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They’re going to find out that erasing us is an effort in vain

In one city, local people who would like to erase Latinos from this society are trying desperately to use the power of the polling place to do so, while in another, there is a group of people realistic enough to know that we’re here to stay is making a special effort this week to record our presence.

Those were the two stories related to our nation’s fast-growing Latino population that managed to capture my attention on Monday.

THE ONE THAT is attracting international attention relates to the special election that was held in Fremont, Neb., to give local residents a chance to express their views about a proposed ordinance that would make it a local crime to offer jobs to people who are not U.S. citizens or don’t have the proper work permits required of non-citizens who want jobs here.

It also would make it a crime for a landlord to rent an apartment to someone who turns out not to be a U.S. citizen.

The underlying motivation behind this move is the fact that the meatpacking plants in and near Omaha, including the Hormel Foods plant right in Fremont, are hiring more and more people who fall into the category of Mexicans who have come to this country in search of work.

Because Fremont is so close to Omaha (local officials boast it is a 20-minute drive), it winds up that many of these newcomers from Mexico are choosing to live in the town of just over 26,000 people. In the 2000 census, the town only had about 4 percent Latino population – but that percentage has risen significantly. Officials estimate it will nearly double (ie., 9-10 percent) when the Census Bureau’s latest count is made public next year.

WITH JUST OVER 2,000 people of Latin American ethnic origins now living in Fremont, it’s not exactly an enclave for Latinos. But considering this was a town that estimates it had about 165 Latinos in 1990, it must seem like a shock to those people who live in such a place because they envisioned it as isolated enough from the rest of the world so they wouldn’t have to encounter “such people.”

I’m sure the people who created this referendum question to push through a local ordinance think they’re hitting the root cause of the “problem,” take away the ability of these “foreigners” to get jobs and to find a place to live in Fremont, and they will go away.

Now at the moment I am actually writing this, I have not yet learned the election results – although I will be shocked if the ordinance approval fails.

This particular election is politically quirky because it wasn’t the elected officials who pushed for it. In fact, local officials actually rejected the job and residence bans when it came before them a few years ago. The mayor of Fremont is on the record as opposing this.

YET LOCAL RESIDENTS who are absolutely determined to control the vision of what they think this country’s populace should look like used the unusual measure of getting a referendum on the ballot. In short, they’re trying to force their elected officials to implement a law that these particular people want.

That takes a lot of motivation and determination. In short, I expect them to turn out to the polling places in great numbers, while people who are less motivated or even opposed likely will have better things to do (such as go to work, they have jobs).

The major problem is that this particular law comes off as so strong-armed that it is very vulnerable to a court challenge. There are a lot of people who are going to be incredibly disgusted in the future when they realize that their enthusiasm for their vote on Monday will not overcome the unconstitutionality of this particular measure.

In short, this vote is in vain. It is not going to erase, or lessen, the numbers of Latinos in this country. It is as misguided as the recent actions by the Arizona Legislature (which seems to be the angle taken in most of the news coverage being provided by the English newspapers).

WHICH MEANS THE realistic action may be what is occurring these days in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, located just a few miles from the Back of the Yards where the meatpacking industry used to be centered until it went off to places like Nebraska back in the late 1960s.

StoryCorps, a project of the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center, has a mobile recording studio parked in the Pilsen neighborhood – which throughout Chicago’s history has been an entry point for whatever ethnic group was newly arrived in the United States. Which means these days, it is predominantly people of Mexican ethnic backgrounds.

Through Saturday, the studio will be parked in the neighborhood next to the National Museum of Mexican Art. They’re hoping to get local people to sit down and be willing to talk about the realities of their lives – as part of an effort to document for future generations what this country was like at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Because they’re in a Mexican-American neighborhood, this week they’re going to be getting the Mexican-American perspective – at the exact moment that some people in our society seem so eager to erase that perspective from our society.

WHICH IS WHAT I find ironic.

Even if it were possible for these nativist-inspired people to come up with a way to legally reduce the numbers of certain ethnicities that are already here, they’d find that our stories are being preserved for posterity. People of the future will know we were here, and will think it ridiculous that some people in our society were so hostile.

Because the constitutionality of their actions is so questionable, I can’t help but think their actions are laughable. They’re doing the equivalent of banging their collective head against a wall, bloodying themselves up in the process rather than us Latinos.


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