With all the negative vibes flowing through Arizona regarding Latinos I’m reminded that it wasn’t so long ago, around 1994, that this state passed Proposition 187. I remember it especially because it demanded that I play a sinister little game wherein I was supposed to check on the status of the Latino students at my school – and that was a game I, along with four other school principals, including Ocean Beach’s Dennis Doyle, would not play.
Somebody said to me, at the time: “Oh, Ernie, what you’re doing takes so much courage.” Not really. Courage, for me was driving my skinny self in the lane against Darnall Haney of Phoenix Union High, a dude who ate scrawny basketball players for lunch. Standing up for what’s just and right is something I just can’t help doing. It’s in my DNA.
I mean, hey, what would it be like for me, a black man who grew up in a “We don’t serve nigras here” world to try to lord it over somebody?
There’s just no way on this green earth that I could ever treat fellow human beings with such disrespect that I would ask them to prove to me their right to be in this corner of the world, like I’m La migra or somebody. Come on, life is a dance and everyone wants to cut a rug on the dance floor. Don’t they?
Besides, what was I, as a principal, to say to a family with whom I had bonded, who just happened to be here “illegally?” Was I to smile and say: “Adios, it’s been good to know you”?
Was I to look a little child in the face and say: “I really appreciate how you’ve improved in your school work and how you’ve been such a good citizen on campus, but I’m going to have to turn you in. It’s nothing personal, you understand. Te amo, mijo/mija. Just remember all the high fives and hugs we gave each other every day and all the wonderful conversations we had along the way and if you’re ever in Guadalajara could you say hello to some friends of mine?”
A parent asked me, in that way adults who have no decent core values would: “What are the children supposed to think if their principal breaks the law?” I told him I felt that the law is immoral, and I would have absolutely no problem explaining to a child why I couldn’t honor an immoral law. For, a moment, I thought I might have to practice what little CPR I knew on the dude.
And I guess that’s what’s missing in this anti-Latino environment that’s coloring our nation right now: a set of core values that would allow us to see our brown brothers and sisters as human beings who just want to move and groove to the music of life.
Such thinking occurred to me when a friend of mine, Willie Horton, said, in part, in a reply to “Knowledge is Power,” a piece I wrote recently: “Many people actually believe that different groups-races, particularly -are of different species… Individuals cooperate with individuals with whom they identify; and they compete with outsiders.”
Such a premise, I think, is right on and it allows us to hate and live in fear of people who are unlike ourselves. But, oh, what a beautiful world we could have if we could cease pinning names on each other like illegal immigrants and accept deep in our hearts and consciences that all people deserve to live in peace and dignity in a just world and then pursue, via all the avenues at our disposal, making such a reality come true.
Well, the words I’ve shared in this piece is part of my contributions to such a notion of love and understanding. It was something I just had to do as I cannot take part in the destruction of people’s hopes and dreams.
As far as I’m concerned there’s a lot of room on the dance floor and the music is jamming – and I, particularly dig me some: cha cha cha and mambo and meringue and salsa…