Rodolfo F. Acuña, “Nativism is Racism,” Rough Draft Mar 28 2006

I am the first one to criticize Chicano/Latino politicos when they don=t defend the interests of the community. However, during the present crisis, the Mayor and most Latino elected officials have acted in a principled manner, forcefully speaking out against the racist nativism that is gripping the country. The same can be said of the Catholic Church and its refusal to go along with the hysteria.
If the actions of right wing radio hosts, virulent anti-immigrant groups, and opportunistic politicos were an aberration, there would be hope that people would come to their senses.
However, this form of nativism has infected the United States since the birth of the Republic. It led to the persecution of Irish immigrants, the burning of a convent in Charleston, Massachusetts in 1828, the burning of Catholic Churches in Philadelphia in 1842, and fueled the illegal invasion of Mexico and the theft of fifty percent of its land. This was topped off with the creation of the Native American party of the 1850s which became known as the Know Nothing Party and later the Republican Party.
Every time that the nation has had an economic depression or recession the Greek Chorus pointed at the immigrant. Thus the Chinese were excluded in 1882 and in the 1920s immigration acts made national origins the basis of admission. The expressed intent of these laws was to keep America white by giving preferences to northern Europeans who the politicos said were blonder, taller and had bigger brains.
In 1965, the nation went through an examination of conscience and passed an amendment to the immigration act based on family preferences. The result was that too many Asians came in and Latin Americans continued to migrate to this country.
Almost immediately after the passage of the 1965 amendments, racist such as Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming) and ex-California Pete Wilson built careers on baiting Mexican immigrant. They criminalized them, calling them illegal and dehumanized them, calling them aliens. With the advent of the right wing think tanks and the internet, immigrant bashing became an industry. Playing on the fears of white Americans who have historically been narcissistic and consumed by angst, these groups have made millions by creating a living hell for people who just want what others want B a place to live in peace and educate their children.
For too long the Mexican/ Latino community has been silent. This has encouraged bullies and wannabe brown shirts to come out of the woodwork and prance around like Minute Men. Most of these patriots like the President and vice-president of this country have never served in the military. Immigrants were welcome as long as they did the fighting for them.
Samuel Johnson in 1775 said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. History will bear out his wisdom.
Aside from the mendaciousness of the nativist, their stupidity is mind blowing. The truth be told, the United States has been criminally negligent when it comes to Latin America. Its drug market has converted many Latin Americans into suppliers of American demand for drugs. As a result the governments of these countries have morally decayed. The U.S.'s green revolutions have destroyed agricultural subsistence, and the North American Free Trade Agreement has destroyed nascent manufacturing industries.
Today, the only thing that is sustaining Mexico and Central America is the remittances sent back annually by hardworking compatriots. If it were not for these remittances those economies would crash and there would be many more immigrant workers coming into territory that was illegally taken from their ancestors. They are illegal because the border was moved.
The truth be told, the demonstrators had no choice but to protest. I have no other choice but to urge my students and community to resist immoral laws.
As a historian I remember the words of Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor and social activist, who said:
When the Nazis arrested the Communists,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a Communist.
When they locked up the Social Democrats,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a Social Democrat.
When they arrested the trade unionists,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a trade unionist.
When they arrested the Jews, I said nothing; after all, I was not a Jew.
When they arrested me, there was no longer anyone who could protest.