A MORE PERFECT UNION—DOES IT INCLUDE HISPANICS?
Like ever other y country in the world, the United States is a work in progress. Every day the nation confronts new and unique problems, circumstances, and situations that require resolutions or solutions in their immediacy. Everywhere we see the United States fissured by race, religion, class, politics and ideologies in conflict which wreak only havoc in their wake. While the rich get richer, the poor are multiplying like gerbils. The United States is not looking like “E Pluribus Unum”—“out of many, one.”
It’s looking like a scene right out of a Charles Dickens novel set during the plague years of Europe when the gentry turned a blind eye to the plight of los de abajo (the underclass). As solutions, our elected representatives offer us a pabulum of platitudes and aphorisms. In response to the desperate cries of the benighted or impoverished American people, the courtiers of American government—the privileged—have taken a page from Marie Antoinette’s Guide to Good Government by responding to the pleas of the afflicted American public with the words; “Let them eat cake!” Or in the American vernacular: “Take a bath and get a job!”
It’s time to ponder the responsibilities of a government to its people; and the responsibilities of a people to their government. The reciprocities must be balanced. In times of peril governments ask of their people to defend the nation—with their blood if need be, and the children of the nation respond to the colors. During World War II all Americans rose to defend the nation. After the war the nation did not respond in kind to its wounded warriors. It anathematized them in their hour of penury and need.
More often than not, the people of a nation are bonded by language and culture. In the case of a nation like the United States whose population is extremely diverse by languages and cultures, its people are bonded not by language, nor religion, nor by race, nor politics. They are bonded by R-E-S-P-E-C-T as Aretha Franklin puts it.
It may be jejune to talk about the Golden Rule, but there is value in such a discussion especially when the Golden Rule becomes the fatted Golden Calf of the few. True, we must all make of life our own brand of product from what life gives or offers us—like making lemonade when life gives us lemons. Equally true, we must all be Captains of our ships, Masters of our souls.
In his treatise on The Social Contract, the Swiss political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) argued that the responsibility of a government is to protect the equality and character of its citizens. Few governments do that today or have done that historically. Though that protection is enshrined in its Constitution, the United States falls considerably short of the mark in responsibility to its citizens. Not that other countries are any better. Today, as in his own time, Rousseau’s observations ring true: “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” (Social Contract, Vol. IV, p. 131). This raises the question: “What is the nature of the government’s sovereignty over its people—is it top-down absolutism or reciprocally consensual? From the beginning of its history, American citizens have sought to define the nature of that sovereignty. We are still at it.
According to Rousseau, “Sovereignty (the right to make the laws) does have the proper authority to override the particular will of an individual or even the collective will of a particular group of individuals.” But in a democracy the exercise of that authority engenders consequences as is evident in the histories of nations.
“The delicate balance between the supreme authority of the state and the rights of individual citizens is based on a social compact that protects society against factions and gross differences in wealth and privilege among its members” (James J. Delaney, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Everywhere factions are pitted against each other in ascendancies of power and prestige gaining victories of strength, little noting or caring about the demise of their competitors, opponents, and/or antagonists.
Per its sovereignty a nation declares war and expects its citizens to support its war efforts with their lives as need be, allowing little or no resistance to those efforts by its citizens who are rewarded with plastrons of medals but little recompense. A divided congress assails each other in pursuit of political agendas. Apodictive laws reward the few while oppressing the many. To compel compliance lawmakers repeat over and over that “we are a nation of laws.”
But a nation of laws does not mean a nation of justice. Over and over are heard palliative myths about the high-sounding values of the nation in pursuit of freedom and democracy, failing to take into account the nation’s history of wanton disregard for the rights of Native Americans in its appropriations of growth; the nation’s history of slavery is glossed over in soporific terms of historical amnesia; the rights of women are trampled by chauvinism; the rights of LGBTQ citizens are curtailed by biblical injunctions.
Everywhere, media spotlights focus on the killings of black men being shot and killed by white police officers. In Ferguson, Missouri, with a predominantly black population, African Americans are asked to be considerate of the predominantly white police force in the wake of two Ferguson police officers being shot by a suspected black shooter in the throng off black protesters—African Americans protesting the discriminatory practices of the Ferguson police force that has been preying on them for years.
American Latinos are asked to be conscientious in their protests against federal and local agents discriminating against them in their duties of immigration control despite the fact that in their zeal to control immigration, Latinos are suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous discrimination by federal and local agents. This is like asking victims to be forbear-ing of the actions of their victimizers. In one incident a police officer explained that the person he shot was responsible for his own death since the victim would not heed police commands—disobedience of police commands is therefore grounds for one’s death. Never mind the rocks and shoals of linguistic commands across cultures. This is not to say the lives of police officers are not important—they are.
On the Tuesday afternoon of February 10, 2015, Antonio Zambrano Montes dashed across a busy street in downtown Pasco, Washington (a predominantly Hispanic community), three police officers fired a volley of bullets at his back—none of which struck him. Afterwards in an act of surrender when police officers caught up with him, police officers fired point blank at him mistaking his act of surrender as a menacing motion. Was this justification for killing him. A special investigation exonerated the officers. Is this open season on Hisapanics as it is on blacks?
In the cases of black and brown murders by white police officers the question looms: what is the responsibility of governments to safeguard the lives of people in their jurisdictions? Though dismissed as a racial matter by the Pasco city government, the preponderance of Pasco Latinos see the situation differently, wondering if Pasco is not the next Ferguson.
American xenophobia came to a head with Arizona’s passage of Senate Bill 1070 on April 30, 2010 cited as “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” although it can best be described as “Round ‘em up (meaning Mexicans), Brand ‘em, then Kick ‘em Out” signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. For American Hispanics in the United States this Act was a wake-up call to the ethnic cleansing the Act presaged; for Hispanics in Arizona (principally Mexicans and Mexican Americans) SB 1070 heralded concerted harassment of Mexicans of any stripe (including Mexican Americans) and other Hispanics.
From 2004 to 2007 hate crimes against Hispanics rose by more than 40 percent. In 2008 the number of hate crimes against Hispanics rose from 426 to 595 incidents. According to the 2011 edition of the FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics report, nearly 67 percent of victims of ethnicity-based hate crimes in 2010 were Hispanic. The National Hispanic Media Coalition reports an upsurge in the violence of intolerance against Hispanics. The upsurge in hate crimes against African Americans and Muslim Americans is also on the rise.
At the moment, none of these statistics point toward a more perfect union. They point instead to a nation set on maintaining hegemonic control of its impoverished and non-white population. We can extoll the virtue of unlimited opportunity in the nation—a sagging myth that propagates utopian aspirations without substance. Is the United States on the road to “a more perfect union” as ascribed in the U.S. Constitution? Perhaps? But there are still many barriers and detours enroute to that goal.
I’m reminded of the weary adage that the United States is a “melting pot.” Hm? Better to leave the adage in the dust heap of history. The import of the adage was “E pluribus unum”—out of many, one. The problem of the metaphor of “the melting pot” is that once having been thrown into “the melting pot” and stirred, there were clinking sounds at the bottom of the pot. When emptied, there were large black chunks as well as large brown chunks, also large red chunks, and large yellow chunks—metaphorically speaking: the unmeltables.
Copyright 2015 by Philip de Ortego.
Fergusan photo courtesy of Loaves of Bread per accreditation request. Zambrano Montes photo by “Fair Use” proviso of the copyright law. All other photos in public domain.