Latinos and the one-way road to the Iowa Caucuses: A fictional reimagining
Let’s view the political road to DC in 2012 as a fictional narrative based on real-life scenarios, empirical evidence and actual policy positions by present-day Presidential candidates. It begins on a one-way road historically designed to fit only two vehicles. The road is filled with potholes and obstacles, some necessary and potentially transformative (Occupy Wall Street), others reactionary and obstructive (tea party).
One car, let’s say a hybrid, holds key members of the Democratic Party. It currently rides on the right side of the ideological road, with its conservative members driving, moderates hanging out the back window, and progressives muzzled in the backseat with the same duct tape given to them by the Bush administration.
The other vehicle, a gas-guzzling SUV driven by wealthy Republicans, rides on the extreme right edges of the road. They occasionally wave at the Dems when riding alongside them, smiling cunningly with no intention of sharing the grass-fed, organic beef burger “semi-hip” members of both parties want for lunch. As they drive, they pay little mind that their car rides so radically to the right, its wheels hugging the sidewalk in ways that clips the economic lives of even the onlookers who came out to support them.
As the road reaches Iowa, one of the most demographically homogenous states in the union (yet with a growing Latino immigrant population), the Democrats’ vehicle pulls into a corporate chain hotel parking lot to rest and take notes on what is about to happen over the next several weeks. The hotel’s workers are unionized, and its owners gave to the DNC, so the choice feels comfortable. Republicans pull into a different hotel across the street, but its workers are non-union, its owners committed RNC donors. They check into their hotel room, turn the television to FOX News, but they can’t relax to news told from their ideological perspectives, rest is needed for “caucus time!”
In the early morning, a knock comes at the door. It’s a caramel-skinned woman named Esperanza, an immigrant from Guatemala, who waits to clean the mess they leave behind. The Republicans smile, some even give a patronizing “gracias,” but Esperanza answers with “you’re welcome, have a nice day” to prove that she understands the dominant language, not to mention that her supervisor has threatened the largely-immigrant cleaning crew to “speak English dammit!” or risk losing their jobs. The Republicans march out with platform in hand, ready to win the hearts of voters. “No tip?” she mumbles quietly to herself as she looks around the littered room, “sinverguenzas.”
At political rallies held throughout the day in Iowa, the candidates are asked their views on myriad topics: health care, foreign policy, education, the economy, veterans’ affairs and other matters. In one instance comes the question, the one that often comes last during debates: “What is your general view on immigration?” It is asked by a local farmer hand-picked by Republican strategists, one who belongs to an association that carries the slogan “time to get government off our backs.” At one point, his fields were nearly destroyed by some guy named Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hoping to play baseball with dead people. Thankfully, the farmer’s land was saved by a government subsidy that requires him to specifically grow corn, and only corn, along with a group of Mexican migrants willing to work for low wages so he can expedite his crops.
In fact, some of his corn is eventually sold to some company called McDonalds and another called Coca-Cola. It’s eventually processed into “high fructose corn syrup,” a fantastic alternative to sugar that nutritionists and scientists have associated with a series of health issues, not to mention one of the many factors driving up health care costs.
Anyhow, one Republican candidate, the darling of religious conservatives (and the son of Italian immigrants), conflates “illegal” with “Latino” when answering the question, even though the majority of Latinos were born in the United States, including many whose descendants’ lands were violently colonized by the US in the mid-then-late 1800s (Mexicans, Puerto Ricans). He also fails to mention that a majority of immigrants are and arrived here authorized, some who have overstayed their visas while awaiting their immigration hearings, and this includes folks from Ireland, Canada, former Soviet states and parts of Asia and Africa.
He notes, like other candidates, that we should deny undocumented immigrants pathways toward “amnesty” and brags about his previous votes against such measures in Congress. Other candidates agree, but question the provision of economic and legal rights to children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States, while others suggest this is why they come here in the first place.
Voters cheer, applause is heard, heads nod in agreement, except for the guy named Arturo who came with a professional degree from Venezuela but can’t find an skill-equivalent job in present economy, resorting to selling hot dogs to make ends meet. He knows that the crowd is being lied to, given that the law says immigrants must wait 5 years before gaining eligibility for forms of public assistance after receiving green cards, and like other immigrants he knows, he has no plans to do so because he feels it would hurt his case for eventual citizenship.
Another candidate shies from this viewpoint by saying, “let’s be humane in enforcing the law, without giving them citizenship but by finding a way of creating legality so that they are not separated from their families.” But even in taking this less draconian approach, he doesn’t challenge his opponents by making mention that he helped push through the monumental piece of legislation back in 1996 (PROWRA) that greatly reduced the provision of federal, state and local public services toward undocumented immigrants.
