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2001_05_22:20: What You Make Of It
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To the President of the United States of America, and the Governor of CaliforniaMr. President, Mr. Governor:
Tear down this wall.
It was easy enough, wasn't it, to tell people in another country to tear down the wall that separated the ideologies represented in East Berlin and West Berlin. The whole world was behind it, the USSR having been demonized in the media for decades.
Not so easy, apparently, on our own precious, exclusive turf.
We don't want Mexicans in here. They are poor. They sell drugs. They are criminals. They take our jobs. They'll make us speak Spanish. It's just horrible, isn't it.
When I first arrived in California in 1996, I didn't know what those black and yellow signs meant. It seemed kind of cute, to warn drivers that people would be crossing the street in a big hurry. Typical California flair and joie de vivre, I conjectured. But it wasn't a street I was on; it was an interstate. The interstate was lined by tall fences with barbed wire--which seemed like a pretty bad idea, when you thought about it, since a stranded motorist would have no way to get off the highway. And there were no residential areas: just ocean to the west, a U.S. military installation to the right. Why did we need pedestrian crossing signs here?
When the full force of it hit me all at once, as I sat behind the wheel headed for the San Onofre spot-check, I cried; and if the checkpoint hadn't slowed traffic to a crawl I would have had to pull off the road to get a hold of myself. The people pictured on that sign were not just any old people. They were Mexicans. A man, a woman, and a small girl with her feet off the ground being literally dragged through the air by adults running at full tilt. What did it mean? It meant that people are so desperate to get away from their own country that they are willing to land boats in our ocean surf just across the highway from our military base and climb over 15-foot fences topped with barbed wire, with children in tow, and race across 8 lanes of 75mph traffic, climb another fence and then somehow find their way through miles of San Diego County desert hills, to someplace, anyplace that was not Mexico, all the while avoiding the eyes of our military, and our border patrol. What they eat or drink on this trip I can't imagine--or rather, I suppose I know, since the news frequently reports that we've picked up another bunch of starving, frozen refuges and shipped them back. Good job. My tax dollars at work.
The people represented in that sign are no ordinary American citizens crossing the street. They are desperate refuges literally running for their lives. When every other black-and-yellow Caution sign in America represents the human form as a featureless, purposeless stick figure, it must have taken one sick sense of humor, or one very honest consciousness, to portray these people this way. And you approved the signs. If you didn't know before, you must have been able to see from this artistic representation what it meant to these people to come into our country. That you didn't insist that the pictures be sterilized indicates that you thought the meaning was important--maybe just to help drivers understand that there really was a danger of encountering pedestrians on this otherwise desolate stretch of highway. I never would have guessed, from stick figures, who it was that you were warning us about. I would have thought that you wanted me to be careful of motorists who had broken down and were looking for a telephone. And though you didn't personally approve the signs at their creation, you implicitly approve them by not having them removed.
You should be ashamed of yourselves. I am. I'm ashamed of you, and I'm ashamed of myself for not preventing it.
Perhaps the signs do help reduce the incidence of pedestrian deaths. But your best bet from every conceivable viewpoint is to reduce the incidence of pedestrians on that highway.
The tv news reported last week that the border patrol at this checkpoint were suspected of racism, because they tended to stop cars full of Mexicans more often than any other car. Racism? Racism?
You instruct the border patrol to apprehend people immigrating from Mexico without your permission, and racism is the only thing that people can think to charge you with? Of course the policy is racist! Of course the border patrol stops people according to race! Why should they stop a car full of white people? You've institutionalized racism, and you pay people to behave in a racist fashion.
Though it's an absurd accusation, I suppose I should be thankful that someone decided to accuse the border patrol of racism; if Mexicans were white we wouldn't have that excuse for attacking this absurd policy. It wasn't so easy in East Berlin; those people are all the same color, east and west.
Solve these problems, Mr. President, Mr. Governor. The people of Southern California will give them jobs, I assure you. They've been hiring them illegally for decades. Tear down this wall, and take down those scandalous signs. Or rather, leave them up as a monument to all the highway deaths and all the more lingering ailments, political and otherwise, that the border policy has caused.