I was watching CNN and Wolf Blitzer asked, “The argument used to be that immigrants took the jobs that Americans didn’t want, but with the downturn in the economy, is that still true?”
Cue: Nasty anti-immigrant sentiments from pundits (followed by a nasty little commercial that went something like the South Park episode where everyone is yelling, “They took our jobs!”)
The economy sucks. No question. In fact, it sucks so much that there are stories about undocumented workers leaving the US because they can’t get work. (You know it’s bad when Mexico’s economy looks like a good job market, right?)
But are we so afraid of what is happening to our own economy that we have to raise the spector of the Scary Illegal Alien, again? Really?!
Because I gotta tell you, I was laid off last year. Hello, I’m one of those Americans in those scary stats you keep reading/hearing about. And I’m certain that I was not laid off because of an undocumented worker. And my old job was not farmed out to a third-world country. My old job was eliminated because of budget cuts. Not because of undocumented workers. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault (unless you want to blame Bush and Wall Street for fucking up our economy). It just happened. And yes, it sucked. But it doesn’t make me irrationally hate or fear undocumented workers or any other kind of immigrant.
The economy just sucks for everyone! Period! Blaming it on poor people who cross our border in search of the mythical American dream isn’t going to change our situation! It’s a sham argument. It’s a hollow Bogeyman.
Furthermore, I seriously doubt that Americans, as prideful as most are, have reached the point of desperation where they would consider doing the crappy jobs that most illegal immigrants do. Are you really telling me that you would now like to pick beans in a field 18 hours a day for very little money? Or that you would now consider being a domestic worker? Or how about decapitating chickens in a meat factory? Because those are some of the many crappy jobs that undocumented workers do. Why do they do them? Because those jobs suck! Nobody, especially prideful Americans, want to stoop to the level of doing such nasty, repetitive, unglamorous work. We’d rather be on welfare or not working or some other option. And I say “we” because I don’t want to do those jobs any more than you do. (Although I was a maid for 4 years, so I can speak from experience.)
Let’s face it, as a culture we are an incredibly prideful bunch. We believe that some things are not good enough for us to do or be or wear or live in. We believe that some things are what we deserve. I’ve got to have the new high-def flatscreen, the coolest shoes, the best car, the fattest crib, the designer “it” bag, the Hollywood nails, and on and on. Our American culture is one ruled by false desires and empty promises. Don’t believe that? Look at your credit card statement(s). Look at your debt-to-income ratio. Most Americans are in denial about their credit card use and debt load and have more debt than they could possibly pay off in even a decade’s time and yet they continually try to “maintain” and live a “lifestyle” that says they are upwardly mobile or wealthy or whatever. And I have been just as guilty of this at different times in my life.
And we rarely want to work hard enough or sacrifice enough to turn our desires into realities through anything more complicated than punching our credit card numbers into the form. We are being buried alive by the burdens of our desires! And we have dug ourselves into such a deep hole and dug our heels so deeply into the ground that we refuse to see that we are the architects of our own terrible crisis.
President Bush and his cronies definitely fucked things up. And they were serious enablers to our desire addiction. Wall Street and bank deregulation fucked things up. But we fucked ourselves, too, by promising ourselves that we deserve things we can’t afford, that we “need” things that aren’t necessary to life and that we are not satisfied with simply enough. And we did it slowly with every credit card swipe, every no-interest-now auto loan, every time we chose to go on vacation instead of put that money in savings just in case something happens.
Now the bill is due and the true cost is too high. And it is an ugly, brutal nightmare. People are losing their jobs, their homes, their insurance and more. I am not saying that people deserve to suffer. God knows I have suffered similar problems now and in the past. At one time or another I have been on welfare, food stamps, gone hungry because there was no food or money to buy food, uninsured and sick, been briefly homeless, laid off, and more. I don’t wish these things on anyone!And I’m not saying that every time something like that happens to someone that they deserve it.
But at the same time, it makes me sick to see these stories of the smiling middle-class white family who has lost their home to foreclosure. Maybe that means they couldn’t afford their lifestyle. It’s harsh to say, but in some cases it’s true. Maybe that family shouldn’t have bought a house. Maybe they should have settled for the car they could afford rather than the status car that made them feel cool. Maybe they should have worked toward saving their money toward big purchases rather than stacking up borrowed time.
The fact of the matter is, the American Dream is a myth. It’s a sham. And the sooner we realize it and accept what is truly possible in our lives, the better off all of us will be. Maybe you can get a flatscreen tv because you saved your money and could afford it. Or maybe you can’t and it isn’t worth sending yourself into bankruptcy later to put it on credit today. Is the suffering you feel later really worth some fleeting happiness from a crisper tv screen? It’s just an example, but it’s also just the way Americans of all income and class levels operate these days. They are ruled by the “I wants” and “gotta haves” and turn away from the realities of waiting, saving and sometimes just plain old not getting.
So what if you don’t have a fancy tv or fancy house or fancy car or fancy whatever? So what! Is your life going to end if you don’t get-get-get? It’s like a cancer that is killing us. Stop the madness! Stop letting your desires rule you! Snap out of it!
In a perfect world, we’d meet our desires without creating a bill too brutal to face. In a perfect world, we’d all have the fundemental necessities without suffering — food, shelter, clothing, health care. In a perfect world, we’d also have some perspective on what desires are worth fulfilling and what desires are empty and may cause us suffering later.
And in all that, I would add that in a better world, we would meet our challenges by rising to the occassion and not scape-goating the less-fortunate among us. We should be ashamed that we want to put the problems in our laps on the backs of people who had no hand in creating them.
So yeah, I’m mad as hell.