Monday, May 01, 2006
Happy May Day
May 1 is always a strange day for me, I spend most of the day thinking about work, workers, my not liking work or being a worker, my Sicilian grandfather who, after agitating for a union of the plumbers that he worked with was fired and spent the rest of his life as a facilities guy, Spring, germination, fertility, sex, anarchism, anarchists, solidarity, parades, maypoles, and creative loafing. But these are things that most people would like me to keep to myself- yes, most people have a respect for fertility, Spring, work, and sex, but work is really the only one that is permissible fodder for water cooler banter so I spend the day feeling alienated and aloof, looking outside and imagining a place where this day, and this person that I am, and that you are, are valued for their ties to the Earth, history and labor. Alas, what this means is that I have recurring flashes of orgiastic, Russ Meyers-like sex scenes going through my head all day- not really so different from any other day but today I really don't feel guilty, actually I feel entitled to strut around like some wimpy Pan of the not for profit world.
But today seems a little different.
More important than my ruminations is the nation-wide protest that our immigrant brethren (I write that without a touch of irony) are engaging in today in an attempt to show America what an integral part of our economy the immigrant population is. Hats off to the brown people of this country who are so taken for granted by the white people of this country. If the brown people weren't picking those oranges, who would be? And how much would that half gallon of OJ cost? The division being sold to, and consumed by the American public is the action of a classist, racist (which is, I believe more an issue of class than skin color), xenophobic, dominant class of bullies who don't want anyone, least of all brown people to play with their toy.
My mother's family (the Zinos and the Sturniolos) immigrated from Sicily at the turn of the century (they were a part of a large group of politically-progressive Italians who came to the US to be a part of what was a viable alternative to the oppression they were experiencing in their native country). To people who insist that immigrants learn English, I have this to say: It's true my great grandmother never learned to speak English very well and she may have annoyed an Anglo or two during her trips to the store- but her daughter (my Nana) only knows a handful of words in Sicilian, she uses the name Katie instead of her birth name Concetta, and my mother (Serafina, goes by Serry) knows almost no Sicilian whatsoever, and then me, it goes (almost) without saying that the itty bit of Italian I know is not worth a mention. My point? People immigrate to the US in hopes of having a better life, one not under the watchful eye of dictators who disappear people in the middle of the night, people come here so they can work and save enough money to send their kids to college, so they can take part in what it is to be American, the right to choose, and yes, especially the right to shop. The common language of America is not English and it doesn't need to be- as long as immigrants have cash, debit, and credit cards, and our interactions at stores become increasingly automated, there really is no reason for Juanita, or Kwabena to speak English In less than a generation their children will speak English and adopt American mannerisms, mores, and habits.
What has me most concerned about this current situation is how all of this crap is going to affect my daily interaction with immigrants. I live in a snooty Richmond neighborhood and there are Latino families who on Sundays stroll along the sidewalks, sometimes all holding hands, and they smile at me, and I smile back. There are no black families doing that in my neighborhood. In fact any black people in my neighborhood keep their heads down and are in an obvious hurry to get to where they know they are allowed to be. I worry that the publicity that this issue is getting is going to actually create a situation that doesn't actually exist. Are as many Americans as the press would have me believe really opposed to the growing immigrant communities? Or will the flare up of this issue actually cause there to be a time when I pass by Latinos, Africans, and Asians and feel the same surge of resentment, terrible history, and hate that I feel so often when I pass a black person on the street? I fear that we are being Balkanized right before our eyes.
Posted by Michael at 8:27 AM