August 29th, 2011
Immigration Debate: Latinos Carry Burden Of Proof

If you’ve ever wondered about the type of muck that sits at the bottom of the Tea Party barrel, here’s a sample:

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), was in Farmington, NM, recently, getting ready to visit the facilities of an area non-profit when he was approached, according to the Farmington Daily Times, by a dozen or so Tea Party members.

Darrel Clark of Farmington said he came for “a chance to see the elusive representative.”

“He needs to get out of politics and make room for an American,” Clark said.

Farmington is in the northwest part of New Mexico, close to the four corners area where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah meet. I spent a big chunk of my time in that state back in 2004, registering voters for SVREP. I came to know northern New Mexicans well. They’re an engaged bunch, more so than any other group of Latinos (they mostly prefer to be called Hispanic) in the country. They’re quick and free with their political opinions, and their opinions are well read. They’ll engage you in an honest exchange, tell you how they feel and what they think. Registering voters in those parts was no chore.

So it didn’t surprise me that the confrontation with Rep.Lujan happened in northern New Mexico, neither did it surprise me that the Tea Party had pitched a tent there – it’s fertile political ground. And I can’t say that what was said was unexpected either. It’s just that at first glance the words are jarring. There’s nothing implied here. picked up that part of the story:

Lujan, however, was born in Santa Fe, has lived in the U.S. all his life, and is the son of a public school administrator and the speaker of New Mexico’s state House of Representatives.

So the question comes up; why the need to legitimize Lujan’s American-ness?

There’s more implied in having to say he’s a life long American than in the blatant racist, xenophobic comment that prompted the thinkprogress response. That one response, that single reaction uncovers more about the state of American racism that any overt comment ever will.

Instead of forcing the Tea Party member to defend himself against accusations of racism, it was Lujan’s citizenship that was defended. The Famington newspaper did that in one sentence.

Luján is a lifelong New Mexican.

I understand the journalistic imperative to fact-check even the craziest of accusations. But I have to wonder if the same had been done if  Lujan had been, say, Caucasian.

For those who may think that the national immigration issue is a fabricated mess that affects only immigrants, you must consider this: because of the heated immigration issue there’s an ever present implication that U.S. Latinos carry the burden of proof. It’s as if our identities must now have a subordinate clause attached to it: Victor Landa, a U.S. born Texan…

And all the accuser had to do was feign a slip of the tongue. He later came back to say that he really meant “American patriot.”

So he lathered his racism with a layer of jingoism and that made it okay? Explain patriot. And if we’re in the United States, what other kind of patriot could Lujan be but American?

It was a moment, a political snap shot, but it revealed the nastiness that lurks in our political discourse and it brought to light the fact that within that discourse Latinos are still on their back foot, defending against implications, carrying the burden of proof.

Lujan didn’t miss a beat and continued to do what he set out to do.

Luján appeared to take the protest in stride.

“It’s important that we get out to visit our constituency,” Luján said. “We think that’s important, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Follow Victor Landa on Twitter: @vlanda

[Photo by Boss Tweed]

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