Back in 1951 my classmates and I at John Spring Jr. High, in Tucson, in our pure innocence, made desegregation work in our part of town.
It was all about love and without it, in heavy doses, many of us black kids wouldn’t have been able to bear the pain and awkwardness that came with the new era. See, there we were on the very first day singing “Hail to John Spring Jr. High” just a summer away from having, for years, sung our “hail to’s” to Paul Laurence Dunbar. At Dunbar Jr. High. Overnight Dunbar’s name was exited from our lives like a word being erased at the blackboard – as though there was no realization that this great poet with pen in hand had captured in his imagery the very essence of our struggles as a people, in black dialect, no less. This man was tied to our very psyche, our sense of self. We couldn’t understand why his name had to go.
I mean at Dunbar dominating sports competition and winning high honors for our music and art and scholarship was almost taken for granted. Our renowned choirs and drum majors and majorettes dazzled at parades and special events. Our motto was: Be the Best!” But we and our new schoolmates, who were mostly brown with a smattering of yellow and white mixed in, kept those traditions alive.
We made John Spring Jr. High a dynamic place to be like Dunbar had been, a place ripe for entertaining hopes and dreams which mostly were along the theme of people getting along and contributing to the making of a better world.
And I will forever be proud of how we’ve, based on our conversations during a reunion a few years ago, on the whole, lived our lives according to such desires. It was clear to me that “Be the Best” has been more than just words to us, that we have contributed to the making of a loving world in so many ways in professions and blue collar jobs of every kind.
But what about that world that we wanted to make better? I mean we made something work, as children, and here we are in a grownup world in the early stages of the 21st Century and society still has to have somebody to beat up on, someone to fear, some one to demonize and dehumanize, someone who fits one size like “Illegal Immigrants,” a term that could have applied to a few of my old classmates at the time.
We found ways to get along as our country is going to have to do now if we want to solve the huge problems confronting us and our world. “Illegal Immigration” is not going to go away as people struggling to survive aren’t going to be deterred by fences and laws that are screwed up and misguided. How many people can we arrest and deport?
Anytime I run into somebody suffering with labored breathing over “our country being overrun by people who don’t respect our laws” I ask them how has the so called problem affected them and they give forth with some lame story about how these “foreigners” are: anti-American, flying their “goddamn” flags (as though Mexico isn’t a part of the Americas); stealing jobs (as though we’re lined up in the fields to harvest the crops and they’re sending us away in droves); not speaking English (as though we can speak Spanish anywhere near their ability to speak the queen’s language); overtaxing our welfare systems (as though Latinos don’t hail from cultures that take pride in work); not being taxed (as though none of their money moves about in our economy).
Give an intelligent human being a break, for goodness sake. I very rarely play the “race card” but racism is all over and throughout this “prove-to-me-you’re-one-of-us” law that Arizona has so shamefully created demonstrating just how hateful people can be towards one another. And there’s more to it that isn’t so readily apparent as Greg Palast points out in a piece, “Behind the Arizona Immigration Law: GOP Game to Swipe the November Election” he wrote for Truthout. His premise: “What moved Governor Jan Brewer to sign such a hateful law is the exploding number of legal Hispanics, US citizens all, who are daring to vote – and daring to vote Democratic by more than two-to-one.”
But, hey, there were some kids back in my neighborhood in the 50’s who set an example of how to approach societal problems, of how to maintain a culture by keeping what’s rich and meaningful and building on it for the good of all concerned.
Ours was a love story, an example of how people can join together to make something vital like integration work. The “illegal immigration” situation our country is confronting is about integration and we, as a society, could do nothing more worthwhile than finding ways to integrate Mexico’s needs with those of our own. Beats the hell out of harassing people.