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Immigrant Bashing

The year my father became an American

By Gustavo Arellano
Published on LatinoLA: January 7, 2004


Immigrant Bashing


My father entered the living room dusty, his work boots smeared with oil, his face a landscape of fatigue. Take away his gut and four pocho children, and Lorenzo Arellano was the same frightened 19-year-old who crawled three miles through a Tijuana-to-San Diego pipeline in 1969, ignoring rats and toxic sewage in search of prosperity.

In the 35 years since that passage, he stubbornly rejected America. He learned only enough English to work as a truck driver, always wore a Stetson to match his hubcap-size belt buckle despite our family?s embarrassment, and spent each Saturday morning in an Anaheim doughnut shop reminiscing about the rancho with fellow ?migr?s. The 1986 illegal-immigrant amnesty awarded him with citizenship. Years of seven-days-a-week work coupled with monastic saving allowed him to move us from a gang-infested neighborhood to a lower-middle-class cul-de-sac. But if my siblings and I could bank on anything, it was that my father would never forsake Mexico. For my father, we said, assimilation was an insult.

But on this recent night, he sat down on the couch, removed his boots?my mom immediately scolded him for not doing it in the garage?and asked about my day. Looking up from my newspaper, I told him about world events, the recent pitching signings of the Angels, my life.

And then he asked how the huelga had gone. That day, Friday, Dec. 12, was the day Latino rights organizers had called an economic boycott. They asked all Latinos to stay home?from work, school, stores?to protest the repeal of SB 60, the amendment that would?ve allowed illegal immigrants to apply for driver?s licenses.

"I thought the strike was stupid," my father remarked in Spanish. I grunted my agreement.

Then he continued. "Illegal immigrants don?t deserve driver?s licenses."

Now, my father received his driver?s license almost immediately upon illegally arriving in East Los Angeles in 1969; in those days, illegal immigrants could apply for them. The laminated card allowed him the opportunity to drive without fear, saving him from arrest and deportation. My dad was a direct beneficiary of driver?s licenses for illegal immigrants?and now he thought illegal immigrants shouldn?t get them?

"See, there?s just too many people coming over now?especially Central Americans?who are bringing their cultures and messing things up for everyone," he said. "They don?t deserve the right to drive. They just ruin things for everyone else."

This was like hearing a priest question the existence of God.

Weren?t you once an illegal immigrant, I asked, who improved his life because of a driver?s license?

"You know what, Gustavo?" he replied. He looked me in the eye?me, the only child old enough to remember how my father cowered in fear any time a police officer knocked on our door. "That 1986 amnesty, that ruined this country. We Latinos have just made things worse since."

My father slipped on some Mexican sandals and ordered my mom to prepare enchiladas. He called a friend, talking for a good hour about a fund-raiser they were organizing for their hometown church in Mexico. Every word was in Spanish.


About Gustavo Arellano:
Originally published in the OC Weekly at http://www.ocweekly.com/ink/04/17/cover-arellano.php. You can reach Gustavo at GArellano@ocweekly.com. Illustration by Bob Aul.




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