central America: there were very few Haitians or south or east Asians in the crowd yesterday. Why not?
But this country, and New York City in particular, has gained its drive and vitality from immigration, and I see no reason why that should stop. The languages and skin-color may have changed, but the idea of freedom and the connection to the place that you left remain strong. You can't keep people out, and you can't stop them from holding on to what they left behind. That's how it is with us troublesome first generationers.
So, as far as I'm concerned, they can make as much noise as they want outside Lantern's window, and let the great debate about what America is or who it belongs to wait for another day. This was their day, and they worked hard for it. And, as much as this is my neighborhood and my country, it's theirs, too.