An immigrant on every corner

The political buzz this week has been about Trump’s trip to Mexico and the subsequent IMMIGRANTS ARE EVUL speech in Arizona. Five Thirty Eight’s Nate Silver–who has apparently lost every possible verbal filter of late, the dear–has been referring to this as Team Shitshow, and I totally agree. The dingleberry on top of the sundae was one of Trump’s surrogates (a real estate mogul hilariously dubbed Tio Tomás by Latinxs on Twitter) telling Joy Ann Reid yesterday that unchecked immigration would lead to a taco truck on every corner.

Quelle horreur!

(That’s French for “what horror,” for all y’all who insist that English was good enough for Jesus, so it’s good enough for you.)

Of course, all the reasonable people have been laughing about this because holy crap, who wouldn’t want street tacos and churros for lunch every day? But there’s more to it, of course. The dude in question was obviously speaking to the fear and discomfort felt by folks who are seeing their formerly 85%-white communities seemingly becoming browner by the moment. When you’ve spent your whole life surrounded almost entirely by people like you, what seems like a sudden influx of “foreigners” may be disconcerting. You grew up trusting that your neighbors were people you could become friends with because you shared the same culture: People you could borrow a lawnmower from or who could watch your kids while you ran to the store for milk and hot dogs. People who would put lights up on their houses on the day after Thanksgiving and not get cranky if you said Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. Now there are all these new and different people, and you have to actually work to get to know them instead of just assuming they’ll like you because they look and talk and dress and worship like you. It’s hard and confusing. I get it.

But folks? You need to calm down. White people are still 70% of the U.S. population and you can still go to your Baptist churches and listen to country music all you want. You just also have to deal with the fact that your neighbors might be going to a mosque or listening to Tejano instead of doing things the way you do them. Trust me, you’ll live. I have.

Within a two-mile radius of my house there are:

  • Eight carnicerias and tiendas
  • Four Asian supermarkets–big ones, including a regional chain. Just outside that two miles, as an anchor store in the local big mall, there’s another huge one that’s part of a Filipino chain and it has a Filipino fast-food chain right next to it.
  • An Indian sweet shop. Not just a restaurant–there are dozens of those–but a place selling lemon fudge and gulab jamun.
  • And pretty much every non-ethnic grocery store has at least two aisles full of specialty stuff. Not just Old El Paso and La Choy, either: Kosher, Halal, Southern, etc. Goya on one aisle and Glory on another, and a sushi kitchen right next to the one making fresh potato salad.

We also have more international restaurants than I can possibly come close to counting. Not just the usual Americanized “Mexican” or “Chinese” you can find anywhere. Plenty of Thai, sushi, Vietnamese, Korean, Hawaiian, Brazilian, Filipino, Greek, and Indian, plus our own homegrown fast food: Teriyaki. We also had a Lebanese place until recently, and an Afghani one until it burned down last year (I always suspected arson, though it never got investigated.) A few zip codes to the west, there’s a big cluster of Eastern European markets and restaurants, and a few zip codes to the north there’s a bunch of East African stuff (we have a big Somali community here.) Oh, and there are boba tea places everywhere, too. (We don’t have many businesses operated by our local indigenous groups, but that’s mostly because they’re usually busy running giant rez casinos, fighting oil-tanker docks and/or prepping for the annual multi-tribe canoe journey. We have 33 recognized and eight non-recognized tribes in the state, and the largest Native population outside of the Southwest. Our state government still doesn’t do right by them, but they are generally treated as an embedded part of the local culture, not a tourist attraction kept on a glorified game preserve.)

Oh and for the record: I live in the burbs. Head into the city proper and there really is something owned by a non-Anglo on every corner. It’s not just the “fun” food stuff, either. It’s amusing right now to talk about taco trucks and phad Thai, but there’s far more to multiculturalism than squirting Sriracha on everything. Liberal white folks would survive without pho; that’s not why supporting diversity matters. There are serious, well-developed resources here for tons of different ethnic groups, with their own media, houses of religion, non-food businesses, etc., and they are a key part of our overall economy and community. We generally support immigrants here because they are woven into the fabric of our everyday lives and have been for generations. My Sikh neighbors have a thriving taxi business. Every weekend, I see a pair of little old ladies walking to their Indian Orthodox church, wearing their black head coverings and chatting between themselves. The company my husband works for wouldn’t survive without H1B hires. In my son’s previous day care, he was one of only four white kids in his class of 20, and the elementary school we’re zoned for is only 25% white.

