Quotes I live by:

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity"~Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

"Not to know is bad. Not to want to know is worse. Not to hope is unthinkable. Not to care is unforgivable"~Nigerian saying

"I don't want you to do it because you're weak, I want you to do it because you know I'm right"~Dabney Coleman as Mark Winslow in the film Modern Problems

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My take on the "Illegal Alien" Halloween Costume Controversy

(Note: This was originally posted as an admittedly long-winded comment on USA Today website article "'Illegal Alien' mask flap spooks retailers"  http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-10-19-halloween-mask_N.htm )

When I first saw the "Illegal Alien" costume, I took it ironically, as it apparently was intended. It was meant to play on the idiocy of the xenophobes, whose dumbassery hasn't failed to disappoint when weighing-in on this issue.

 If they'd been able to keep their stupidity in check, they would have noticed the group cited as protesting is "The League of United Latin American Citizens," not "The League of Illegal immigrants sneaking over to date your daughters, harvest your food, and bathe in your agricultural chemicals." (Clarification for wingnuts, that is not a real organization, I made it up. Several previous comments show your continuing inability to separate the reality that Hispanic and Latino are not synonyms for "Illegal Immigrant", or even just "Immigrant.") But it is just this kind of bigotry that causes an increased sensitivity and what I feel was a misguided response by Immigrant and Hispanic advocacy groups. They should have embraced and rallied behind this attempt to expose the absurdity of this term.

The fact that immigration violations are civil, not criminal issues makes calling another person "illegal", whether as an adjective, or in it's increasing use as a noun, inflammatory and misleading. Not only is it NOT used to describe violators of statutes at an equal level of severity, it is also NEVER used to describe people convicted of the most serious felonies. Who is more "illegal", a murderer, or a teenager who risked his life to pick produce for Walmart at $10/day? And the use of the term "alien", regardless of original intent or meaning, is nothing but dehumanizing.

 Common cultural usage no longer brings to mind simply "non-native," but beginning at least since Science Fiction became major pop-cultural phenomenon in the 1950s, and UFO sightings and conspiracies have now become cliche'. If someone says "alien plant life," the average American is more likely to conjure up images of the pods from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," or Audrey 2 from "Little Shop of Horrors" instead of the Cherry Blossom trees in Wash. D.C. The movie "Alien" needed nothing else in its title to cue people who never even saw the film that there would be a scary, dangerous creature from another planet killing people.

 To address all the attempts to justify it as a "legal term" with a long history in government documents, remember the words "colored" and "negro" have been used frequently in that same legislative history, but are now recognized as out-dated, offensive, and tied to attitudes of bigotry and marginalization. (And yes, I am aware the NAACP has the word "colored" in its name, but as it is 100 years old, would be impractical and confusing to alter it now, especially when identified as much or more by its initials.) What do you think if Lou Dobbs went on CNN and called Barack Obama the nation's first NEGRO president? He'd be out of a job, probably out on his ass. (Then welcomed and given a new prime-time show by FoxNews.)

The term "undocumented immigrant" is more descriptive and accurate than "illegal alien," states the facts without sounding either mean-spirited or touchy-feely. And F.Y.I. for those having a knee-jerk reaction to my Spanish surname, I am of Western-European descent, mostly W.A.S.P., with ancestors who fought in every US war (my mother is in Daughters of the American Revolution) and roots to the original colonies from the 16th century. That shouldn't matter, but seems to for people who are either unaware, or just don't care that the immigration laws they so rabidly worship and use to justify their smugness have always been built upon racism, from when "Congress passed America's first naturalization law in 1790...limited the privilege of US citizenship to 'free white persons'"  http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/essay9text.html
and its continued reflection and domination in later immigration law. http://academic.udayton.edu/race/02rights/immigr09.htm

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