James E. Garcia

I Am Not A Spic

I'm not a spic.

Not everyone I've ever known agrees with me on that point. But more on that in a moment.

A local run of John Leguizamo's one-man show "Spic-A-Rama" and the minor stir the show's title caused among some of my Latino friends and colleagues, has me thinking about the words and phrases I've used over the year to describe myself.

Spic, by the way, is defined by the Random House Dictionary as a slang word thought to have originated around the turn-of-the-century. It was intended to be offensive toward "Spanish-Americans." Etymologists say the epithet was derived from the heavily accented expression, "I no speak English..."

Frightening, isn't it? How little literacy it takes to be ignorant.

My parents separated when I was a boy. So from the age of 5 until I turned 14, I had not lived in one town for more than six months.

One winter we'd be living in a rat-infested apartment on Manhattan's lower eastside. And a few months later we'd be in housing project in Laredo, Texas.

All that traveling taught me a lot about words and how they can be used to punish and reward.

In the Mexican American communities of South Texas, I was known as a bolillo -- a Spanish-slang word for a small French bread. Bolillos, like me, were purportedly trying to act white. Get it? Brown on the outside, white on the inside.

When I was nine years old and living in Manhattan, I remember wishing that I had been born Puerto Rican, since Mexicans then were held in such low esteem, even by Puerto Ricans.

The fact is that as a child I knew as much about the concepts of ethnic pride and racism as I did about Einstein's theory of relativity. At that age, I guess I thought insults like spic and wetback weren't that much different than calling someone four-eyes or hick.

By my late teens, and now living in rural Indiana, I had taken to calling myself, with some pride, a freak. In the street-slang of the mid 1970s, to be a freak in Indiana meant you were unconventional and something of an outsider. Having missed the anti-war movement by several years, freak-dom was the closest I could come to social consciousness.

Meanwhile, the Chicano movement had all but peaked on the West Coast, Florida's Cuban exiles had begun to resign themselves to the thought that Fidel Castro wasn't going anywhere soon, and the revolutionary wars of Central America that would later lead to a mass exodus of Nicaraguans and Salvadorans to cities like Houston and Los Angeles were still years away.

Largely oblivious to these social and political trends, I, in the meantime, had taken to calling myself a Hoosier -- with some pride no less. My wife calls this my Indiana white-boy years.

By the 1980s, the federal government had decided to label me, and just about anyone with a Spanish surname, a Hispanic.

I've since concluded that the term Hispanic was the government's way of minimizing, even if unintentionally, the great diversity of the nation's Latin American immigrants. Not to mention that the word overtly accentuates Spanish culture while ignoring the influence of Latin America's indigenous populations. You know, those people from the Aztec, Inca and Mayan empires. Not that they ever achieved anything significant.

The fact is that most so-called Hispanics in the United States are meztizos, part Indian and part European, whether our government cares to admit it or not.

Fast forward to 2002 and I find myself college educated, politicized, acculturated and prouder than ever of my diverse cultural and ethnic heritage.

In the vernacular of the day, I am a Latino now. An American Latino. This, too, is a profoundly imprecise label.

Unlike the terms spic or wetback, the connotation is clear: I want people to know that I'm no less American than George Washington or George W. Bush.

Yet, there is something unique about me. I am the noble amalgam of the conquering Spanish colonialists and the ancient, but no less magnificent, native people who occupied these lands for millenia before Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortes.

In other words, I am not a spic.

Undocumented Victims

They are among the multitude of secondary victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the days just before the tragedy, Congress was on a fast track to approve a broad legalization program for the millions of undocumented immigrants who do much of the backbreaking work that drives the U.S. economy.

Even if we rarely look into their eyes, we see these people everyday. In New York, they're the Guatemalans behind the counter at the neighborhood pizza joint. In California and Texas, they're the Mexicans laying concrete and trimming our hedges. In Georgia, they weave our carpet. In Florida, they pick our fruit.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the economic and political convulsion of the so-called new war has further shaken the already wobbly foundation of their lives.

The deepening recession means that tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants will lose their jobs. Some Las Vegas hotel managers, for instance, already have let go of as much as 15 percent of their staff. The tourism industry nationwide is experiencing a similar drop-off.

While many Americans will be hurt by the economic slump, losing a job for an illegal immigrant is a double catastrophe. Undocumented immigrants cannot apply for unemployment compensation or food stamps. In many instances, an illegal immigrant is the sole supporter for his or her family back home. (Experts say the money sent home by Mexican immigrants, for example, is that nation's second largest source of foreign capital -- totaling about $8 billion this year.)

