Viva la revolution!
For decades, Hispanics have existed mainly in the shadows of the American dream. Now they're taking to the streets in their millions, in the biggest march for equality since the Civil Rights movement. And with $1 trillion to spend, millions ready to vote and their own candidate for President, Hispanics hold the key to the new American century. Paul Harris reports
Sunday November 4, 2007
Eddie 'El Piolin' Sotelo does not look like a revolutionary threat to America. He is short, stocky, with neat dark hair and a broad smile. His nickname means simply 'Tweety Bird' in Spanish. Until 18 months ago, Sotelo was virtually unknown. Though more than a million listeners tuned into his radio show, the majority of America was blissfully unaware of his championing of the rights of illegal immigrants - simply because he did it in Spanish. Then, one day, he publicised protests against a draft law to classify undocumented migrants as felons. Sotelo urged his Hispanic listeners to take to the streets. They answered his call in their millions. In Los Angeles, 400,000 marchers streamed through downtown. A similar number jammed Chicago. In dozens of cities, millions of people were suddenly protesting against a law few other Americans even knew about. And 'El Piolin' was at the front of the marchers. 'More than two million marched. And I am proud that we were peaceful,' he tells The Observer
After much blah blah blah, during which it transpires that El Piolin himself "entered the US illegally on a forged green card," they get down to finding out how actual Americans feel about being invaded.
The power of the backlash was most keenly felt in the defeat of Bush's immigration bill. Tens of thousands of activists rallied against it, sending literally millions of faxes to politicians that scared them into voting down the law. The main group behind the protest, Numbers USA, had just 55,000 members three years ago. Now it has more than half a million. Much of their distress over immigration is based on a simple fear of difference. 'They come here to work but they make no effort to integrate. They do not want to,' says Edwin Rubenstein, an economics consultant and commentator on anti-immigration issues.
The hero of the anti-immigration backlash is Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, whose 2004 book Who Are We: America's Great Debate postulated that Hispanic immigration would destroy America's protestant Anglo-Saxon character. 'He was right,' says Rubenstein, whose own ancestors were Russian Jews. 'They keep their culture and customs. When other immigrants arrived they had to break their bonds and commit themselves to the US for better or worse.'
But behind the cultural and political arguments lies a more powerful economic phenomenon. Hispanic migration is also driven by the desire of major corporations to create a low-wage workforce. The fear of the American middle class is not just over Spanish or a brown skin; it is also a more justifiable anxiety that jobs are disappearing and wages being lowered. Much of the rhetoric of the right attacks big business. 'It is a betrayal. The corporate elites have hijacked government on behalf of business interests and profits,' says Rubenstein.
Don't read the whole thing—it's 3500 words long. But you can skim it, to get an idea of how the immigration debate is viewed by the British left-wing.