Thursday, October 14, 2010

"New Americans"??? Try Again, O'Malley

Now look, I often say and/or write the wrong thing. I often even revel in my own irreverence. But, truth be told, I actually do believe in the mission of the "Politically Correct." I believe that language can indeed influence and betray thought. If someone constantly uses the word "fag" in "polite" conversation, we can pretty much surmise how they feel about homosexuals, and, if I constantly called white people "honky," you'd know I was a 60-year-old former Black radical who lives in Hawaii with his Norwegian wife, eating tofu barbecue while puffing on that patchouli.

So, I am actually supportive of the whole PC movement, though I do confess I'm a bit conflicted. Anytime the PC factory comes out with a new term, I often find myself scoffing. As I did earlier tonight listening to the Maryland gubernatorial debate between Gov. Martin O'Malley and his Republican challenger (and former Maryland governor) Bob Ehrlich.

Tonight's new gem came from O'Malley, who has now decided on calling immigrants (legal or otherwise) "New Americans." It's so hard for me to figure out what my initial reaction to this new bit of political manipulation was since I got pissed at Ehrlich's own reaction to the new slogan.

"If someone breaks into my house, is that a new member of my family that night? It's not new Americans. [It's] illegals."

Both terms proudly show how utterly irrational the debate over immigration is today. We simply cannot have a rational debate over what to do with legal or illegal immigration, and I don't want to have that debate right now either. (Hell, it's almost 2am as I'm typing this.)

I've got my own beef with that word "illegals," but I gotta admit that I don't find "new Americans" any better and think, since fresh out of the plastic, this is a linguistic package that needs to be thrown straight into the garbage bin.

It is so contrived, so manipulative, so loaded with a blatant political agenda, I'd have to put it up there in ridiculosity with Benjamin Netanyahu's attempt 10 years ago to call Palestinian suicide bombers "homicide bombers."

In Bibi's case, there was already a term for "homicide bombers." It was called bombers. What made these Palestinians so unique wasn't the fact that they killed people with bombs. Folks had been doing that for centuries. It was the fact that they'd kill themselves in order to kill some folks. Netanyahu's fabricated term wanted to draw our attention away from that fact because if we became fascinated with these Palestinians' suicides, we may become fascinated with these Palestinians' humanity. And that fascination could only hurt his Israeli propaganda machine.

With O'Malley, there's already a term for people who come to this country from other countries to settle down and live--whether legally or illegally. They are called immigrants. When my father came to Pittsburgh from Kingston in 1968, he was not a "new American." No. He was a Jamaican. In fact, my father, even though he had three American children by this point, did not become a "new American" until 1987.

If I am not mistaken, there are basically three ways to become a "new American": your mother's uterus happens to be within US borders when it pops you out into this world; your mother's uterus is American when she pops you out anywhere in the world (not true if only your father's American, though--you've got to fill out some paperwork before you can call Sam your uncle--gotta protect our fightin' boys overseas); or you go through an incredibly tedious process called "naturalization." The first two are instant (as it rightfully should be) and the last, though it can take many different forms and could still use some reform, is a long, drawn-out process that takes many years (ditto).

Being the product of immigration myself, I think the most beautiful and freakiest thing about American immigration is that, since 1965, no matter your race, country of origin, religion, ethnicity, whatever, you can actually decide to become an American. And, once you do, and once you go through the hoops (which, in all honesty, every country has the right to put you through), your American citizenship is something that can never be taken away from you. Hell, over 40 years after the fact, my father is just about as American as my Pittsburgh-born mother (except he still says "vegetable" like a Carib).

But the laws right now, O'Malley, say that you have to go through that process. Just as Ehrlich is trying to manipulate the issue, so are you. Ehrlich's nativist nabobbery attempts to demonize every immigrant who washes up on our shores as somehow criminal and to make you think that every immigrant is actually criminal, trying to steal our country away from us.

O'Malley's simply trying to say that everybody has the human right to emigrate to whichever country they choose, which they don't (I should know, I was once deported from two countries). Their simple act of choosing America was one of the most American acts one can ever undertake. Therefore, we should treat these Mexican, Swedish, Kenyan, Taiwanese, you name it, immigrant as basically American as soon as they arrive. It's not just a feeble attempt to be more "politically correct." It's a blatantly political attempt to somehow mollify the virulent backlash that will erupt when amnesty legislation eventually passes (and please, don't think that it won't pass--no politician has the will, courage, racism to go all Operation Wetback and kick out all the illegal immigrants not named Ahmed).

While definitely a more sympathetic portrayal of immigrants and one I'm more sympathetic to than "illegals," "new Americans" is no less manipulative, no less of a lie. I know this country is most definitely beyond an adult conversation about immigration, but we can at least try to be a bit more honest with our words.


  1. Good one Bill.
    I'd really like to hear the deportation story. . . uh, stories.
    I'm getting to be an old American. . . probably like your father.
    And is it "veg - a - table?"
    Have I mentioned that my son graduated from Pitt this past spring?

  2. Thanks. Yes, that is how he said it. And congrats to the son. That's my mom's alma mater. When she was doing the single mom/full-time secretary/night school student thing, she used to drag my 7-year-old behind to her classes at Pitt. So, I kinda feel like I went there, too.