Twenty-three years ago, on a warm August evening, I stood in front of the Anaheim Union High School District board of directors. They were about to discuss whether to sue Mexico for $50 million and ask the country for an annual payment of $10 million for the education of the children of undocumented immigrants.
Children like me.
The chairman of the board, Harald Martin, originally from Austria and author of the proposal, blamed us for a supposedly degrading education system in my hometown. He had even appeared on National Public Radio to compare Latino students to the little furry creatures from the “Star Trek” universe that once overwhelmed the Starship Enterprise.
“They were so cute and fluffy, cute little things when there were four or five of them,” Martin said. But once they numbered in the thousands, he added, “it wasn’t so nice anymore.”
He espoused what amounted to an early version of the Great Replacement, the racist theory that liberal elites allow non-whites to flood the United States to destroy the American way of life through migration and fertility. Dozens of us have spoken in front of Anaheim administrators, speaking out against Martin’s blatant racism.
As an American, I felt betrayed.
Graduating two years earlier from Anaheim High, I was a nerd wearing Doc Martens and quoting the “Simpsons” who expected to graduate in film within two years at Chapman University and assimilate fully into American life by moving to southern Orange County.
What else was I supposed to do? I had never thought of myself as anything other than 100% Made in the USA – even though my creators were a Mexican immigrant father and mother, the first of whom came in the trunk of a Chevy.
At school, we were taught that we were in the best country in the world. That anyone could make something of themselves if only they tried hard enough. This racism existed above all in our history textbooks.
Well, that last part, at least, was a healthy dose of hooey. Here are some concrete examples:
There was the Sycamore Junior High science teacher who told a class full of Latinos that we didn’t compare ourselves to his students in the 1970s, when the school was much whiter. Counselors at Anaheim High who referred Latino boys like me to professional and remedial classes instead of college classes. The passage of Proposition 187 in 1994, the California ballot initiative that went even further than the Anaheim School Board envisioned.
I dismissed all of these as anomalies. Then, Martin’s resolution was passed by his fellow board members, although the lawsuit came to nothing because the proposal was, ironically enough, illegal. The fact that he went that far – well, it shattered any illusions I had of the United States as a colorblind and truly egalitarian society.
Racially motivated mass shootings like the one that happened this past weekend across the country in Buffalo, NY, only drives that point home. Again and again and again. In the past, in the present, and no doubt – and unfortunately – in the not so distant future, this pattern will repeat itself.
Payton Gendron, 18, killed 10 people at a grocery store he was targeting because it was in a black neighborhood. He left behind a vile manifesto dripping with the poison of racism and delusion and a frailty endemic to his fellows.
What he did was extreme, but you hear that same fragility when politicians mock immigrants and refugees. Or when white Americans talk about how things aren’t the way they were in a fantasy land of a time – maybe before civil rights finally started to take hold.
The United States is unquestionably diversifying. Asians and Latinos are the fastest growing groups; Black America remains a catalyst for social justice and criminal justice reform. This is the country I have known all my life and which has allowed my family and friends to prosper, to hell with racism.
Yet if you’re not white, to millions of Americans you’re something else — certainly not “legacy Americans,” as Fox TV host Tucker Carlson puts it over and over during his hour. of glow during the week. Instead, they see me and my loved ones as invaders and usurpers — or, as Gendron’s manifesto sees us as “replacements.” I’ve covered racism of their ilk throughout my career, from its origins in Orange County, to its festering on the fringes of neo-Nazi web chat rooms in the early 2000s, to its violent eruption again and again. again in this century until adopted as the de facto party board by many Republicans, including the former president.
What particularly frightens the Carlsons and Gendrons of this country is not that people like me are not heirs to the American dream, it’s that we are its inquisitors. We want a country truly built on the promises of equality and freedom on which it was founded. For too many white Americans, this is nothing less than a declaration of war; what is reasonable to us makes them feel like they are losing control of what they might have thought was their exclusive birthright.
I would pity white people who think their days are numbered in this country if that thought weren’t so ridiculously deadly. And wrong.
Benjamin Franklin was mistaken in 1751 when he worried that the Germans of Pennsylvania whom he called “boorish palatines… will soon be so numerous that they will Germanize us instead of Anglicize us, and will not adopt never our language or our customs”. The Dillingham Congressional Commission of 1911 was wrong when it advocated restricting immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, saying that “the new immigration as a class is far less intelligent than the old one”.
California Republicans got it wrong in the 1990s when they backed a decade of statehood proposals that demonized Latinos and whispered about “reconquista,” a supposed plot by Mexico to take over the American Southwest by the migration. And Martin, Anaheim’s administrator from the not-so-distant past, got it wrong when he insisted that children of undocumented immigrants were destroying Anaheim’s schools. All of these groups have become part of the American fabric, whether the haters like it or not. Why, some have even become “white”.
Then you have the Tucker Carlsons of the world, with their loud, whiny megaphones, stirring up hatred, paranoia and evil with their chatter of being replaced.
And then, unsurprisingly after all of this, you have your Payton Gendrons, those lonely, deluded souls who decide that the way to start making things right for the downtrodden white man is to commit mass murder.
They stand through history, spouting a venomous lie that has cost too many lives.
Los Angeles Times