That would at least be the way he told the story. Like so many, he shares some sort of frustration and a burning anger toward illegal immigration that is often incomprehensible and inarticulate. But the nativist tones of this country run very deep and have a long and at times ugly past. And they are mired in an internal contradiction, for this is at its core not a nation of native people but rather a nation steeped in the deep traditions of immigrants making their way to this country, in droves seeking a better life.
This one-man tour de force quickly drew attention of other young people–many of whom disagreed with his message instead launched into a counter protest. Quickly a crowd gathered around him. Some arguing with him. Some agreeing with him. Many just curious of the spectacle that represents free speech. Davis’ finest also took interest in the event that quickly grew, watching from a safe distance, making sure that nothing got out of hand.
It is clear that with a war waging on the other side of the world, that the passion on this issue continues to burn bright here at home in our own backyard. It was just last week, that the Davis College Republicans endeavored to play the satirical game of “Capture the Flag,” portraying the dangerous and daily struggle between the INS and border crossing individuals into a theme to make a point about their perception of the absurdity of our border control policies and immigration laws. That game never got underway because a large mob stood in their wake, threatening their existence.
Unfortunately, while such shows of force may effectively deter free expression they do not make the problem go away. They do not make the sentiment wane. They do not make the fire and passion go out.
Last week, across the nation, there were protests and marches coinciding with the confluence of May Day and Cinco De Mayo for immigrant rights.
In Sacramento huge crowds gathered at the steps of the State’s Capitol, waving American flags, arguing in favor of immigrant rights. Once scared in the wake of Proposition 187, many immigrants are not going to sit down this time. It was the backlash the followed Proposition 187 that led to a sea-change in the political system of California as many Latinos, most of the themselves either legal immigrants or even native born Americans, realized that such movements put us all at risk and decided to vote in large numbers for the Democratic party. Whereas prior to Proposition 187, the Hispanic population largely split their vote between the parties.
The power of the Latino vote is evident in California’s legislature as a growing bloc of power. But it is also evident in the attempts by members of the GOP nationally to woo Hispanic votes. This has effectively split the party and prevented the more draconian nativists like Tom Tancredo of Colorado and others like Brian Bilbray, whose daughter was involved in the UC Davis counter-demonstration from passing tough new anti-immigration legislation.
Recognition for the rich heritage of American immigration sometimes lags behind the heated rhetoric. In short, there is no wholly American Culture. America is actually a conglomeration of various waves of immigration. Those waves have shifted over the course of America’s history from Western Europe, to Southern Europe, to Eastern Europe, to East Asian and Latin America. The greatness of this nation comes from the meshing of cultures and identities into a vast melting pot not only of culture but of ideals.
The ideal that America is a land of hope and opportunity can be quickly dismissed as a myth and yet there is really something enduring about that image and ideal that forces us to reconsider.
Davis School Board Member Keltie Jones this past week opened the school board meeting with a reading from Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colussus.”
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This is the vision of America that welcomed in many new immigrants with a hope and vision of the future. This is the vision of America that we must celebrate. Watching a tired and frustrated military person protest against this vision at the same time defiles this vision but it also vindicates it, for it is truly America that allows all people to speak free and from their heart. Free speech as we have learned is easy when you agree with the message. The true test of it is when you allow a person to scream at the top of their lungs that which they believe with all their heart, when what they say goes against every fabric of your own being. That is the true meaning of freedom of speech. And that is what this protest brings to my mind.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting