Monday, July 17, 2006

Guest Blogger: "Road Trip to Hazelton"

Our guest blogger is Kenny B., a proud ACLU member from Liverpool, PA.

Hazelton City Council recently passed an ordinance that would deny licenses to businesses that employ illegal immigrants, fine landlords $1,000 for each illegal immigrant discovered renting their properties, and require city documents to be in English only.

My wife and I took a trip to Hazelton on Thursday night in an attempt to observe the City Council meeting that would involve a vote on the "English only" ordinance. Neither one of us had been to the city before and we were surprised by how big it seemed after reading Mayor Barletta's description of it being "small-town America."

The building was filled to capacity long before we arrived so we moved to the font of the building along with three hundred or so other people. It quickly became obvious to me who the opponents to the ordinance were and that the supporters were standing across the street. It also was not a difficult decision for me to stand on the side of the street where the theme was not at all hostile or confrontational. Instead, we chose to stand among peaceful, friendly people who smiled at one another when they saw them. We stood among people who held their children's hands, and who hugged other people's children before complimenting them about their pretty dress or their sharp new Boy Scout uniform.

If your readers have not guessed it yet, no, we did not stand on the side of the street along side the man who held a sign that read, "If you can read this sign, thank a Marine." Although, my only temptation to walk over to that side of the street was to engage that man by saying, "As a veteran of the US Armed Services, I would like to read something to you." I then would have summarized an information sheet, while standing at ease, that identified what government benefit programs undocumented immigrants are eligible for which included no welfare, no food stamps, no social security, no medicare, and no unemployment compensation. I then would have asked the man to explain to me, as a fellow veteran, exactly how undocumented immigrants are a drain on local resources. I would have asked him what his problem was with people who are "legal" citizens, but grew up in a household that English was not the primary language spoken, although I'm pretty sure I already knew the answer.

This temptation to walk over to that side of the street was quickly subdued however, after I observed a former, local Bishop walk over to the former Marine and his friends. It was obvious that many of them were very familiar with the Bishop. They initially greeted him with smiles and outreached hands, but from the obvious change in the affect of their expressions, they did not appreciate his message. They became volatile and combative. I do not know what he said to them, but I admired him for at least trying to calmly communicate with the.

This morning I opened up an email that contained a photo of my 8 month old niece and me taking a nap in a hammock. I thought about how innocent and beautiful she was as an uncontaminated human being. For some reason, I had a flash-back to last night and those people across the street. It occurred to me that they are products of their own influences and contaminations. I then began to look at this issue from my professional perspective as a public school teacher. My God. Those people across the street have procreated. What are they telling their children about other children who have a darker complexion than them? What are they telling their children about other children who refer to their mother as "madre," or the sun as "el sol?"

I have been involved in public education for several years in both southern California and in several counties of Pennsylvania. I constantly am reminded how fragile and insecure teenagers can be. I can even remember my own insecurities as an adolescent filtering through all of the influences I faced in a public school while trying to establish some sort of identity. I can not imagine having to face those pressures while also being told by other kids, by my principal, by the former marine across the street, and even by my mayor, that I am an inferior citizen of this small, American town because it is difficult for me to identify the correct conjugation for a sentence in English.

After thinking about the shameful products across the street, I am comforted by one thing. I am comforted by the fact that not all people are content to produce hate. Not all people raise their children to exploit the differences in others as inferior weaknesses. This was so evident last night after the announcement reached the front of the City Council building that the ordinance was approved. Not one member of the congregation on the side of the street on which we stood became hostile. In fact, they began chanting, "USA, USA, USA," in a manifestation of their love for this country and their confidence that it is just. Some of them did not speak English very well but their faces conveyed warmth. Their smiles conveyed love. They embraced one another before being dispersed by local and state police. They held their children's hands. They exchanged spiritual salutations with their clergy men and women. I was thankful for whomever participated in the production of these people.

My wife and I spent much of the evening talking to a woman who has lived in Hazelton for over thirty years. As we walked away from the front of the building, she shook the hands of some of these people who were so peacefully going home. She then turned to me and said, "These people bring class to this city."

In my opinion, so does she.

7 Comments:

Blogger Tired of Idiots said...

Wonderfully written, and wonderfully expressed!

One of the most disturbing aspects I have to agree with you on is the procreating.

It looks like the close-minded, hate-spewing, bigoted groups are reproducing at a rate something like double that of the mor eopen-minded accepting kind.

And where we try to teach our children WHY something is wrong, and let them think for themselves, the hate group indoctrinates their children so young they have barely a chance to ever overcome the lies and misinformation they're fed from birth.

