There were a couple of surprises on Thursday. The first came earlier in the day when all three major television networks decided they wouldn’t broadcast President Obama’s speech on immigration.
You see, the immigration system is broken, and even Joe the Plumber knows it. But, during Thursday Night Football, it would be inhumane to bother him with such a nuisance — the slice of deep-dish pizza prepared by undocumented hands might suddenly taste bitter in his mouth.
The other surprise came when Obama himself acknowledged what we all know — the hypocrisy of a system that allows us to scrub its toilets but refuses to recognize us as full members of society. Or to even talk about the problem, which is what those too busy to spare 10 minutes of their time last night effectively told us: the plight of their neighbors is not their problem.
And with good reason — it is our humanity, not theirs, that has been questioned and dismissed. This is not something new, to be sure. We, the undocumented, the menacing hordes crossing the Rio Grande to come and pick fruits and vegetables, to mow lawns and clear tables, have always been looked at with suspicion. What are they really up to, those brown people, those invading masses?
And then the hysteria. For years, the Pete Wilsons, the Dobbs, the Arpaios, the Sensenbrenners and the Brewers have blown the horn, warning the country of impending doom. Of course, when they looked in the mirror and realized just how badly their message would fare in certain parts of the country, they knew they needed help. Then came the recruiting of brown-sounding names like Rubio, Cruz and Labrador who, because they had so much to prove, became particularly vicious mouthpieces.
Despite the panic, the crux of the matter remains unavoidable: for a society that prides itself on principles like the intrinsic value of all humanity and no taxation without representation, denying basic rights to 11 million of its inhabitants just doesn’t jibe. Nor does the retention of $100 billion in taxes from our paychecks.
The narrative of fear — planted in the hearts of the American people when we the undocumented were yet unable to voice our predicament — is about to be discredited. Now that we speak the same language as our naysayers, now that we can grasp the complexities and designs of English and engage in dialogue, we say:
Of course, President Obama’s executive action doesn’t achieve this. It is a temporary relief, a tank of oxygen that will keep some of us on life support for a couple of years, leaving millions roaming, still, in perpetual darkness. What happens with them and with those who received the President’s graces on Thursday will, to a great extent, depend on our own actions — whether we can garner enough energy, support and creativity throughout the country to face the backlash of political opposition looming, like an eclipse, upon the new year.
Thursday night my wife and I sat at our kitchen table and watched Obama’s speech on her computer. The fact that the major networks didn’t broadcast the speech was truly irrelevant, the same way the Republican party will be irrelevant once we can remind those who can vote that what is at stake is their own principles as a people, and their identity as a nation.
José Ángel N., author of Illegal: Reflections of an Illegal Immigrant.
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