Racism and illegal immigration was in the news a lot in 2017. In the United States white people continued to be targeted and tensions grew with the riots in Charlotte, North Carolina. Police officers continued to be assaulted not because they were arresting criminals but because they were white and armed.
In the United Kingdom talks of deportation and stemming the influx of immigrants was on the news throughout most of the year. This was accompanied with coverage of terrorist’s attacks in Manchester and London and included coverage on an attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park.
Italy continued to have problems with the influx of refugees that were reported to be using Italy as an entry point to commit acts of terror in the rest of Europe and Donald Trump continued to campaign for a billion-dollar wall along the Mexican border. A wall that he wants Mexico to pay for.
Since then, he has moved on to threaten Kim Jong-un and the starving North Koreans with a nuclear strike; but the issues of racism, immigration, and terrorism remain a major issue throughout the globe. A globe that is increasingly becoming more united because of affordable travel and faster, more accessible communication the Internet.
Being born and raised in Los Angeles and surrounded by the Mexican community, the Mexican plight was an almost daily part of my life until high school when I started making friends outside of my community. My family is Salvadoran and came to the United States from Central America in the middle of a civil war. While there are many similarities and we both consider ourselves Latinos or Latinas, there are many differences as well.
Our histories, cultures, Spanish dialects and foods are different even though we are both descendants of Native Americans and European Explorers. Mostly Aztecs and the Spanish in Mexico with some Lebanese roots and a lot more varied mix of European in Central America that includes French and English with predominantly Mayan ancestry along with some smaller tribes like the Pipil. The proximity of Central America to the British commonwealths of Belize, Jamaica, and other Caribbean nations may explain the difference but in either case, we all speak Spanish below the US border.
Growing up around Mexicans was interesting because of our similarities and differences. Our family fled a civil war and they fled cartel violence. We ate pupusas and they ate tacos. Both of our skins were “brown” and we all had white relatives. In my family; my mother, young brother and I all have brown skin while my father and two sisters have white skin which is usually tanned because they live in Los Angeles. While growing up, I met many proud “brown” Mexicans who had a tio (uncle) with blonde hair and green eyes that spoke better Spanish than they did, their skin was usually tanned too. People like the sun out in Southern California and skin cancer research is a big industry.
Throughout my jr. high school and high school years which I hear are called “A” levels in the U.K. we learned about Cesar Chavez who is considered a great activist and advocate for not only Mexican-Americans but also other Latinos and even Asian and White low wage workers. Black people are ballers in L.A. because they’re all rappers, just kidding. Cesar Chavez stood up for them too and they talk about him in Compton and Watts in the same sentence as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. I met a Russian girl once that thought Cesar Chavez was hot because he stood up for people that didn’t have a voice. A lot of people still don’t expect their icons to be admired outside their communities, so I thought I’d mention it.
As I grew older, I started meeting a different kind of Mexican people. Most weren’t really “Mexican” from what the Mexicans tell me. They explained that the flags of Mexico, the United States and El Salvador are the flags of nations, not ethnicities or races. It was all very confusing because we’re not taught about genetics in school and people refer to their race or ethnicity by their ancestor’s flags.
As I thought about this over several weeks, the Russian girl started telling everyone she was an American because she was born in the USA and had never been to Russia. This made me forget about the whole genetics and flags thing because I thought she was hot and if we were both American, it would be a lot easier to date, or so I thought. Years later, I completely identify as an American. More specifically I consider myself a North American, US Citizen with Native American (Mayan) and European heritage. This is quite a trendy and an important issue that started with Generation Y and in 2015 Raven-Symone appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show discussing why she identifies as an American and not as an African-American. She defended her stance for a whole 9 months on The View. Our generation is very progressive on this issue regardless of identifying as democrat or republican which is another dividing line that is dissolving.
