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Tucson Weekly Kick A Canuk

It'll Be A Great Day When Americans Start Treating Canadian-Looking People Just Like Mexicans

By Jeff Smith

AUGUST 25, 1997:  WE'VE GOT A wetback problem here along the Arizona-Sonora border, and the traditional methods applied to fix it aren't getting the job done.

For one thing, most of your local wetbacks don't have wet backs. The term came from the old days along the Rio Grande River between Texas and Chihuahua, where folks from Mexico would swim the river to find paradise, the land of milk and honey, the promised land. El Paso.

What could they have been thinking?

I can't testify to that, but I can say what the Texas constabulary was thinking, and that was that they didn't have much use for Mexicans.

Still smarting over that Alamo thing, Texans treated Mexicans poorly. We gringos here in Arizona have perhaps done a little better. Perhaps. Still, the Arizona-Sonora border was a lot more porous in the beginning, and continues to be so.

In Arizona, wetbacks are not called wetbacks, they're called mojados, which is Spanish for wet, or undocumented workers, which is politically correct for wet, or alambristas, which means wire-climbers, an allusion to the chain-link fence which serves as our answer to the Rio Grande.

All of this cultural/historic/linguistic filler is by way of engaging your attention, raising your blood-pressure, and properly sensitizing you to the nature of this alluded-to wetback problem, which is this:

We only have a problem because we've chosen to see the situation as such. Of course, having taken this as a national policy and Big Deal, numerous minor details become actual issues, as evidenced by a lawsuit recently filed against the Chandler Police Department over a weekend "roundup" of suspected wetbacks. The class-action suit, filed by various Phoenix-based lawyers, seeks $35 million for alleged violations of civil rights. It is a class-action suit because it was a class of people who were hassled by the Chandler police in a late-July response to what police officials say was a considerable public plea for help.

The class of people represented by the plaintiffs can generally be described as dark-haired, brown-eyed and tan-complexioned. Now that's a pretty broad and vague class of folks to name as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, but the attorneys have specific aggrieved parties to represent in the case, and who, in turn, represent others of the general class.

It began, as mentioned, with some level of public outcry that women and children were being harassed by illegal aliens--and ever since those mysterious lights in the sky, and J. Fife Symington III's loopy reaction, and the Roswell anniversary, we know how goosey Phoenix-area folks are about aliens. Now if you ask me, the women-and-children angle fairly shouts of fictionalized fabrication by the police themselves, but for the sake of argument, let us assume that a woman or a child in Chandler was accosted by someone. Let's say someone seeking spare change.

How did the acostee and then the cops deduce that the panhandler was an illegal alien? If we can eliminate bald head, saffron robes and airports, we may assume it wasn't a Moonie or one of those Krishna dudes, but excluding a couple things doesn't necessarily include border-jumpers. Did the harasee ask to see the harasser's papers?

I bet not. I think a leap of bad faith was made. I think this bad faith was compounded by the assumption that you could narrow the field of suspects by devoting all this unwanted official attention to dark-skinned, black-haired, brown-eyed people. Or did the Chandler cops apply the further qualifier that only above-described types in Chevy Monte Carlos would be questioned?

What about pale-faced geeks in plaid shirts? What if the child whose milk-money the malefactor sought to misappropriate sneaked south from Manitoba to Montana?

"His English was thickly accented, eh? and I think he was trying to raise enough for a Molson's. But I'm sure he was an illegal alien because he looked real Canadian. They all look alike. And they drive those Frontenacs."

Go ahead, laugh.

My family all came from northern Maine, which is exactly like southern Arizona, only opposite. We're down, they're up. We're hot, they're cold. We've got wide open spaces, they've got miles and miles of potato fields. We've got Mexicans, they've got French-Canadians.

And you know what? They treat Frenchmen, as they derisively dismiss them, as bad as we treat Mexicans. Maybe as bad as Texans do.

And with no more justification.

Wetbacks, alambristas, undocumented workers brave borders, bad bus rides back across the line, brief stretches in jails and detention yards because they're poor and miserable at home. They come here looking for a better life, the good, old-fashioned way our grandparents did:

By working for it.

Wetbacks do the jobs spoiled gringos no longer will touch. And they buy food and clothes and pay rent. They pay taxes, a lot of them, even income taxes. And their sales, gas and point-of-purchase taxes contribute to the local exchequer and probably cover most of the social services they require. Fruit farmers wouldn't know what to do without illegal labor. Rich folks would have a bitch of a time lining up domestics.

Illegal immigration is not the real problem law enforcement would have us believe. The real problem is the excuse their allegedly identifiable differentness gives law enforcement, for trampling on the rights of citizens who happen to look a certain way. So long as that certain way is, say, darker rather than lighter.

I'd like to see Canadian-looking people treated the same shoddy way as Mexican-looking people are, so some of your Swedes and Danes and public school Brits could get a feel for the short end of the stick...

...and then I'd like to see our nation drop the whole silly mess, and let those huddled masses breathe free, enjoy Disneyland, and spend their money to support our economy, gladly.

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