Immigrant Rights and the Politics of Hate: Report of a Demonstration

Melisa Azad

Students demonstrating for immigrant rights in Santa Barbara are confronted by open racism, leading to reflections on the dehumanization of capitalist society – Editors.

SANTA BARBARA, CA — On May 28, 2010, I participated in a student rally against Arizona’s SB 1070 law in downtown Santa Barbara. First, a total of 200 demonstrators gathered in front of the Santa Barbara Courthouse.  9 people positioned themselves in the middle of a busy intersection near State Street and they eventually were arrested and held overnight. For about two hours before the arrests, we were circling the intersection, demanding that the city of Santa Barbara become a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.

As we were shouting things like “No one is illegal,” “Keep family unity,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, SB 1070 has got to go,” bystanders’ reactions are what startled me the most. The overall experience was alarming and eye opening to say the very least. I have never witnessed such up-close animosity towards a group of people, at least not so overtly. While shocking and dehumanizing, this exposed the deep racism lurking just under the surface of this affluent, ostensibly liberal community that is home to both University of California-Santa Barbara and a number of Hollywood celebrities.

People opposing the rally were shouting that the protesters were “Piñata makers” and that they should “Go back to Africa.”  One dramatic part of the protest was the reaction from an elderly white woman. As we were standing on the street with our signs and chanting our slogans, with many of us blocking the intersections, a white Anglo woman came out of her car and pushed one of the female protesters, shouting, “Get out of the way.” She kept pushing her until I had to intervene and step between them, because I feared violence.  (All the while, the cops were acting as though the protesters were the threat.) I feel that this Anglo woman and others in the traffic jam are too busy, and live too routine a life to examine things deeply. What if she and others like her took a moment to glance at the other side, and put themselves in the others’ shoes?

My experience at the protest has made me come to the conclusion that there is a lot of hate that is misdirected against a specific community.  This “misdirected hate” could easily be labeled as scapegoating. When there is an economic crisis, quite often we see governments pinpoint a weaker group and scrutinize them. (As happened during the time of Nazi Germany, when Jews were blamed for the economic crisis).  As a young Iranian-American, part of a community that has frequently been scapegoated, I too feel some of that fear.

Looking deeper here, there is an economic structure that is enabling these immigrants to cross the border successfully. And that is capital’s need for cheap labor to exploit. Americans will complain about “these ****** Mexicans taking all the jobs,” but I realized something that day at the protest. Capitalists themselves do not see the contradiction of their beliefs. A common argument made about these specific types of human beings or “illegals” is that they are bad for the economy. It goes something like this: “Our tax money pays for the crimes illegals commit, and for welfare, education, and healthcare, plus they send the money back to Mexico and not the US economy.” I wonder if those making these arguments have considered the possibility that big corporations are profiting off those money transfers (Western Union), off the sweat that rolls off their backs (for the construction of homes, for example).  A Latino friend once said to me, “Did anyone ever wonder who landscaped America? Who built the buildings, the homes? Who took care of their kids? Who prepared their food?”

These arguments are rarely given voice, especially not in the mainstream media. 

I even see some people that are okay with SB 1070 who are of Latino descent. I call this the minority vs. minority complex (or dilemma). One would assume that minorities would sympathize with other minorities. Unfortunately, oftentimes we see a “dog eat dog world” that becomes more and more evident and is rarely challenged. Moreover, if money is the real dilemma here, did anyone consider the cost of war, and its destructive effects on nature and humanity? That money could help create jobs instead of taking them away, and having people be angry at a specific group of people.

Blaming a race or a “bunch of illegals” for the condition of the economy is dangerous and irrational, but also very ignorant. 

 The struggle for immigrant rights suggests to me a new civil rights movement. I will not label these people as illegal immigrants or undocumented individuals as much as possible. For the purposes of this discussion I will call them human beings to offer better connotations, but more importantly, to bring a human element to the discussion. As history unfolds, events and issues will arise that the media themselves cannot brush off completely. We have to keep up the fight for justice. Martin Luther King said it best: “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Truthfully, I went to the rally to watch history unfold. Being a part of something that feels right is why I stand up for my beliefs. I like to think that it is not in vain, but only time will tell.


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