Education and exposure are the best weapons we have. But so many of these people won't even open their ears or hearts or minds even a fraction out of fear they'll realize how wrong they've been.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Mad Scotsman said...

Hear hear.

Funny thing about the educational aspect. I avoid most right wing and Christian web sites like the plague, but on the odd occasion that I do, the English that I see there - bad spelling, bad grammar, inept logic, and all with a message of hate - appalls me. It's all sadly ironic. They want to tell us what to believe or what language to speak? Give me a break.

I really noticed this when I was checking out some of the Intelligent Design movements web sites during the Dover trial. I felt it was only fair to read about the other side - OK, I really just wanted a good laugh at their feeble minded attempts to justify it, and I was not disappointed. Their inability to construct a logical argument was as I expected, but the low level of English in public was a surprise.

Since then, I've noticed this impairment in English in lots of right wing web sites, particularly those of the Christian right (now there's an oxymoron - JC was a radical and would never have put up with their b.s.).

I'll be so glad when the silent majority wakes up and realizes that ignorance is not a virtue.

Cheers, Neil.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Tired of Idiots said...

I'm collecting atheist quotes and the one that stands out for me:

"Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."
- John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

And of course from Dogbert:

Dilbert: There are no such things as stupid questions.

Dogbert: Oh really? The what kinds of questions do stupid people ask? Do they suddenly get smart just in time to ask a question?

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Keanus said...

What I find depressing is the extent to which politicians—who in an ideal world would be leaders, not followers—will go to pander to the ignorance and worst prejudices of the electorate. The current mayor of Hazelton and his cronies, of course, are the example du jour. But so is the current tenant of the White House. All are devoid of morality.

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Mental Exercise (Off-Topic)

Imagine that you were a progressive American, and hated the Bush/Cheney administration for all the usual reasons: their cronyism with Big Oil, their tax cuts for the rich, the continuous erosion of civil liberties, and their lies, lies, lies....

But what if, in spite of this, it was common belief, for liberals and conservatives alike, that Sadaam Hussein actually HAD developed Weapons of Mass Destruction, was connected to Al Qaeda, and was an imminent threat to us; therefore, our invasion/occupation of Iraq was completely justified?

Imagine that it was such a "given" that the administration and the media were telling us all we needed to know that we steadfastly went along with their masquerade? And if we ran across bits of information that contradicted the official story, we would ignore it, much as a conservative will ignore the facts that a liberal gives them because they conflict with their established world view.

In such a scenario, the pressure to believe the conventional wisdom would be so intense that few would have the courage to express their doubts publicly ... to their friends, family, and fellow liberals. And those occasional musings from people who've stumbled on news stories or websites or books that doubted the official Bush story would be denounced as lies and crackpot theories.

Thankfully, we know that the war was unjustified and was based on lies. But think for a minute.... are there any other assumptions that we as Americans from all over the political spectrum hold? Beliefs about the world that we live in that might actually have been manipulated by the Bush/Cheney administration and the media? Are there any tidbits of information that we have run across in the last few years that just don't quite stack up, but we ignore because they contradict our established beliefs? Is there anything that a few daring souls are starting to espouse, only to be shot down, by the likes of both Kos AND Hannity?

Perhaps it's time to start questioning some of the beliefs that we hold about our world since Bush entered office and the reason he has been able to remain President in spite of our efforts. If enough of us start to question our assumptions, as I recently did, we might start noticing, and even welcoming, new perspectives about the current administration. Maybe we can start talking to our friends and fellow progressives about it rather than worrying about what they will think of us if we discuss such matters.

Our leaders are far worse than most of us can admit to ourselves, and everything we need to know is out there, just slightly hidden, if we look hard enough. That's all I'm saying for now.

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, the drama.

I wish both sides could just get down to addressing facts and stop the judging. This is not good vs. evil. America is not that black and white (no pun intended).

Sure, some folks are using this situation as an opportunity to spew hate. But I see many more people merely expressing their frustration about the uncomfortable transitions that inevitably accompany an increase in cultural diversity.

Eruptions like the one in Hazleton bring change. Isn't that what we want...a chance for change?

I have respect for people who speak their minds and refuse to pretend that America is the land of tolerance and equal opportunity that many immigrants believe it to be. We are SO far from being that...and we'll never get there if Hazleton Mayors across this land (and everyone else too) never say what they really think.

Misconceptions...we ALL have them. They're the basis for positive change when they come out into the open. They are deadly when they fester unspoken.

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hooray for Hazelton, PA. Illegal means NOT LEGAL!! Thank you Hazelton for standing up for the law.

1:00 PM  

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