Apr 282008
Authors: Mary Ackerson

Rep. Douglas Bruce is a hero.

At least, that’s what some of the 900 e-mails he has recently received say.

After referring to Mexican migrant workers as “illiterate peasants” in the Colorado House of Representatives last Monday, he told the Denver Post that about 95 percent of the e-mails he has received from across the country were positive, with subject lines such as “you are my hero” and “tell it like it is.”

In comparison, the Denver Post reported on Wednesday that Rep. Terrance Carroll, a Denver Democrat who is black and denounced Bruce, received an e-mail that read, “you are the reason why blacks have no opportunity.”

The responses to Bruce’s remarks reveal the demoralizing reality that the fight against racism in the United States is far from being won.

Bruce’s selection of demeaning and offensive words without regard to the people to whom they applied reveals the worth he places on the group being addressed.

If one truly believes in the equality of humanity, using this kind of language is unthinkable. Bruce’s example only highlights an overall trend that I have noticed in the rhetoric being used to talk about Mexicans in the debate over U.S. immigration.

Mexican immigrants are frequently discussed in pure economic terms, being referred to only as “workers,” as though they are mere resources. Words such as “legal alien” perpetuate the less-than-human, inferior, outsider status with which many people seem to view Mexican immigrants.

The perceived worth of Mexican immigrants should not been seen first and foremost in their economic contributions, but in their common humanity. They are just as human as the rest of us — with families, hopes, fears and a desire for acceptance and love.

Widespread discrimination against Mexicans is not limited to those who are not citizens. People who treat Mexicans as though they don’t deserve to be here are usually ignorant of their legal status. I have witnessed this phenomenon in the restaurant where I work.

One man came in and “jokingly” told our cook to make more fajitas in Spanish. Our cook is Mexican, but he was born in the U.S. and hardly speaks any Spanish. This may seem like a minor accident, but it clearly reveals the underlying stereotypes and prejudices that exist within the dominant, white, American population.

People fear those different from them, and this is the true root of the “immigration problem” in the United States. The different language, culture and ethnicity of the Mexican immigrants are what have prompted the hyped politicization surrounding the issue of immigration.

For example, if Australia’s economy got so bad that its poor started applying for work permits and coming in increasing numbers to the U.S., I highly doubt that their presence would be surrounded by such negative rhetoric.

Many people say that the difference is, compared to other immigrants, Mexican immigrants don’t care about assimilating into the American culture. But how can we expect Mexicans to want to integrate into a culture that largely rejects them and often treats them as inferior citizens?

Their rejection by the American culture is what produces a mutual rejection, not the other way around. It is in response to this rejection that Mexicans proudly wave their flag in American streets. Since they are not being treated as equal Americans, they are demonstrating that they still have a culture to be proud of.

I would personally feel as though I were forfeiting all self-respect if I tried to fit-into a culture that treated me the way many Mexicans are treated by their fellow Americans today.

If there were sufficient evidence that learning the American language and culture would result in acceptance as equals, it is likely most Mexican immigrants would be eager to integrate.

Mary Ackerson is a senior political science major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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