Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thoughts On Arizona, Where I Once Lived

I have some sort of mild chest cold. Spring colds suck donkeys.


Everyone is still asleep right now, and it looks like it should be a nice day here. I am happy about that. It always improves my moods to see the sun when I wake up. That was one of my favorite things about living in Arizona back from 1990-1992 when I went to Arizona State University. Summer was terrible, as was most of September into, but our winter here was mild and wonderful there. I miss it sometimes.


Dr. Harvey Karp responded to my post on the Huffington Post. I asked him if I could reprint his note. I do believe only the best things about him, but I have to say, we tried and tried to use his method with Stella, and didn't really get the results we hoped for. Your mileage may vary!


Speaking of Arizona I see it is in the news again. It seems the only time that state makes national headlines is when something extremely controversial happens. When I was there the big whoop was that they voted against Martin Luther King day.

There was an uproar, as you can imagine, or maybe even remember. Public Enemy countered with their song "By The Time I Get To Arizona." (Here are the lyrics.)

The video, I've been told, includes a plot to blow up the Arizona state capital. Because that's what Dr. King would have wanted? Anyway, my favorite response to the whole mess was from some comedian, whose name I can't remember: You have to be pretty racist to not want a day off.

And here we go again. I am not informed enough about the subject of illegal immigration to feel qualified to speak about what should be done. Stopping random darker skinned people, as a policy, seems unenforceable. It also makes me uncomfortable, on a personal level.

But I also know that the citizens of Arizona must be feeling completely at the end of their collective ropes to vote in such a draconian measure. Otherwise it never would have passed. Anyone from Arizona, can you fill me in, give me a sense of what it feels like on the ground over there?

The irony is I found Arizona State University a beautifully diverse place during my two years there. Certainly far more diverse than Wesleyan University, where I graduated. Wesleyan is famously liberal, so there were people who represented various groups, but I found the place had a lot of self-segregation, to be honest.

ASU was a different story. It is a major, major state school, with over 45,000 students. That's like 15 Wesleyans. My freshman year dorm was 15 stories high and housed 900 kids.

Within that population I met a lot of people who opened my eyes. I saw part time students who lived at home, single mothers finally getting their degrees, and a surprising amount of students from the various Native American reservations within the state. My favorite professor, Michael Mitchell, was an African-American, and had previously taught at Princeton. Through him I met more African-American students, including one who became student body president. This is an accomplishment in a school that was mostly white.

And, yes, there were lots, and lots of students who were either first generation or second generation from Mexico. This was normal, and part of the fabric of the school. I never heard anyone talk about it during my time there.

It's complicated. My memory of ASU and Arizona was of a place that had more than its fair share of white meatheads and snowbirds (the term for retirees who head down for the winter) but also a lot of true diversity. I learned an awful lot in my time there about other cultures and ways of living. I had an English teacher, Jean Erchel, (I have to spell check her name) who spent a great amount of time telling us about Native American cultures. It blew my mind.

I also took amazing classes on Jewish history, and experimental theater. ASU, to me, was a great, open, crazy, hectic place, with a wide variety of students, from literally every kind of background. Its diversity made it a thrilling place to be.

I took an art history class at night which was filled with students who worked all day, and many were much older. This was a new experience for me.

Of course I fell in with a great crew of freaks, many of whom came from backgrounds kind of like mine, but I still saw a student body that was, when you looked, many times more varied than what you could find at any small liberal arts school.

So, it's complicated. I feel unqualified to speak on the issue, as I haven't been to Arizona for years. Every time I've seen a check list for why illegal immigration is bad, I've seen another list for why immigrants of all kinds, even illegal immigrants, actually help the economic growth of an area.

People say they take away jobs. Others say they do the jobs no one else will do. And so on, and so on.

I would love to see what you think, in reader-land, on this contentious subject.

Have a happy Tuesday.


Michael said...

"Stopping random darker-skinned people, as a policy" is not what the AZ law does. You should read it. Unlike some laws you and I have debated, this one's short (about 20 pages).

The law calls on state law enforcement personnel to check the legal status of individuals who 1) have already been stopped, detained or arrested for suspicion of another violation and 2) are reasonably suspected of being in the country illegally. It also explicitly states that race and ethnicity are not grounds for reasonable suspicion of illegal status.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Michael,
I think I was guilty of writing a little glibly. I do not think the sum of the new law is the random stopping of minorities. Perhaps I could phrase more carefully, so thanks for emailing me. It keeps me honest and I appreciate the link to the law.