Even a 2006 study by the RAND Corporation (a research group that came out of the military-industrial complex, those darn bleeding-heart liberals) found that nation-wide, undocumented immigrants account for less than 2% of uncompensated care the government provides. But never mind, contrary facts don’t matter to politicians seeking votes, especially if they helped created those now-inconvenient “facts” in the first place.
In a campaign stop at a family restaurant, the current front-runner, a wealthy businessman who personally benefitted off the labor of undocumented immigrants yet believes we should deport all 12 million, stated that “the answer is yes” to whether or not he would veto the DREAM act. This is the largely conservative bill, authored by both Republicans and Democrats that would create pathways toward permanent residency for the millions of undocumented immigrants who arrived here as minors, insofar as they’ve lived here for five years and complete two years in the military and/or of college-level course-work in a 4-year institution.
Ironically, this comes from the same man whose father was born in Mexico, a member of a family that migrated there in the 1800s so they can practice their religion and its then-supporting lifestyle: polygamy. When the area became unsafe during the 1910 Mexican revolution, his father’s family crossed back into the United States, no papers or permission, to eventually settle in Michigan. Needless to say, it’s a celebratory narrative when white folks migrate to new lands for myriad reasons, whether religious, economic or due to famine or war. It’s their manifest destiny! When brown folks attempt to do the same, it’s an occupation, a reconquista, protect the porous borders!
As crowds assemble in gyms and auditoriums, votes are cast in caucus format while the candidates make last ditch speeches, smirking into the camera with deep thoughts of victory. Back at the Democrats’ hotel, a call comes to the front desk. It’s placed on speaker phone for the group of Democrats hanging in the lobby, some drinking over-processed, watery coffee hand-picked by a peasant from some place called Colombia. “You hear all that?” states the voice on the other end, an advisor sitting at a diner in New Hampshire collecting data for one of the next stops on the road to the White House. “The Republicans are taking extremist positions on immigration, just to rally the white, older, religious conservative voter, this is great, we’re gonna seal the national Latino vote!”
A few feet away, a hotel receptionist named David overhears the conversation, a part-time worker who attends college full-time at the University of Iowa. He turns to the nearest Democrat, one still giddy from the phone call, and says calmly: “your administration deported my mother after a raid at the meat-packing plant she worked at for $9 an hour. She came here to give me this life, who paid taxes and received no services, was kept in a detention center in atrocious conditions and couldn’t afford a good attorney to help her make her legal case.” The Democrat, acting genuinely sorry to hear this, then says, “but wait, you see, we increased enforcement to show the Republicans that we’re tough on immigration. And in doing so, we thought they might come to the table to discuss and pass immigration reform.”
Young David, befuddled by the insensitive response, turns to the Democrat and says, “but it’s 2012, and where is immigration reform? And what about the Dream Act? And what about my mom? Plus, immigration isn’t our only concern. What about people who do have citizenship and are denied rights supposedly guaranteed with such a status?”
His query echoes across the room, where another Democrat, a representative from a largely minority district, nods in agreement. She notes that many Puerto Ricans and Chicanos, along with African Americans and other minority groups with long histories in the US, are still treated like second-class members of society. David nods in agreement, “and what about education, mass incarceration and disproportionate sentencing, poor access to the health care, and where on earth is Obama’s war on poverty?”
The Democrat who answered the phone, taken aback by the well-informed Latino voter and his disgruntled Congressional colleague, thinks about the recent Pew Research Center study he had recently been informed about via his blackberry. It illustrates that while most Latinos polled hold strong reservations about Obama’s handling of deportations of unauthorized immigrants, they still prefer President Obama and the Democrats over their Republican rivals for the 2012 elections. This leads the Democrat to say, “don’t worry, as I’ve told my colleagues, President Obama promised we’d tackle those issues next term after our victory, you’ll see!”
David, now livid yet patient, knows full well that polls measure attitudes at a specific point in time, and that they don’t necessarily predict future outcomes. Collecting his cool, he smiles with that masked underpaid and overworked corporate employee look and says, “If you want to guarantee the so-called Latino vote, my vote, then you better get back on the road, head back to DC, and get your priorities straight. We may have no desire to vote Republican, but if you don’t give us better reason, then we may not come out to vote at all.”
The Democrat nods his head, says “thank you,” and walks away sipping on his crappy coffee, pretending it tastes good. “And by the way,” says a disillusioned, disenfranchised David. “Tell your administration to bring back my mom, our moms!”
By Alan A. Aja
Opinions expressed in these articles are not intended to represent The Venture editorial policy and do not necessarily reflect the views of our staff, board of directors or supporters.
Alan A. Aja is an Assistant Professor of Puerto Rican & Latino Studies at Brooklyn College (CUNY), where he has taught as an instructor and adjunct lecturer since 2005. He is currently writing a book on black/white Cuban relations in south Florida.He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.