The security clampdown on the borders, particularly between the United States and Mexico, has many undocumented immigrants worried that if they go home now, it may be difficult for them to return.

In the meantime, many of my fellow documented Americans have already begun to search for scapegoats. They know that someone is to blame for the dive-bombing commercial jetliners and anthrax-stuffed envelopes. And since we can't wrap our hands around the throats of the people our leaders have labeled as "the evildoers," then we'll just have to settle for someone closer at hand.

The next in line are the evildoer look alikes -- Arab Americans or anyone remotely resembling a Muslim or native of the Middle East. After them come the non-Americans, such as Latin American immigrants, who in desperate economic times are easily remade into menacing, imaginary threats to our "American way of life."

President Bush, to his credit, has called upon Americans not to react to the Sept. 11 attacks with their own personal acts of terror against, as he put it, people "who happen not to look like you."

The president is right to condemn all acts of bigotry and hatred. But Americans must also avoid engaging in the kind of passive xenophobia that comes from our unwillingness to acknowledge the contributions of the country's undocumented immigrant population.

Because once we've ignored their contributions, it is too easy to neglect their needs.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of americanlatino.net. E-mail the writer at jgarcia@americanlatino.net.

Latino Candidates Recast Big City Elections

While race and ethnicity have always been potent forces in American politics, the role these issues play is evolving as Latinos have overtaken blacks as the nation's largest minority group.

A case in point: Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who is Puerto Rican, was the top vote getter in September's Democratic primary for the New York City mayor's race -- though he ultimately lost to Mark Green, who is white, in the October 11 Democratic runoff.

Ferrer managed his historic achievement -- he would have been New York's first Latino mayor if he'd won -- with a lot of help from Latino voters and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Ferrer collected 52 percent of the black vote and more than 70 percent of the Latino vote in the primary. But Ferrer only mustered 7 percent of the white vote in the primary.

Similarly, Antonio Villaraigosa, a California-born Mexican American, made history in his losing bid last summer to become mayor of Los Angeles.

In a hard fought race, Villaraigosa pulled in about 80 percent of the Latino vote. But unlike Ferrer, Villaraigosa fared poorly among blacks. Only one out of five African Americans in L.A. backed him in his loss to attorney James Hahn, who is white.

Nonetheless, the New York and Los Angeles elections -- two cities as culturally and geographically disparate as America has to offer -- underscore a new trend in U.S. politics.

Consider that no less than five major U.S. cities have fielded viable Latino candidates for mayor this year.

But voters should not assume that all Latino candidates are created equal. Houston candidate Orlando Sanchez and Miami's incumbent Mayor Joe Carollo, for instance, are both conservative Republicans and Cuban Americans. San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza is a centrist Democrat and Mexican American. While Villaraigosa and Ferrer are both staunch liberals.

Ideological and ethnic differences aside, each of these candidates have faced common political challenges. Most notably, they've often had to refute crass presumptions, even among some journalists, that they more interested in becoming a "Latino" mayor instead of a mayor for their entire community. Reporters never dare ask a white candidate if he or she is running to be a "white" mayor.

Latino candidates also routinely confront touchy questions about black-brown relations. Mr. Villaraigosa, despite winning less than 20 percent of the black vote in Los Angeles, believes that African Americans and Latinos have far more in common than not. He predicts growing unity between the communities.

Coalition building also has taken on new meaning and importance with the ascension of prominent Latino candidates. In Los Angeles where half of the population is Latino -- but far fewer in that community actually vote -- Mr. Villaraigosa needed, and wanted, far more black and white support. He came up short in both regards and lost. In San Antonio, Mr. Garza needed major white support. He got it and won.

Ferrer, as already indicated, needed to boost his ranking among whites dramatically or face defeat. So in the waning days of the primary race, Ferrer downplayed his campaign pledge to represent "the other New York" as a way to reach across ethnic lines. His tactic failed.

For Mr. Ferrer, it seems, the chasm of race and ethnicity in American politics was still too great. Perhaps future Latino candidates will fare better.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of americanlatino.net. E-mail the writer at Politico1@aol.com.

New War Recasts Mexico Agenda

Mexico's President Vicente Fox didn't quite seem himself.

During a recent appearance on CNN's Larry King Live, Mr. Fox was uncharacteristically nervous, uncertain, even uncomfortable.

