The Politics of Us and Them

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(2006 AP/ unattributed)

Two years ago when election season began in N. America, the immigration debate had reached a fever pitch. Talk Radio shock jocks blamed immigrants for the decline in U.S. based industries, job loss, and drain on social services. As the primaries began many candidates spoke on immigration and there were even two forums in Spanish to discuss the proposed border wall, immigration reform, and all of the social ills N. Americans had laid at immigrants feet. All of this was done against a back drop of increasing ICE Raids and burgeoning Minute Men recruitment. Both groups were also periodically implicated in racist and/or Klan activity as well as accused of various forms of violence against women. Both had been accountable for immigrant deaths before the election period came to an end at the beginning of this month as well. And yet, the conversation about immigration quickly faded from the national political platform of either candidate with Obama placing his plans on his website and giving brief sound bites about the “back of the line” for illegal immigrants and bilingual education being good for everyone and McCain running targeted ads along the border that continued to scare up fear and loathing similar to the racist and racialized campaign he and Palin ran against Obama himself.

The rhetoric of hate transformed immigrants, particularly Latin@ immigrants, into literal targets of disenfranchised youth, police, civilian and government employed immigration industries and border patrols. As the second election year unfolded, more and more stories of immigrants being killed walking home, walking through parks, or simply walking downtown occurred with alarming increase. So many died at the hands of unrepetant youth that it was hard to keep writing their stories. And while they died at the hands of individuals, states like California worked them to death despite repeated promises that they woud stop.

Amongst the silence of the presidential candidates, the violence of industries and detention centers, the careless disregard of police officers, the racist costumes and door prizes of ICE wrkers, and the constant bombardment of anti-immigrant sentiment on the radio and conservative television and churches, the line between the sanctity of human life and the perceived humanity of immigrants was erased.

In its aftermath, came “beaner hunting,” a “game” played by youth, usually male, and young men in which they gatherin a group and look for an immigrant to beat up. In some border towns, “beaner hunting” has gone high tech with night vision goggles and laser sighted weapons. But usually it mirrors that of gay bashings in that it is carried out by a car load of drunking boys with a bat, a knife, or a “weapon of convenience” like a bottle or a pipe.

Despite the reference to this “game” in multiple hate crime attacks or during interviews in the towns where these crimes have been committed, the leaders of the nation have remained silent. Neither Bush nor Obama have spoken out about the increasing hate crimes and deaths of immigrants nor the documented “trickle down effect” that state sanctioned violence against immigrants is having on youth.

In their silence, another Latino has died.

marceloMarcelo Lucero, age 37, was walking with a friend to the house of another friend in Patchougue NY when he was jumped by 7 high school males. According to his friend, the 7 youths approached them, calling them racist names. At first both men tried to ignore them. When they surrounded Marcelo, his friend ran to get help. In his absence Marcelo was fatally stabbed.

By the time Marcelo’s friends, the man he was walking with and the man whose home he was going to visit, returned, Marcelo was bleeding to death alone on the pavement. He died on route to the hospital.

7 high school boys have been arrested. Initial reports say they admit to getting together for the express purpose of finding an immigrant and beating him up. They called it “beaner hunting.” Their lackadasickal attiude mirrored that of youth in Pennsylvania where another immigrant was beaten death. Both groups felt that they had a right to beat and/or kill immigrants b/c the immigrants were to blame for lost jobs, lost access to women, and for “creating a violent atmosphere” in the first place; you see, some how they were to blame for their own victimization since before there were immigrants there were no hate crimes against them. (seriously, one kid actually used this logic.)

While I am deeply concerned about Marcello’s specific case, I am equaly concerned about the pattern for which his death is the latest of many. If we do not both speak out collectively against this violence and put pressure on our local and national level leaders to change the culture of “us and them” that the Bush administration cemented over the last 4 years, Marcello will not be the last person targeted for walking while brown.

  • Please write your Congressperson and ask that they work harder on immigrant reform and ensuring the human rights of immigrants.
  • If you hear hate speech on the radio, call in to the station and let them know it is not ok and you will not be listening to their station in the future (and don’t).
  • Work to raise awareness in your community about immigrants’ rights and when you can partner with those organizations working toward social justice in your community.

Obama’s election was a watershed moment against the legacy of racism in this country, but as recent events have shown, he was not the end of our struggle.

Read More about Marcello’s murder here

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