As I wrote, I feel illegal immigration is an extraordinarily complex issue, and one that stumps pat answers.


Amanda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amanda said...

*I made a typo above so I had to delete it haha.*

I like the segment Jon Stewart did on this, it was pretty freaking hilarious.

I grew up in Phoenix. I have a lot of friends who went to ASU (I liked U of A myself). I was just there visiting family about 3 weeks ago. Here's my take on what it's like "on the ground" in AZ:

Spanish is extremely prevalent. That pisses a lot of people off. It's not uncommon to be the only English speaker around. I have to admit it can be irritating at times, but I solved that by learning very basic Spanish instead of waiting for thousands of other people to learn English. I have had to ask a walmart employee, "donde esta el bano?" because he didn't know English...an employee!! I have been to the grocery store where the line says "quince articulos o menos" (15 items or less)...if I didn't know Spanish, I wouldn't know that it was the speedy checkout line. The first time I took the bus, the directions to use the transfer ticket on the back were ONLY in Spanish. I was top in my medical assistant program but could not for the life of me get a job (even after 15+ interviews) because I didn't speak Spanish. Like I said, that can really piss people off. Understandably, I guess. My opinion is that that is the biggest surface frustration, followed by the supposed more crime that illegals commit vs. legals and the whole no taxes thing.

But AZ has HUGE problems with white trash (and I can say that because I'm white). Meth is a GIANT problem and a lot of my white, legal friends from high school have been in and out of rehab for it and other drugs. A meth lab down the street from my parents was just busted and it wasn't run by illegals - and it wasn't the first meth lab in their vicinity either.

AZ does have a big problem with racism and prejudiced behavior, and I feel it every time I go (I wear hijab, imagine the joys I experience there). In Oregon and California I was/am totally fine but the only time I come across hateful comments or people literally throwing things at me is in AZ. Maybe it's because it's a red state, who knows. I hated living there though.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Alaina,
I am so sorry to hear about how you were treated in Arizona. I am also a bit surprised to hear about how everything is in Spanish in Phoenix. I spent most of my time in Tempe, so it's possible it was like this when I was there in the early 90s, but I can't know for sure.

It really sounds like in Phoenix Spanish is the language, and that's that. It's definitely a change and probably a huge adjustment for the English speakers who have been there so long. Wow, it sounds like a cauldron down there, just waiting to go off.


Carlos Lopez said...

Interesting post, Dave.

I think the Arizona immigration law is a mistake for many reasons, but I want to highlight what seems to be a common misconception about opposition to the law. Supporters of the law tend to stress that undocumented immigrants are "illegal" and so it is only typically liberal over-indulgence of rule breakers that leads to opposition.

But the reality is that one does not have to be in favor of illegal immigration to oppose this law. Even ignoring the law's effect on undocumented immigrants, it burdens legal immigrants and citizens and it does so on the basis of their perceived race. It does this because although it purports to prohibit racial profiling, in practice that sort of profiling is the only measure that can be used to enforce the law.

So, the question should be this: is it worth it? And, I think that question must be answered not from the point of view of undocumented immigrants, who are easy to demonize, but from the point of view of a citizen or legal immigrant who automatically becomes suspect on the basis of his or her perceived race when stopped by the police.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Steve, those are excellent points and I very much appreciate that you took the time to weigh in. I still feel I should read the actual law, to really know what I am talking about, but, yes, a law that punishes legal immigrants and citizens for how they look is hard for me to support.

As a Jew I wonder if people were stopped for looking Jewish during World War 2. I am sure they were. Is Arizona anything like Nazi Germany? Of course not, but this is why I reflexively am suspicious of the law. But, I now need to read it, and then be fully informed.


Matt said...

Keep in mind that simply because the law doesn't say that you can't stop people who look a bit foreign doesn't mean it's not going to happen. In fact, it already has.

I have yet to find a reason to be against illegal immigration. Every time someone tries to present one, it's based on xenophobia, nationalism, and a ridiculous idea of right and wrong. Most people in Arizona, even liberals, are for this. Most of it has to do with the drug-trade. Which once again brings up the question, why can the government mandate what I am allowed to put into my own body?
To put this into more eloquent and convincing terms than I could ever conceive, I would direct one to <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnCyWEjj0aA>Aus-Rotten's Xenophobia</a>.