It wasn't anything Mr. King was doing that made Mexico's first-year president appear shaken. No, Mr. Fox simply looked like a man unused to the notion of having a golden opportunity slip through his fingers.

The opportunity lost -- or at least postponed -- is Mr. Fox's bold dream of propelling Mexico into the powerful and influential circle of developed nations.

In the days prior to the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States, President Bush had described the importance of U.S.-Mexico relations as crucial and unrivaled. Now at war, Bush's Mexico agenda has been put on a shelf.

To make matters worse, Mr. Fox has found himself on the defensive as his political opponents at home have bluntly resisted any suggestion that Mexico's military will take part in the U.S.-led coalition to combat terrorism.

In truth, there's little Mexico can do to assist the United States. The Mexican military is poorly trained and its reputation and effectiveness have been marred in recent years by incidents of corruption at the hands of international drug traffickers.

The Mexican people also don't easily forgive and forget. For many, the history of military aggression by the United States against Mexico is no textbook abstraction, but a series of personal affronts for which American leaders have never properly made amends. Consider, for instance, that a good many Mexicans are still angry at Hernan Cortes, the Spanish explorer who toppled the Aztec Indians.

Still, Mr. Fox understands the demands of modern-day diplomacy. He sees the big picture. Mexico and the United States need each other. And in the years and decades to come that interdependence will only grow.

In the days since Sept. 11, Mr. Fox has shared the shock and heartache of the American people. Though not widely reported, an undetermined number of Mexicans were among the thousands of innocents killed on that day. That number is undetermined because many were undocumented immigrants -- people who, by definition, do not leave a paper trial.

Mr. Fox recently flew to New York to pay his respects to families and friends of his dead countrymen. He no doubt thought of the impact the attacks will have on proposed immigration legislation and other cross border matters.

Off the table, for now, is any talk by the White House of a mass legalization program for the millions of Mexican laborers currently living in the United States.

Worse yet, Mr. Fox knows that as the U.S. economy goes so goes Mexico's.

Trade between our two nations has already suffered as the effect of the terrorist attacks ripples through the U.S. and Mexican economies.

So the challenges facing Mr. Fox have multiplied. Likewise, his ability to act depends on how America confront the challenges of the so called new war.

His fleeting unsteadiness aside, Mr. Fox is thought to be up to task. And perhaps some good will even come of it.

Some argue that on the day last December that Mr. Fox took office, democracy arrived in Mexico. In the trying times ahead, Mr. Fox will have a chance to affirm the resiliency of that new democracy.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of americanlatino.net. E-mail the writer at Politico1@aol.com.

Life Since September 11

Almost everyday since the terrorists attacks, I have cried. Only my father's death affected me more profoundly. The last time I shed tears was Monday night. I listened to yet another story of rare heroism. This one by a crew of construction workers -- brawny, tough men -- who described how they wept openly even as they clawed the rubble of the World Trade Center in hopes of finding someone, anyone, alive.

They did not.

A Father's Duty

My son, Jude, asked me the other day if I thought he might soon be drafted. Just 21 years old, he was nervous and fidgety. I told him it was unlikely, though I couldn't say for sure.

"I doubt they'll going to reinstitute the draft," I replied. "But I don't think anyone knows exactly what what's going to happen."

He was silent for a moment. So I asked if he was afraid to die.

"No," he said, shaking his head vigorously. "I've just been thinking about going back to school."

As I wondered how I might feel if I were in his shoes, he asked, "What do you think I should do?"

An unanswerable question.

Incidental Bravery

I flew in an airplane last week.

Three weeks ago, saying that would have sounded as mundane as telling someone I had brushed my teeth. Now some people think it's an act of bravery or foolishness.

I wasn't afraid. I wasn't brave. I just needed to get to Atlanta.

Once there, I made the mistake, however, of calling my stepmother. Somehow, I was just thinking of her. She broke out in tears when she learned I'd made the trip by air.

"Why did I mention it? The woman is battling cancer and is losing her eyesight," I thought to myself. I had made her worry needlessly. I felt sick.

Mistaken Identity

In Atlanta, I stopped to buy a newspaper at a hotel gift shop before flying back home on Sunday. A young black woman was working the cash register. I figured she was a local.

"Are you Saudi Arabian?" she asked politely, her speech revealing a tinge of a foreign accent. It turned out she was Ethiopian.

A little startled, I replied, "No, I'm from Arizona."

