My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Monday, May 01, 2006

typically I mow the grass myself

May Day. Such a great opportunity! Abundant choices as to what I could blog about this evening.

May 1st is celebrated around the world as International Labor Day in honor of a Chicago demonstration and general strike in favor of an eight hour work day that went disastrously wrong on May 1, 1886.

This is the three year anniversary of President Bush's aircraft carrier stunt, with the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Both of those topics would have been interesting, but my plans for today were blown away by the 400,000 people who marched downtown in support of an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

What did they want? (when did they want it?) I have to confess I'm not sure, since I had to work today and couldn't attend. I've heard a lot lately about "fair and reasonable immigration reform" but I'm not exactly sure what that would look like. But I do know that the march has inspired newpaper message board posters to a lot of RANDOM CAPITALIZATION and creative spellig! Seriously the march has inspired a lot of emotional talk, mostly on the part of people who want to put a stop to illegal immigration, but some who support the marchers as well. The comments on both sides made me realize that most people are even less informed about these issues than I am, so I thought I'd respond to some of the ideas being bounced around, just for fun. I'm going to paraphrase rather than quote or link, because I'm lazy and also because most of these people can't write worth a damn. So in no particular order:

It's appalling that people who have broken the law are demanding "rights." They're criminals and should have no rights.
Actually criminals do have rights. And if you've seriously never, ever broken the law, never broken the speed limit, never smoked a joint, never illegally downloaded music or TV shows, never had a beer when you were underage, never stole a condom from a conveniencce store while you were on a high school church trip, or whatever, then you're a seriously boring person and there must be something wrong with you. Funny how they shouldn't do that because it's against the law suddenly becomes irrelevant when it's you that thinks the law is stupid, rather than somebody else.

Anyway, we should be more specific about what we mean when we talk "illegal immigrants." At least a quater of "illegals" are people who entered the country legally but overstayed their visas. Since the reason these people stayed is they found better jobs here, or spouses, or both, I think we can mostly agree that this group, anyway should be granted amnesty, even if we profoundly disagree about people who snuck across the border. Overstaying your visa as a felony? Hell, the tags on my car are expired right now! Should I be locked up? Don't answer that.

These people mow your lawn, cook your food, care for your children, etc.
Now who exactly are these comments addressed to? Typically I mow the grass myself, right after surgery my wife did it. As for the long running and stupid debate about hiring housekeepers and nannies, I will never be able to afford such services and neither will 90% of Americans. This isn't a convincing line of argument for most people. In fact, if all that's at stake is rich people's ability to get a good deal on servants, it's not clear why most of us should care. What this is, is a weird debate about what rich people should be doing with their money. Is it liberal to have a nanny? Is it feminist? I'll tell you what you should be doing with your money in order to feel good about yourself. You should be giving it to me. Seriously, e-mail me and I'll write you back with the drop location. A briefcase filled with non-sequential 20s would be best, for tax (evasion) purposes. Think about it. Now won't it feel good to be freed from all that ethical conflict and doubt? I'll send you a postcard from Paris.

Today's immigrants are not like my noble ancestors who only wanted to lose their culture and gain 80 pounds eating McDonalds all the time and getting teary eyed about our troops on the Fourth of July. These guys won't learn English and keep to their own communities and cultures, threatening our way of life with strange words and customs, and, um, we heard that Mexican sausage contains donkey meat!
In 1920, Chicago had newspapers in 20 languages. The truth is, it's hard for adults to learn a new language. We're just not smart enough anymore. The best time to learn a new language is as a 2 to 5 year old, sadly an age when mostly we aren't teaching kids much that's more complicated than "stop hitting Jimmy" and "don't drink the bleach" and "don't stick the fork in the electric socket" and "stay away from mommy's vodka tonic, honey, you're too young." So typically, immigrants live here, the children learn both languages, and the grandchildren are totally assimilated and become monolingual, lazy, ignorant couch potatoes who can't even find their ancestral homeland on a map. That's how it worked with Eastern European Jews in their Yiddish speaking enclaves, and famously for Italians who hop back and forth between their new and old countries, keeping family contacts alive on both sides of the Atlantic. Assimilation takes generations, not months. And personally, I find it sad that so many of us have lost our traditions, and that ethnic enclaves have vanished into the post-cultural fog of bland, pasty-white undifferentiated suburban sprawl.

But I'm taking this line of argument seriously. If it's really a cover for "I'm not comfortable hearing other languages spoken and seeing people dress, and eat, and worship differently and I wish I didn't have to look at that," then you are a bigot, and go jump off a bridge.

A country should be able to control its borders.
Well, duh. But how? There is a lot of economic and demographic pressure driving people to move to the developed world, mostly because said countries are hogging capital by forcing down the prices on commodities, third world labor, anything we buy from them. It's a global economy in which the developed exploit the underdeveloped, so why wouldn't the exploited want to switch sides? People are going to move no matter what. The easiest way to "get control of the borders" is to raise immigration quotas to reflect the actual number of people driven to move here. Then, we will know who's here and be able to screen for terrorists, etc.

Before 1920 we had virtually no controls on immigration, and the result was, yes, cultural change and population growth, but also the transformation of a backwoods rural country into a superpower. Renewed immigration has clearly reinvigorated this country, at least where I live. 400,000 people is about 13% of the population of Chicago proper. True, some marchers came from the burbs or out of town, but still, that kind of turnout is huge. Represented were not just Mexicans, but Polish, Koreans, Chinese, and South Asians. The whole rainbow of our city neighborhoods. If these people didn't move here, who would buy the houses as white people flee south and west? It's a multicultural society now, get used to it. If you don't like it, you can go back to Europe. If EU immigration restrictions will even let you in.