My point of view is that these kids’ parents and grandparents came, mostly legally, because this is the land of opportunity, and we should teach them that if they work hard, they can accomplish anything…how can you have any pudding, if you don’t eat your meat? — Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne on Mexican-American ethnic studies, quoted in the NY Times, 5/13/10
Okay, Horne didn’t really say the last part. I added it in. I wanted to make a point about the role of propaganda and indoctrination in public education (and about Horne’s biting comment). When it comes down to it, the whole point of teaching civics and American history to schoolchildren is to indoctrinate them. That’s why our schools teach pseudo-history dictated by school boards rather than historians to the kids. Horne is a politician — not a historian, and he wants to decide what the students in his state learn about their history. At least when civic education was introduced in the 19th century, they were up front about the indoctrination. Now, we pretend that’s not what the purpose is. But, just because you don’t admit it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
In Horne’s case, he’s upset because he wants to control the propaganda and he doesn’t. He thinks the ethnic studies program in the Tucson Unified School District teaches Hispanic kids to believe they are oppressed by the white power structure. He finds that objectionable — being a white male Republican office-holder. He wants them to believe that this is the land of opportunity and that the key to success here is hard work — and by extension that white people don’t discriminate against persons of color (anymore). So, he wants to drill into them that in America you can be anything you want to be, if you work hard enough. Be always ashamed to catch thyself idle. Always clean your plate. It’s like a Poor Richard’s Almanack curriculum.
Of course, when Horne opens his mouth, he betrays himself. Let’s look at his words: He says he thinks the kids in the Tucson schools are the children and grandchildren of immigrants (as opposed to the great-great-great- or great-great-great-great-grandchildren). That’s a big assumption. Many of the early permanent settlements established by European colonizers to the United States were Spanish pueblos/presidios in the south and southwest. Santa Fe and St. Augustine pre-date Plymouth and Boston and New York. Since 1600 C.E., Spanish residents have lived in New Mexico and spread throughout the region. Tucson was founded the year before the colonists back east declared independence from Great Britain. As such, Hispanic families there may be able to trace their roots back four hundred years — much as some snooty New Englanders trace themselves back to ancestors on the Mayflower. So, to assume that because these kids are Hispanic means that they are new to the country is plainly ignorant. Clearly, Horne sees them as outsiders anyway — as his statement demonstrates — rather than as old American stock.
Next, Horne magnanimously avows that most of these kids are probably descended from legal immigrants. How very white of him. Of course, that means that he thinks some of them are from parents or grandparents who are not legal residents. I doubt that he would say this about a white, black, or Asian family in Arizona — even though it’s entirely likely that some Asian children may also be descended from illegal immigrants thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act. White children, too, can be the offspring of undocumented aliens, but I haven’t seen any quotes from Horne suggesting the same to Anglo students. By singling out the Hispanic kids here, Horne is betraying his stereotypical beliefs about them and their community. They are outsiders and sometimes criminals. (I enjoy the irony of contrasting the critical judgment of illegal immigrants [usually Hispanic] with the admiration in my state for sooners — white people who crossed into Oklahoma Territory to stake out land illegally prior to the land rush. None of the sooners were pejoratively labeled illegal immigrants. In fact, with pride, the community of the University of Oklahoma takes its nickname from these cheats and law-breakers.)
Finally, Horne finishes his statement with a patriotic affirmation of the American dream. This is how he wants to indoctrinate the little children. He doesn’t want them to think that white people with prejudice will stand in their way. In short, he wants them to forget their history. In Arizona, Hispanics have faced much discrimination — in fact, the state has been much more hostile to Hispanics that its neighbor, New Mexico, where the Anglo and Hispanic populations cohabitate on better terms. He wants to pretend that they were not victims of racism and segregation there, and he’s upset that the ethnic studies class teaches them that they were — and that they should be proud to of their Mexican heritage. He wants to remove the truth from their historical training. Also, he obviously wants them not to notice that he (a white man of authority in the government) sees them as outsiders and sometimes criminals, but his statement proves the very prejudice the ethnic studies classes address.
If only Horne’s professed dedication to integration led him to demand that the history and social studies classes in Arizona do a better job of including Mexican-Americans and Hispanics generally into their history — if only he became a champion of true multiculturalism. Instead, on January 3, 2011, he declared the Mexican-American ethnic studies classes in Tucson illegal (literally) and threatened to cut off school funding if they are not altered to his liking. I’d be tempted to suggest that there’s something offensive and repetitive about the Great White Father wanting to tell his Colored Children what they should do and think, but that would be some serious dark sarcasm for the classroom.