"Oh, you look like you're from Saudi Arabia," she said sounding apologetic.

I had grown a full beard a few weeks earlier. My beard together with my Latino heritage had also confused people during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980.

Invisible victims

Of the more than 6,000 people identified as missing in New York since the attacks, it's becoming painfully clear that many will never be found. Instead of a funeral, their families will have to make due with only a memorial service.

Yet there were other victims. People who died in the Trade Towers whose families will be denied even that trace of closure. Social workers say an unknown number of undocumented immigrants were almost certainly working in the buildings when they collapsed.

They may not be missed for weeks or months -- as friends and families in places like Africa, Asia and Latin America begin to realize the worst.

I think about these invisible victims. And it makes me cry again.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of politicomagazine.com. E-mail the writer at Politico1@aol.com.

Amnesty and the American Way

It's not an easy argument to make: The suggestion that people who have committed a crime -- no matter how harmless -- should be forgiven or even rewarded for their transgression.

At its core, this is the issue surrounding a controversial proposal to grant "amnesty" to the millions of undocumented immigrants now believed to be living in the United States.

To some, amnesty is a fancy way of saying, "It's okay, if you broke our immigration laws, so long as you've been an upstanding member of our community and you promise to be an exemplary American citizen."

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Although it wouldn't be the first time our government has granted amnesty to so many unauthorized foreign visitors. The last time it happened was under then-President Ronald Reagan and the Democratically controlled Congress in 1986.

Amnesty supporters today are up against President Bush's immigrant-friendly but hollow rhetoric, as well as right-wing xenophobes who believe that the so-called American way of life is being threatened foreigners.

The most extreme elements in the anti-amnesty movement actually believe that Mexicans are plotting to retake control of the American Southwest. Most Mexico watchers, however, know that Mexican President Vicente Fox has far more pressing matters on his mind -- like feeding and educating his nation's growing population.

National polls, meanwhile, show that a majority of Americans oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants. No surprise there. We expect people to obey the law.

What the poll results do not show is that the only crime most of these migrants have committed is the relatively minor, civil offense of having entered the United States without proper documentation. In other words, they didn't fill out the proper forms and wait in line until their number was called.

But before we judge them too harshly, we should remember that under our system of justice the severity of a crime also is determined by the intent of the person committing that crime. For instance, we don't treat an armed burglar who steals our jewelry in the same way that we treat a homeless family who crawls into our garage to escape the freezing winter cold.

Taking that analogy one step further, the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants come to the United States not to deny us our way of life, but to actually preserve it. Most simply seek an honest day's work and safe shelter. As such, they deserve to be treated with respect and human decency, not, as they often are, as common criminals.

Who are these people who've come to us asking for amnesty? Typically, they have been our neighbors for years. Some have been in the United States for 20 years or more. And with very few exceptions, they have been lifelong, law abiding taxpayers -- many of them contributing far more to our economic system than they use in public services.

So now after many years -- in some cases decades -- America's undocumented immigrants come to us seeking amnesty.

Given how long we've allowed them to wash our dishes, care for our children, mow our lawns, build our homes, clean our hotel rooms and harvest our fruits and vegetables, I'd grant them forgiveness. How about you?

James Garcia is editor and publisher of politicomagazine.com. E-mail the writer at Politico1@aol.com.

Tortilla Soup Savors Latino Culture

Aaahhh...Tortilla Soup.

I say that not only because I love the dish, which I do, but because there's something very gratifying about a new feature film of the same name.

Tortilla Soup, the movie, is about the love of food, the love of family and, well, the love of love. More specifically, it's about an aging chef who finds that he's starting to lose control of his life and, in particular, his three daughters.

Because I'm not a food or film critic, this commentary isn't so much about the movie's culinary or artistic merits -- though I'd recommend the film to anyone. Instead, I'm hoping that moviegoers will take note of the groundbreaking aspects of the picture, which opens this week in New York.

Tortilla Soup breaks new ground by providing non-Hispanics with a new perspective on American Latino culture. The film depicts a typical middle-class Latino family coping with the normal crises of life. Growing up. Getting old. Breaking up. Moving on.

If you haven't heard of the film, Tortilla Soup is an adaptation of the Ang Lee movie, Eat Drink Man Woman, and it stars Emmy winner Hector Elizondo and a predominantly Latino cast, including Paul Rodriguez, Elizabeth Peña and Raquel Welch. (Yes, Raquel Welch is half-Latina. Her mother was Irish and her father Bolivian.)

