February 20, 2004

Is this another anti-Latino election year – or just an immigration issue?

By Patrick Osio, Jr.

What may have otherwise been an obscure footnote to this year’s elections, has suddenly gained newsworthy attention from the media, for now at least at the California state level. The tidbit comes about by one Republican attacking another Republican, both competing for the party’s nomination for an open Congressional seat. The attack by State Sen. Rico Oller against Dan Lungren, a former five-term Congressman and more recently the state’s Attorney General. The attack mailer is vividly reminiscent of the Pete Wilson campaign against Latinos during his quest for a second term as governor in 1994.

According to the Sacramento Bee, “the (Oller) mailer includes a full-page image of a masked, gun-toting terrorist. Depicted in the terrorist’s head covering is the image of Latino men apparently jumping the U.S. border.” In large type, “Dan Lungren voted to give illegal aliens U.S. citizenship.”

Lungren answered back saying, “The depiction of obviously Hispanic people coming over the border is contained in the turban of a Taliban guerrilla,” he said. “This is degrading to Hispanics and anyone who wears a turban... This is absolutely the kind of nonsense that not only gives our party a bad name, but it appeals to the worst instincts of people.”

Oller apparently could care less about insulting the California Latino community, he simply wants to win, and if in doing so, he further alienates Latinos against his own party, well that’s too bad – they shouldn’t be so sensitive, and besides his comments in defense will probably go something like Pete Wilson’s – I’m not against Latinos, I’m against illegal immigrants.

Probably California Latinos are more sensitive to this type of portrayal and issue because they have suffered the consequences of such open racism disguised as immigration issues. And, since Pete Wilson was able to turn his 1994 reelection bid from an apparent defeat into a huge win by channeling fear into hatred for a specific group, there has been no shortage of Republicans who hope to copy-cat his campaign in hopes of electorate victory. Oller is just one of the many. But it is at the expense of the Latino community – and then California and national Republicans wonder why Latinos turn away from their party.

Latinos know that these attacks have racist roots, despite what the authors of such actions may say, and sadly, may even think. Kevin Johnson wrote a thesis for the Indiana State University School of Law (1997 – “Race, the Immigration Laws, and Domestic Race Relations: A “Magic Mirror into the Heart of Darkness”). In it he points out psychological theory suggest that “A war on noncitizens of color focusing on their immigration status, not race, as conscious or unconscious cover, serves to vent social frustration and hatred. Hatred for domestic minorities is displaced to an available, more publicly palatable, target for antipathy.” It adds that these devises help society reconcile the view that “U.S. society is not racist.” Accordingly, “noncitizens deserve different treatment because of their immigration status, not race.”

During the reign of terror unleashed on Latinos during the 1994 Prop 187 campaign wherein Wilson unleashed a series of TV ads demonizing illegal immigrants, and rallying non-Latino citizens to vote to throw children out of school, it was Latino U.S. citizens and legal residents that bore the brunt of society’s unlawful, and unfair misdeeds. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission reported a 23.5 percent increase in hate crimes against Latinos in 1994. In a report released by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, 299 cases of discrimination, denial of services, civil-rights violations, hate speech, and hate crimes were documented.

Mexican-Americans, or Latinos, have found it necessary to fight border enforcement due to being stereotyped as foreigners – Mexicans – regardless of their U.S. citizenship and on them, falls the burden of proving their citizenship. During the 1954, Operation Wetback (talk about demeaning), thousands of U.S. citizens were deported, as was the case in the 1930s, simply because they could not prove to the satisfaction of the arresting officers their U.S. citizenship. Though there are millions of illegal immigrants from other countries, typically immigration enforcement campaigns have centered on only one group – Mexicans and Latinos are engulfed.

So the Republican Party has a tremendous challenge this year that will set the tone for years to come – will it as a Party repudiate anti-immigrant campaigns or will it sit silently as it has for too long making believe that racism within their ranks is non existent – it is simply an immigration issue.

Patrick Osio, Jr. is the Editor of HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com), published February 7, 2004.

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