I never thought I’d say this, but I am grateful to the College Republicans at Boise State University. I would like to congratulate them for lifting the veneer of respectability off the state’s immigration debate and exposing the bigotry, hatred, and ill will that motivates legislation like S1172, a bill that would make English Idaho’s “official” language. Soon, I expect that white will be named Idaho’s official race, and blond-haired and blue-eyed our official phenotype. [Editor’s note: S1172 passed the Idaho House of Representatives this afternoon, 46-20. Having passed the Senate previously, it will now go to Governor Butch Otter for signature.]
Think I’m over-stating the case? That I’ve fallen prey to crazed hyperbole? The BSU College Republicans are careful to state up front that they are not racist and that they don’t want to offend anyone. Really. And yet this announcement of a March 22nd speech by Robert Vasquez, one-time U. S. Senate candidate and Canyon County Commissioner, could have been written by the Ku Klux Klan. For Mr. Vasquez’s speech, entitled “America’s Illegal Alien Invasion,” the BSU College Republicans have created a bright and colorful advertisement that reads in part:
“Win a Dinner for two at Chapala’s Mexican Restaurant! Climb through the hole in the fence and enter your false ID documents into the food stamp drawing!”
Hateful? Racist? Ignorant, rude and offensive? Yes. Do the BSU College Republicans think that they’re being funny, that they’re a ragtag and bobtail group of latter-day Don Rickles? Probably. Unfortunately, the BSU College Republicans are about as funny as Michael Richards or Mel Gibson when he’s caught driving drunk.
As for Mr. Vasquez, the fact that he is himself of Mexican descent is no cover and no excuse. When Mr. Vasquez entered the 2004 race for the Idaho Senate, The Chicago Sun-Times reported that he made the announcement “at a Mexican restaurant that shares a building with the Idaho Migrant Council — one of his more vocal opponents. ‘My people — as I’m often accused of turning my back on them — my people are American. I’ve got an American flag hanging in my office, not the Mexican chicken-and-worm or whatever it is,’ Vasquez said in a swipe at the eagle-and-snake emblem on the Mexican flag.” Mr. Vasquez is not an enigma; he’s a disgrace. He seems to believe that his ancestry has provided him with a “Get Out of Jail Free” card when it comes to immigration. I hope that he’ll take a closer look at the company he’s chosen to keep. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.
I don’t know how your family got here. Mine comprises a Euro-American hodgepodge. My mother’s family was founded by a remittance man from Scotland, a ne’er-do-well younger son who ran afoul of the law or put someone’s daughter in the pudding club and thus was paid by his family to emigrate to North Carolina with the promise that he’d never come back. This remittance man and his descendants displaced the Cherokee Indians; seized their land; took up tobacco farming; bought some African slaves to do all the work; and helped make the South what it is today — a land bedeviled by selective historical memory and shallow right-wing conservatism. Yee-haw!
My father’s family are first-generation immigrants. They came to the United States from Poland and the Ukraine by way of Canada. My grandparents’ first language was not English. Nor was their second. Altogether, they speak four languages, Ukrainian, Polish, French and, last but not least, English. When they moved to Detroit from Montreal, they were told by the United States’ immigration authorities to forget the first three languages and only teach their children English. And so they did. The result? A net loss of knowledge and culture for their children and grandchildren. Instead of being multilingual like his parents, my father speaks only English. I have spent a good deal of time and money trying to make up for this deficit by taking French, Russian, Spanish and a host of other languages in high school and college. What was simple and natural for my grandparents is an expensive accomplishment for me. What a shame, and what a waste.
The BSU College Republicans have done us the favor of telling us the truth about English as an “official” language and about the real nature of the current immigration debate. Once upon a time, George W. Bush spoke enthusiastically in favor of a guest worker program, and on February 16, 2001, he chose to make his first trip abroad as President a visit to Mexico for a one-day meeting then-President Vicente Fox. In the six years since, it is clear that Mr. Bush has been unable to reform the worst elements of his party. If this is how the youngest members of the GOP interpret compassionate conservatism, the future of the party is bleak. If you’re brown, if you’re poor, if your first language is not English, then you have no place in the Republican Party’s version of the United States.