What Tortilla Soup does is provide Elizondo and Peña something easier to swallow than the usual roles offered to Latino actors. You know the type: Drug dealer. Horse thieves. Landscaper. Maid. Still, Elizondo has built a great career in Hollywood by being able to avoid such roles.

It is true that if you visit the barrios of most major cities in the U.S., you'll find impoverished neighborhoods and evidence of gang activity. But those aren't the only stories to be told or the only neighborhoods where Latinos live.

The Latino community is as full of life's dramatic and comic flair as any other in America. And despite the usual images that Hollywood and the news media offer up to the public via the small and big screens, most of us spend our everyday lives, not shooting each other in the streets over drug deals gone bad, but simply raising our families, working, paying taxes and putting food on the table.

The reason negative depictions of the Latino community permeate mainstream news and entertainment media is because we're not telling the stories and playing the parts.

According to a recent report by the Screen Actors Guild, there was more ethnic diversity in American TV and film roles last year than ever before. But the business is still overwhelmingly dominated by white actors, who get more than three out of every four TV and film roles. Last year, Latino actors were picked for just under 5 percent of the roles, even though Hispanics are now 12 percent of the total U.S. population.

Those numbers are unacceptable. And it's the dearth of Latino film roles that makes Tortilla Soup so unique. While the story it tells is universal -- remember it originally was based on a script about a Chinese family -- it's also an authentic slice of Latino life.

Go see Tortilla Soup. Savor my cultura. Then tell Hollywood you're hungry for more.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of politicomagazine.com.

A Latino Nielsen Family

I grew up a white boy in a brown paper bag. By that, I mean that I am Mexican American and that practically from birth I've been shaped, influenced and evenly slightly perverted by America's white dominated media culture, especially television.

I say this without animosity, though with some regret.

Not that I had a serious problem with Opie or Little Joe Cartwright. But I lament, sometimes even resent, growing up with few Latino role models on TV.

Sure, there was Speedy Gonzalez. But it's a little hard to build self-esteem based on a barefoot rat who can steal cheese faster than any vato in the barrio. And don't even get me started on Slow-Poke Ramirez.

I mention all of this because for the first time in our lives, me and my family have been selected as a Nielsen family. What that means is I get to write down everything I see on TV for a week in a pink paper pamphlet and mail it in to John A. Dimling, chairman and CEO of Nielsen Media Research. That information, of course, is then used to help tally ratings for television programs like NBC's West Wing.

Although I have to admit I've never actually watched West Wing.

No matter, I do watch television. Like most Americans, more than I'd care to admit. So I'm excited. I'm thinking, "I finally get my chance to let the world know that there's a 40-something Chicano journalist living in America who thinks reality TV is stupid and that the world could do without cable news shows that provide a platform for the likes of Ollie North and Pat Buchanan."

Okay, I know, I'm deluding myself. I'm just one guy. We're just one family. And filling out our little Nielsen diary isn't likely to inspire a flood of television programming starring Latino actors in groundbreaking roles. That's just not gonna happen.

But if it did, here's the Thursday night lineup I'd like to see.

6 p.m., Network Evening News with some anchor named Garcia or Rodriguez, who has just enough of an accent so that when he pronounces names like Antonio Banderas and Fidel Castro, I'll know that he isn't a fan of English-only legislation.

7 p.m., A great new hit comedy about a group of wisecracking surgeons with nicknames like Flaco and Chuy, who patch up wounded rebel troops battling to overthrow a repressive oligarchy in Central America. Except in this updated Latinized version of M.A.S.H. there's no "Hotlips" Maria -- far too stereotypical.

7:30 p.m. Another comedy. This one centers around the crazy antics of a gay Latino man named Apolonio, born and raised on a cattle ranch in South Texas, who moves to the big city to open his own nightclub and search for true love.

8 p.m. A gritty drama, but not so gritty that it scares white folks in Nebraska -- hey, we want the show to be hit. The show stars Benicio del Toro as a hard-nosed defense attorney who's sick of seeing Latinos, blacks and other people of color sent to prison in numbers disproportionate to their representation in the general population. Okay, you're right, too cerebral. But the critics will love it.

9 p.m. The return of the live, primetime variety show. Jennifer Lopez hosts. The world premiere of J-Lo Live features a duet with Mark Anthony, comedy skits with the California comedy troupe Culture Clash and an interview with Celia Cruz, the goddess of Salsa.

