By Matthew Stieglitz
I facetiously wrote in a previous piece that Arizona was making a daily case for exile from the union, which I now find myself entertaining as an intriguing notion. Birthright citizenship, something no one thought would ever be an issue, is currently being broached because of supposed, “anchor babies”. On top of that, ethnic studies have been banned in the state, racial profiling has been legalized, an assassination attempt of a state politician took place, and Sheriff Joe still has a job. Am I the only one wondering what the hell happened to Arizona? While we shouldn’t be naïve enough to think these issues popped up overnight, I find it fascinating that this once irrelevant state has found its place in national political discourse largely because of tensions between Latinos and Whites. It’s as if we’re being brought back to before the Civil Rights movement, only it’s 2011 and what’s going on is as deplorable as it is embarrassing. So, how did we get here?
On the surface, we can guess it’s the age-old perfect storm of minorities move in, Whites move out, and the older generation that refuses to leave freaks out at what’s different, like the inconvenience of ‘Spanish’ being an ATM option. Now, we need to remember that Xenophobia is as much a part of the American fabric as anything else, and this phenomenon did not start with Latinos, nor will it end with them. More importantly, as always the onus is on legislators to respond, because God forbid American legislators ever pass anything proactive these days (yes US House of Representatives, I’m talking about you and your recent vote to slash Planned Parenthood funding).
In responding to the Arizona crisis, the reactionary policies we’ve seen have been ones aimed at furthering divides and inequity across the board, only to be averted by years-long litigation (if it’s in our favor) or future open-minded generations. Unfortunately, the wait associated with both is horrifically long, meaning all we can do is “vote for change”. As such, your guess is as good as mine in terms of where we go from here. We’ll probably hear every remedy imaginable, starting with the usual suspects. Fix the education system, fix the immigration system, fix healthcare, make sure American workers get priority over non-immigrant workers, and yawn. A whole lot of rhetoric, with barely any substance, and beyond that more of the same band-aid attempts at change.
We know we’ve got issues, and we know they need to be fixed. But what country doesn’t have problems? What country doesn’t have inequity? (For those responding Finland, my response is that’s an outlier and please be quiet). The reality is everyone has problems, and the discussion is always on government or the courts or agencies fixing them. But before we ask our government to fix it, we need to ask ourselves how we can help. It’s entirely unfair to look at what’s happening, play the blame game, and not see where we fit into the equation. And where we fit into the equation is simple: misinformation, inability to compromise, and apathy.
They’re the time bombs that keep American evolution from continuing, and are the reason progress takes forever. Misinformation manifests itself in the arguments that detract from what the discussion should be about. The result is an inability to compromise that leaves constituents supporting the partisan politics that legitimately creates debates surrounding deprivation of a chance to contribute to America for undocumented students. Combine that with apathy and you’ve got the community that mobilizes for five minutes and follows that up with avoiding the polls. On cue, someone right now is probably responding that these problems are beyond our control, the media sucks, Election Day logistics are not conducive to Latino turnout, and yawn. It’s the blame game again; only it’s being played without a look inside. Do those responses contribute to the problem? Yes! But they don’t cause them.
Our egregious voter registration rate is on us, and so is our level of apathy. Before we blame a government that doesn’t emphasize registering people to vote or classrooms that don’t hype it up, how about we blame people for not intuitively seeing its value. When we call for compromise, we need to fight for the kind where both sides make concessions, not the Obama-style of only Democrats making concessions. And while misinformation is strongly correlated to the Internet and media, we need to be accountable in that as well. Sorry, but taking chismes and Perez Hilton for news is definitely on the idiots who do that.
In closing, I asked before why Arizona has issues. The immigration system, racism, and education are part of it. But Arizona also has issues because people are misinformed, apathetic, and refuse to compromise. Case in point: the US government couldn’t agree on an immigration remedy, leaving states to pass reactionary policies that deprive civil rights because they can’t handle the federal government’s mess. The response was a hell of a lot of people who don’t care. Subsequently you get the nation where barely anyone knows their congressmen, but everyone knows that Blake Griffin dunked over a car.
Matthew Stieglitz received his BA in Communication from the University of Delaware. He is currently a 2011 Master of Public Administration candidate at Cornell University concentrating in Government, Politics, & Policy Studies. After receiving his MPA, Matthew will attend law school in order to merge his public affairs background with a legal education to most effectively advocate for Latinos.