Behind the debate on immigration lies the threat felt by Americans of having strangers within the essence of what is supposed to be the U.S. identity said Pulitzer Prize winning journalist H?ctor Tobar during a panel discussion on immigration, on Tuesday.
Small rural towns dominated by Americans are supposed to represent U.S. identity, but when a Latino is seen waxing his low rider for the first Mexican parade ever in places like Idaho or when a church in Georgia is being built specifically with Latinos in mind, U.S. citizens often feel culturally threatened. Latinos are now reaching more interior and rural parts of the U.S.
“There is, across the United States, in small places, an attempt to reinforce the notion that our society is being invaded by outsiders who don’t belong and that they need to be removed,” Tobar said.
While Tobar was visiting Ohio, for example, he said a sheriff was attempting to rid the southern part of the state of illegal immigrants. The sheriff placed a sign in front of a jail that reads, “Illegal immigrants here” in an effort to have American tax payers realize that American jails are being filled by illegal immigrants. Tobar said the sheriff has since been granted the right to enforce immigration rights.
Tobar, who is also well known for his book “Translation Nation,” said he was frustrated with the media’s portrayal of immigrants as either invaders or assimilators. He said human beings are reduced to issues with no full portrait of what its like to be an immigrant and because of this, he chose to write a book discussing Latino identity in the United States.
Tobar, the son of immigrant parents who currently serves as bureau chief in Mexico City for the LA Times, said the future of the United States depends greatly on Los Angeles and California because of the melting pot that Los Angeles has become.
He said the massive immigration rights demonstration that took place last year in Los Angeles, considered to be the largest ever in the city, was proof that Los Angeles is leading the way.
Tobar considered the demonstration to be both a Latin American event and a U.S. history event.
“Los Angeles history is a melting of American and Latin American history,” said Tobar. He said the immigrants who were marching were doing it for the same reasons that people marched during the 1960s and it also resembled the way students organized themselves and worked collectively during the 1968 student march in Mexico.
But, as Tobar explained, the anti-immigrant sentiment goes as far back in history as the 1800s when the Irish also had to deal with immigration issues.
Tobar said the U.S. has to recognize that immigrants are now part of the U.S.
Will immigrants see themselves as perpetual outsiders? Will they carry the drama of crossing illegally through the desert? Or will immigrants believe they are capable of changing their reality?
“If the (current) status quo continues, the U.S. will risk becoming like Latin America,” Tobar said. He said American society may end up with hard class lines with no social mobility.
Tobar said that because barriers such as higher tuition are creating less opportunities for minorities each year, the U.S. risks reproducing the same cultural rigidity and the social structure that he has observed in Mexico.
Tobar said L.A. is shaping the way America will see itself in the 21st century. “Angelinos will shape the American notion of itself and will change the notion of what citizenship is and who deserves to be a member of the American project,” Tobar said.