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.