From this point of view, the “Mexican” people that I met were mostly US born nationals of Mexican decent. Many didn’t speak Spanish, know much about the Aztec culture, hated white people but were o.k. with their blonde haired, green eyed uncle that came around every now and then and spoke better Spanish then they did. Many of them identified as Chicanos which is a misspelling of the Aztec word Xicano and picked on and bullied the Mexican nationals that came to L.A. to sell oranges on the side of the freeway. Most of these people had affiliations with the Sureno prison gang and the National Council of La Raza or just La Raza. The word SURENO is an abbreviation for Southern United Raza Exterminating Northern Opposition and their sanctuary is Big Sur, California. SUR is the Spanish word for South and stands for Southern United Raza in their culture. Raza being a word for race and referring specifically to their social group. You can spot some similarities in their naming conventions and philosophies.
This group of people have targeted the African American community in Torrance, Hawthorne and Watts, Salvadorans which formed a gang to defend themselves, Whites including law enforcement because of their skin color, Asians who are a priority robbery target, as well as Mexican nationals and illegal immigrants who had nowhere else to turn in Los Angeles. This was because of their place of origin, the SUR claiming affiliation with Mexico, and other ethnicities being leery of Mexicans because of SUR and La Raza. Sadly, this leeryness also came from other Latinos and Latinas that were not of Mexican decent.
Cesar Chavez, a Mexican-American advocate for low wage workers had much to say about La Raza which now goes by the name UnitedUS. Mostly that they’re racist and exclusionary.
Lots of people that came to Los Angeles from Mexico did not come to avenge Mexico for the Alamo, the Mexican-American war, or the Battle of Rio San Gabriel, a decisive battle that allowed the United States to take back Los Angeles for all Americans. They came to the United States seeking opportunity, better jobs, freedom and perhaps the ability to send a little bit of money back home. Many Mexican nationals that I talked to came with the hopes of being able to travel freely between Mexico and the United States spending time on the beaches of Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and Acapulco. They had dreams of packing carne asada tacos wrapped in foil in their brown wicker baskets lined with white and red picnic cloth and going camping throughout Mexico, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Like most immigrants and refugees being written about, their goal was to seek greener pastures to build homes, earn a decent living and raise peaceful, loving families. Just as with the immigrants and refugees being written about today; the Mexican people in Southern California had violent and cowardly people who target unarmed civilians sneak in amongst them. That is not the fault of immigrants and people seeking better, or just different lives.
The Mexican plight is one that I familiar with because of my proximity to them growing up. However, there are a lot of similarities with most migrant stories. Reading the news in 2017 with its focus on racism, immigration and hatred made me think about how similar most conflicts are. People fighting over resources, people fighting over land, people fighting over love interests and people hiding amongst peaceful refugees, migrants, and civilians that just want to work and go home.
While the news filled my mind with thoughts of racism, terrorism, hatred, immigration and a poor economy; war is horrible for the pocket book and well documented in that regard. The news also brought to mind heroes like Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Malala, Martin Luther King, María Santos Gorrostieta Salazar and the women with inked fingers in Iran.
The news reminded me of traveling through “white country” in the United States and not once encountering racism and most recently being in France without a smartphone and only knowing the French words for hello and thank you; bonjour and merci. In France I was still able to get around, order a drink at a bar, try authentic French pastries, visit the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum and make it to and from the airport even though I missed my plane by 30 minutes. Hey, at least I made it.
In Los Angeles, Mexican families have talked about an American Renaissance. A modern period they imagine where people could have potlucks again with different cultures, where they could take a flight from Los Angeles to Japan without knowing anything more than the words Kon’nichiwa and Arigatōgozaimashita and make it back home having tried some authentic Japanese sushi and a Kobe burger.
They’ve imagined little Mexican kids writing computer programs for the Library of Congress next to little white farm kids from Kansas and black kids from Georgia with a fresh peach in their lunch pail and a quiet Asian kid trying to teach the others how to fold their napkins into oragami. They’ve explained how the children would possibly all be chatting with their friends in London, Helsinki, Moscow, Seoul, Beijing, Johannesburg, Morocco, Tokyo, Madrid and Barcelona over the Internet. They’ve thought about taking their children to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the La Brea Tar Pits, or the Museum of Contemporary Art and planning a trip to visit the Smithsonians in Washington D.C. or New York.
Most importantly, they dreamed of a tourist who didn’t know any Spanish or had an English accent they could barely understand give them a note or postcard of a monument in Los Angeles and being able to scribble directions for them in the place they now called home.