The influx of immigrants who did not speak English and who kept to their foreign cultures and resisted assimilating grated on white Americans. They blamed these immigrants for falling wages and difficulties obtaining employment when these immigrants would work for less pay and were therefore preferred by the bosses. The whites reacted in typical extra-legal ways: they burned out the immigrants by committing arson on their homes, they prevented them from reporting to their work stations by physical force, and they did violence to their persons. Some immigrants were scared off and others were murdered for their efforts to make a new life in the promised land. A sudden rush of Irish immigrants — who were Catholic — to a country that was so predominately Protestant led to job discrimination (NINA = No Irish Need Apply) and more physical violence. Ultimately, legal means, too, were enlisted to combat the “immigrant threat.” States started trying to restrict immigration to their particular locations, but these laws were challenged in federal courts. In 1875, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that immigration was a matter for federal regulation and the states did not have the authority to act on this matter (Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275). Under pressure from angry white citizens — particularly out west — Congress then passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited Chinese immigration for ten years. After renewal, the exclusion was made permanent in 1902. Such was the hostility to immigration in the 19th century.
The 20th century saw an expansion of anti-immigration sentiment. Then, the white bigots turned to restricting immigration by other undesirables — Jews, Greeks, all Asians, Africans, and Arabs. This was achieved through an immigration quota system introduced in 1921 and revised in 1924. Each nationality was set a maximum number of persons allowed to immigrate to the United States, and the system was set up to favor white immigrants. For example, the number allowed from the United Kingdom was significantly higher than that for immigrants from Turkey. Some nations, like China, were given zero quotas so that no one from these places were welcome in the U.S. at all. This prejudiced practice continued until the Immigration and Nationality Act was amended in 1965 to give preference based on blood connection to U.S. citizens and legal aliens and/or on one’s job skills (the U.S. desiring to draw skilled labor for the betterment of society).
Today, the immigration debate again rages. Once again, Hispanics are the main target of the vitriol. During the Great Depression of the 1930′s, Hispanic workers were rounded up and “repatriated” by the government because of the feeling that they were taking jobs from Americans (read: whites) when there weren’t many to be had because of the suffering economy. Recently, Arizona passed legislation — as have other states — addressing the issue of “illegal immigration” by Hispanics from the south. These laws are generally under challenge and the cases are winding their way through the court system. Then, this week, a group of (mostly southern) legislators announced a plan to pass legislation in their jurisdictions denying birthright citizenship to children of illegal immigrants and forming a pact to stand together on this issue. This would conflict with the provision in the U.S. Constitution granting citizenship to all born here. The legislators hope their action will spur a lawsuit so they can argue in court that the intent of the authors of the 14th Amendment was only to extend citizenship to former slaves. Accordingly, it should not apply to the children of illegal immigrants (particularly Hispanic offspring pejoratively labeled “anchor babies”), and citizenship should be denied them. They want the Constitution “strictly” interpreted on that point.
But, let us return to the 19th century. In 1873, a boy was born to his immigrant parents in San Francisco. They were Chinese and not citizens of the United States. Indeed, just a few years later, the Chinese Exclusion Act would prohibit citizenship to Chinese immigrants like them. As a grown man, Wong Kim Ark took a trip to visit China and was denied re-entry to the United States because he was Chinese. He argued that he had birthright citizenship because he was born in California, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court (United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 ). The Court held that the 14th amendment granted citizenship to all persons born in the country — regardless of race — and as such, the gentleman was a U.S. citizen. During the hearings, the government had specifically argued that the purpose of that amendment was only to extend citizenship to former slaves — sound familiar? — so it did not apply. The Court reviewed the Congressional Record and found that the Congress did in fact knowingly extend this status to persons born in this country who were not formerly slaves nor the children of citizens. Ironically, during the debates on the amendment, one Congressman specifically raised the issue of the law applying to the child of a Chinese immigrant! The Court found, then, that Congress chose its wording carefully, knowing full well that it would grant citizenship to others besides just former slaves.
It appears then that the legislators now hoping to challenge the 14th amendment guarantees based on the authors’ intent are on a fool’s errand. The matter has already been decided. The intent to grant citizenship to all born in the United States was broad and conscious, and the record has already been examined on that point. I am now reminded of the maxim by George Santayana about repeating history when you are ignorant of it.