After a commercial break in which corporate America shows Latinos driving new cars, eating burgers, investing in the stock market and commiserating over the heartbreak of psoriasis, a local half-white, half-Latino news anchor named Pedro Richardson reports that President Mendez has just announced a 10-year initiative to provide full health care to every U.S. resident regardless of legal status.

At which point, I shut the TV off, dutifully note my viewing habits in my pink Nielsen diary and saunter off to bed.

Fantasy, you say? Lighten up, its TV.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of PoliticoMagazine.com. E-mail him at Politico1@aol.com.

Immigrant Laborers Are Here to Stay

You have to wonder, are people more afraid of what they don't understand or of what they know is true?

I'm talking about the opponents of a proposed hiring center for immigrant day laborers in the suburban town of Farmingville, New York. The center would provide a regulated, safe location for day laborers to wait for short-term work. Currently, the laborers -- mostly recent Mexican immigrants -- wait for potential employers on the town's sidewalks, leading to traffic and sanitation problems.

The truth of the matter is that workers who would use the center don't really care much about whether they have to stand on a street corner or inside a government building to get hired -- they just want a job.

What opponents of the hiring center do not understand is that the immigrants who come to Farmingville and other communities across the country are not a threat to the "American way of life." Instead, they are its very embodiment. These are people willing to work hard to get ahead. Isn't that what pulling yourself up by the bootstraps Americanism is all about?

Last week, Suffolk County -- where Farmingville is located -- killed a plan to provide $80,000 for the hiring center. But that will hardly resolve the issue. It will only deepen the rift between whites and the growing Latino population in Farmingville and all across the country.

As it turns out, all but one of the county officials voting against the hiring center are Republicans. Local Republicans apparently didn't get the latest memo from the party's top brass. Nationally, the GOP is reaching out to Latinos, including recent immigrants. James Gilmore, chair of the Republican Party, has just announced that his party has launched a major push to recruit Latinos and Catholics.

While the Republicans' national agenda does little to help the poor and working class -- where a disproportionate number of Latinos still find themselves -- Gilmore understands that bashing immigrants may win a few votes in the short run, but the practice would spell political suicide for the party's future. Remember the tactics of former Gov. Pete Wilson? He won reelection by scapegoating immigrants, but wounded the GOP's reputation so severely that California is now squarely with the Democrats.

As for the argument that opening a hiring center for Farmingville day laborers would only encourage illegal immigration, that's a little like claiming that opening a restaurant encourages people to eat.

What does encourage illegal immigration are the dual economic forces of a poor economy in Latin America and a surplus of jobs in the United States. People immigrate in search of jobs here because Americans are willing to hire them. That isn't going to change simply because they might have to stand in the rain to find work.

With the Farmingville decision now signed and sealed, it's what may happen next that worries me. Will the vote be read as a signal to anti-immigrant zealots looking for an excuse to launch a direct assault against the workers? Last fall's brutal beating of two Mexican day laborers in Farmingville is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of the powerless.

Farmingville resident Ray Wysolmierski's suggestion that there should be a mass deportation of the region's illegal immigrants shows how ugly things could get before it gets better. Mr. Wysolmierski, how will the authorities identify undocumented workers? Should Farmingville police apply the crude and bigoted tactics used by police in Chandler, Arizona several years ago? They detained and arrested people -- many falsely -- because of the color of their skin or because, as one officer put it, "they smelled like immigrants."

Clearly, not everyone who opposed the hiring center is a bigot. Still, race has been a factor. For instance, Wysolmierski's Sachem Quality of Life Organization has the public backing of AmericanPatrol.com, a virulently anti-immigrant group headquartered in California. Newsday newspaper reported that "Sachem acknowledges" its ties to American Patrol, but says that group is merely "conservative."

Conservatism is one thing. Radically right-wing and racist is something else altogether. According to AmericanPatrol.com, Mexicans are plotting the "conquest of California," and this month, the group is sponsoring a photo contest for the "best video shots of people sneaking into the United States."

There may be legitimate arguments against opening a hiring center for day laborers in Farmingvillle, but the race or ethnicity of the workers should not be one of them.

Farmingville opponents need to face the truth. Their neighbors, their colleagues and their employers aren't going to stop hiring the undocumented workers. And that's why -- hiring center or not, America's immigrant workforce are here to stay. And that, my friends, is nothing to fear.

James E. Garcia is editor and publisher of PoliticoMagazine.com.

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