Sunday, March 26, 2006

When strangers were welcome here

Today, I drove downtown to witness a piece of real history happening in my backyard. There may well have been a million immigrants marching downtown today. I couldn't drive anywhere near the area - the roads were backed up for a mile in all directions. So I parked across the freeway from downtown and hiked in.

The protestors were wearing plain white t-shirts to symbolize peace, a simple and brilliant idea. Most of the words and signs were in Spanish, but pictures of Bush and Cheney, the word "Sensenbrenner" and the bill number (HR 4437) were recognizable.

Now - you have to be an LA resident to appreciate this next part. We have a subway system here. It's lightly used outside of commute hours. On a Saturday, the most you would expect to see would be cars half full.

I love the subway here. Each station is an artistic experience, usually relevant to the area above the station. The one at Hollywood and Vine, for example, has a ceiling made of empty film reels. One near a local college has a wall full of aphorisms and quotes. All cool.
Today, I figured I'd drive downtown, watch a little of the march, head up to Hollywood via the "Red Line", catch a film, and then return via the subway to downtown and hike back to my car.

So there I was, getting on the subway,when the first train from the opposite direction arrived. I had no idea you could pack that many people into a subway car, and I've ridden around NYC. Seriously, it was packed so people could barely breathe. PACKED. As they got off, it was like a tsunami of white shirts had flooded the station. While I was waiting for my train, yet another train came in, just as full as the first. And it went on like that all day. When I finished my movie at Grauman's Chinese Theater, one of the last "big screen" theaters in America, and after I marveled over how small Jimmy Stewart's feet were, imprinted in the cement out front, I hopped back on the subway, intending to exit at the Pershing Square Station. But as the train pulled up, I saw a HUGE CROWD of people trying to get off the platform, and I realized the station was so packed on the upper levels that people couldn't even exit up from the lower level. So I stayed on the train and got off at the next stop. And just as before, packed cars of people came in - this time from people getting out to go home.

All those people. And they all bought tickets, or so it seemed. I marveled at the long lines in front of the ticket machines. I mean, no one was checking for tickets - it would have been an impossible task. But these lovely, law abiding people just wouldn't think of trying to rip off the city, and dutifully waited in long lines for their chance to pay $1.25 one-way or $3.00 for an all-day pass.

I loved that people were taking responsibility for their situation and voting with their feet, their bodies, their clothes. And as a longtime fan of public transportation, I was so thrilled to see our little subway being put to incredibly full use today.

As I drove home, an old song kept running through my head. If you've never heard it, find it. You'll thank me.
(Neil Sedaka / Phil Cody)
Neil Sedaka - 1975

Harbours opened their arms to the young searching foreigner
Come to live in the light of the beacon of liberty
Planes and open skies,
billboards would advertise
Was it anything like that when you arrived

Dreamboats carry the future to the heart of America
People were waiting in line for a place by the river

It was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune
and there was so much room
that people could come from everywhere

Now he arrives with his hopes and his heart set on miracles
Come to marry his fortune with a hand full of promises
to find they've closed the door
they don't want him anymore
isn't anymore to go around

Turning away he remembers he once heard a legend
that spoke of a mystical magical land called America

There was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune
and there was so much room
that people could come from everywhere

My mother once traced a branch of our ancestors back to the first Atlantic crossing. They arrived a few years after the Mayflower. They were immigrants. They happened to be from England. Other ancestors came from Germany and Ireland during the potato famine. My great great grandparents fell in love on the boat on the way over.

I was born here. But that was just chance. Nothing I should be greedy about. Nothing that should or would cause me to say hey, you, get off of my cloud.

We are all immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, unless you live on a reservation, in which case you may be a true "American" - i.e., a Native American.

What really galls me about Sensenbrenner's proposed bill is that it punishes victims. If someone is starving, and someone else says hey, come work here, I'll pay you cash, how can we possibly judge the starving person who takes the work? Make it a criminal act to tempt someone into doing this. Go after those who hire illegal workers, if you really want to stop illegal immigration.

Or better yet, take a longer view. How do you stop immigration? By improving conditions for the people where they already live. Happy, employed people don't immigrate. But the U.S. has made a habit out of installing and supporting right-wing dictatorships in Central and South America, creating situations of destitution that drive people to our borders. We have played a huge part in this mess.

I say open the borders, and work like the dickens to undo some of the damage we've created in our Southern neighbors. Help build up the neighboring economies. Seek debt forgiveness for them from the World Bank, as the World Bank's advisors sold them loans based on inflated projections of growth in the first place. They were robbed.

I dare you to spend a year in an illegal immigrant's shoes and tell me you wouldn't do the same. These are good people. Hard-working people. They don't collect unemployment, or social security. They pay into the system and can't even take back out. These people do not deserve to be labeled felons. They deserve an even chance of obtaining legal citizenship. That or we should try to make their native home a place they feel no need to leave.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a great writer. keep it up. I especially like your take on V for Vendetta and it's historical significance. Bravo.

Can you believe they are staging a race war? Unreal. I guess the Muslim Cartoons were just a preview.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your opinion has been noted within my consideration... I read your blogs and think to myself, "How can someone base all faith on material only presented by the media?" It is quite obvious that you need to do a little more research to learn this 'truth' you salivate over. It looks to me, the 'circus' you speak of will not arrive anytime soon. -Maybe when we elect a new president, there will be a true clown to write about. Until then our country has been taken over by a fouth branch. Hopefully one day I'll be able to show you the 'truth' and start a new ripple effect in the media. My goal is repoting or anchoring for Fox News. Look for a blonde! I hope I haven't offended you. I just wanted to thank to for adding fuel to my fire.

7:49 PM  

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