In my opinion, this is all perfectly fine, and not just because I think saris are pretty and I like to eat something other than burgers and iceberg salads. Immigrants or people directly descended from them genuinely are our neighbors, co-workers, and friends.

I consider myself lucky to live in a region that’s probably the multicultural nightmare of every sheltered white Christian in a small Midwestern town. Having grown up in a place that was 90% white (at the time), it is a little odd for me sometimes, especially when I actually am in a situation in which I’m a minority. Racial and ethnic diversity will be part of my child’s cultural upbringing, but they weren’t part of mine, so navigating this stuff isn’t as instinctive for me as it might be for some. I know I’m undoubtedly a Dipshit White Person on occasion (though I try to learn from my mistakes.) The truth, though, is that the kind of culture that develops in isolated, white-dominant places isn’t welcoming of me anyway, what with me being queer, gender non-conforming, atheist and a raging feminist. I feel considerably safer here than I ever did in trailer-park-and-pickup land. I’m not afraid that those aforementioned Sikh neighbors are going to down half a bottle of Wild Turkey and start shooting at squirrels in their back yard. I’m not afraid that their kids are going to harass mine at school because we don’t go to church and his Mama doesn’t shave her legs. We have crime around here like anywhere else, but it’s pretty equal opportunity, and it’s not like there aren’t meth labs, car thieves, and people holding up 7-11s in Montana. In my elementary school, there were exactly four non-white kids, but probably 2/3 of the students were living in poverty and/or had families with substance or domestic-violence problems. Don’t talk to me about Mexican gangs when your own communities are full of fail. Fix your problem of men killing their exes and 13-year-olds getting pregnant before you worry about the car-prowl problem I have in my zip code.

I honestly don’t give a quarter of a fuck that there are women in Somali-style abayas at the local Safeway or cute little Filipino kids playing with mine at the park. I don’t care that I can’t eavesdrop on conversations because I don’t speak the language (I’m not a nosy assgasket anyway!) These folks belong here just as much as I do, and considering how many are here because they needed to escape starvation-level poverty, war, or oppression in their original countries, I’m happy to welcome them. Most of the people who come here don’t want to bring the worst of their cultures of origin with them–they’re leaving those things. That they’re keeping good or neutral cultural things instead of changing their names to Steve or ditching their hijabs doesn’t mean they’re not entitled to be here and to call themselves Americans. And really, it’s not like people are pitching fits about ethnic pride among white Americans whose ancestors immigrated in previous centuries. If you want to get whiny about freaking taco trucks but don’t get why people have a problem with some Italian-Americans wanting to preserve Columbus Day, please kindly piss off.

I’m sure there are white people here who hate all this. Some jackass put a pink pig sticker on my car’s “I’m With Her” magnet yesterday, and goodness knows I’ve seen my share of ostentatious Trump signs and NRA logos on truck windows. But as for me, I’m going to enjoy my phad kee mao and get real shave ice at the farmer’s market and admire the gorgeous Buddhist temple nearby and giggle when my kid gets tackled in a ball pit by a girl who reminds me of a four-year-old Margaret Cho. I’m going to make tamales at the annual party a beloved Latino friend and his husband throw while our three kids holler and run around like a herd of noisy rhinos. I’m going to be grateful that my son’s new pre-school not only can handle his mild autism, but also has teachers who can communicate with their students in probably a half a dozen different languages including ASL. Not because I find this all illuminating or entertaining, though I do think homogeneity is boring, but because these are human beings who deserve to live their lives and raise their kids and do what makes them happy without worrying that some xenohphobic white guy is going to throw a brick through their window or shoot their grandfather for speaking Farsi. Things aren’t perfect in my region, but by and large, I feel like this is what the world should be like. I feel sorry for the people who don’t want it that way.

About Shawna (A Mediated Life)

Writer, singer, parent, fan, media maven, and general ne'er-do-well. Fierce protector of the rights of the disadvantaged and endless pontificator on subjects both ridiculous and sublime.
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1 Response to An immigrant on every corner

  1. prunie says:

    i’ve read that the most xenophobic people in america are actually those who live in almost completely white communities and FEAR their communites becoming more yellow, black or brown. apparently there’s a phenomenon that the less you are exposed to something, the more you fear it. people who live in cities/towns with significant minority populations generally are pretty chill about it.

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