Sunday, October 17, 2010

Response to notes on Kyrsten Sinema's lecture

Kelsey, I'm really glad you posted the notes from this lecture.  Even before SB 1070 was proposed it was pretty clear that in Prescott and in many other towns in America, there is a clear “Us vs. Them” attitude toward immigrants that promotes feelings of fear of one group and of justification of privileges for another.  I hope the following paragraphs are relevant to the topic you presented J

I work at a local restaurant in Prescott that is owned by a couple who are very conservative, elitist, and clearly not fans of either President Obama or liberals in general (you can tell by their bumper stickers).  My boss used to complain about border issues and how people were coming into this country, not paying taxes, starting trouble, and not contributing anything positive to our society.  She is a strong believer in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, but as we learned from this week's reading in “Tired of Playing Monopoly?” some people don't even have boots with straps to pull on.  She is a huge fan of Wal-Mart not only because of the low prices, but also because of the fact that it started out as a tiny shop that through hard work and determination was transformed into a huge corporation.  I noticed pretty quickly, however, that all the servers in the restaurant were white, and all the cooks and dishwashers were Mexican.  I had a feeling that they weren't legal either, just between spending time with them outside of work and learning about their wages compared to the state minimum.  Most of them were working at least one other job just to be able to provide for their families, so it was clear that they were using every opportunity they could find to survive.  Like Donna Langston’s article mentioned, there isn’t really a choice of career for those in the working class, a job is a matter of making ends meet.

When I returned in early September after being gone for the summer, I was shocked to find that the whole kitchen staff had essentially been replaced.  I asked where everybody went and was informed that because of SB 1070, some had gone to New Mexico, one person left for California, and others headed toward Nevada.  There were a few reasons for this: for those who didn’t have papers they didn’t want to be deported, for those who did have papers they didn’t want to be harassed, and for both groups the whole direction of the situation was threatening and headed nowhere good, and they were in search of a more inclusive society before things got worse in Arizona.  My bosses were now pressured to higher people who were legal and would not work for less than minimum wage.

I don’t think that many people understand that even if employment opportunities are decreased for citizens due to immigration, the people who get deported could be those who make it possible to pay half the normal price for produce or other things you find at Wal-Mart or other stores.  I know there are other issues involved with big box stores, external costs, and employee rights, and I’m not saying that it’s right to use immigrant labor to make things cheap for U.S. citizens, but I am simply noticing the hypocritical nature of the whole situation and how the seemingly opposite views can coincide for many people.

Between making friends at the restaurant and meeting other people from Mexico who are living in Prescott, I have noticed how there are almost two parallel universes within the town that barely interact with each other.  When reading “Tired of Playing Monopoly?” by Donna Langston and Susan Wendell’s “The Social Construction of Disability,” I could get a better idea of why there is not only a separation between distinct groups in Prescott, but also why particular groups seem to be pushed underground.  Not only are there less opportunities due to the social structure of our culture, but also due to people’s perceptions of the opportunities that are available.  For example, Donna Langston describes her experience of being able to go to any school of her choice, picking a local school, then dropping out due to feeling isolated in such a foreign environment.  I remember asking one friend who immigrated here seven years ago if he ever thought about going to school so he didn’t have to plaster walls all day, but even in my mind the question felt irrelevant.  He just shook his head because it wasn’t something that fit in with his lifestyle or community. In addition, our schools are not set up for those who do not already speak fluent English.

For immigrant workers, the combination of our desire for cheap labor and goods and our stereotypes based on racism, classism, and the basic structure of our society makes it incredibly difficult to find jobs and feel integrated in the community. My boss mentioned a lack of positive contributions in society from immigrants, but why would somebody be motivated to be involved in a community that doesn’t acknowledge them?  Since towns like Prescott don’t show any interest in integrating the different worlds or being involved in issues of all communities, those in oppressed communities are not going to show interest in issues of those that are oppressing them, consciously or unconsciously. I have been to events where most of the participants are Mexican, and experienced cops circling like hawks, even when they are held in areas like the Prescott College campus where other events had been held that were not as highly supervised.  I have seen the living circumstances of those in lower income areas, and how they seem to be pushed aside to places that do not even look zoned for residential properties.  I have seen how people avoid contact and communication with those who are not American, even in situations like ordering food where communication is necessary.  It is amazing how many groups of people, not just those in the Mexican community, get treated as if they are sub-human, simply because our society is designed to include such a narrow category of people. 

I hope that there are more ethnic studies classes offered, and fewer bills proposed that encourage discrimination and exclusion, not just for the sake of people who may turn out like my boss, but for people like me who may be contributing to a segregated world without even knowing it.  Just from seeing and learning about my own advantages in society, and in acknowledging my own stereotypes and biases from the readings, I am already learning how I can change my attitudes and lessen my ignorance to move toward a more inclusive way of thinking.  Since I see a real lack of community in the U.S. I think we need more information and education based on including people of all types into our culture and social structure.



  1. Kristin, this is a very powerful, thoughtful, and honest reflection. Thank you for sharing the depth of your unfolding journey, as you further reflect on our readings and your own experience of the dynamics that are playing out in this state. Many thanks, -Jordana

  2. This is such an amazing post... ditto what jordana said. Thank you so much for sharing your insight and processing around this issue, it's incredibly relevant, especially given the climate of AZ at this time. You have so many excellent & thoughtful points here...
    I resonated with a lot of what you said about participating in segregation without being conscious of it...more on that later.
    I also appreciated your noticing of why the immigrant community would choose not to make huge efforts to integrate itself... immigrants/ latin@s in prescott are definitely ghettoized (there's a reason we call the barrio the barrio). I see that having communities is beneficial for safety, support networks, and cultivation & celebration of culture. this segregation also puts the onus on the white citizen population to confront their biases themselves/among each other, which is important (it would be problematic to expect folks from the immigrant community to take sole responsibility for breaking down the oppressor group's racism/classism/xenophobia).
    Your grappling with these realities and tensions is crucial work... its so important to have these honest conversations and self-reflections with the privileged folks in prescott - this college, for example - and have them consistently, too. And to take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes, and be the change we want to see in the world :)

    great contribution kristin.