When is a White Person Not a White Person? When She’s an Arab.

maxresdefaultA couple days ago I heard a story on NPR. Apparently, according to the next census, I’ll no longer be a white person. I’ll be MENA (Middle Eastern North African).

I mentioned this to my daughter. She said, “I thought you never were white.”

I explained that legally, I was. 22 years before I was born, Arabs were legally recognized as “white” by the United States of American.

“Yeah, but no one thinks of Arabs as white,” she said. (She’s Latina).

When you look at me, you would probably say, “Hey, that lady is white.” That’s because my mom’s parents were German. I got her coloring.

In the US, to be considered a Native American, instead of a generic white American, you have to be 1/16th Native. That’s one great-grandparent.

Historically, to be black you only needed “one drop” of African blood.

I’m half Arabic. A full 50%. My dad was fully Middle Eastern. An immigrant from Lebanon. Speaking Arabic.  Had an Arabic name: Salim. Grew up in Beirut. Was a tank gunner in the Christian Militia. Had Palestinian friends. Summered in Syria.

I inherited my dad’s nose. He said I looked like his mother, the grandmother I never met because she disowned him when he married my Germanic mom.

I said to a friend, “I don’t even know why this is bothering me. Why would I even want to be white? Especially right now, with all the ugly white supremacy stuff going on.”

My friend, a Jewish woman whose ancestors escaped some Nazi-benighted Eastern European country said, “Because white is safe.”

According to the NPR story, it became necessary to designate Middle Eastern North African peoples as MENA because there were just too many “Some Other Race” people in the last census.

But I can’t help wondering why, when the last census was taken in 2010, President Obama’s administration didn’t find it necessary to take care of that “problem” by designating Arabs as MENA then. Maybe he didn’t think an undesignated “Some Other Race” was such a big deal, being mixed race as he was.

I did some reading. The MENA idea has been kicking around for a while, but this is the first administration to seriously consider it. Congress still has to vote on it in 2018 to make it definite. I wonder which way it will go, and what it will mean.

MENA sounds so benign. I can imagine naming a daughter that, maybe with a different spelling—I assume it’s pronounced “Mee-nah”. It even sounds sort of Arabic.

On a related note: I found it a little troubling to hear about my possible MENA designation on the same weekend I heard about the new VOICE initiative.

VOICE (Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement) is the brainchild of Steve Bannon, voiced by DJT. It’s the latest in his white supremacy government propaganda push, inspired by Hitler’s Jewish Crimes List. Interestingly, the Third Reich started reporting Jewish crime separately from non-Jewish crime after putting in place the Nuremburg Race Laws.

Hmmm…

 

DJT: Revisiting Operation Wetback

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This week the kids and I are up near the Canadian border, and the other night I found myself in conversation with an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent. I mentioned that we lived in a city with lots of mixed status families, and I was concerned about DJT’s crackdown on immigrants. Specifically, what would happen to the children who were citizens if their parents were deported?

Now, I can’t be sure what is policy and what is this particular ICE agent’s opinion, but he said a few things that were troubling.

He said the kids would be deported along with their parents unless they have a close relative with papers who can act as guardian.

He said he could see a situation in which the kids are taken off the school bus and put directly into another bus for deportation.

He said when people are deported, all their property is left behind. They can try to get someone  to claim it for them, but mostly “it just rots”.

He said officials were “emptying beds” in detention centers right now, preparing for the mass deportation order.

He said “The planes are waiting.”

He said, “The model is Operation Wetback.”

But here’s the interesting part: his information on Operation Wetback was based on the myth that particular operation had grown into. Not on its facts.

According to internet myth and this particular ICE agent, “in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower deported 13 million Mexican Nationals…so WWII and Korean Veterans would have a better chance at jobs. It took 2 Years…” and was a massive success, that Trump will easily repeat.

But, with very little research, I found that Operation Wetback was, in fact, 10 times smaller,  and it was considered a failure by many, and was, without a doubt, a humanitarian crisis. Deportees dropped off in the desert with no water died of heat stroke. “Slave ship” conditions on the boats used to transport deportees resulted in deaths by drowning.

Nevertheless, this agent, a rational, generally nice guy, will carry out whatever repeat of this nightmare DJT orders. As will his fellow agents. Because  it is too much to expect someone who has been groomed to follow orders, who has been chosen because of his ability to do so, would suddenly question authority.

Are we to believe this one agent? (Maybe he’s an outlier–maybe this isn’t going to happen). But if he’s telling the truth, the takeaway is this:

  • If you are in a mixed-status family, make sure you have identified someone in your extended family that your citizen children can go to if you want them to remain in the US.
  • Identify someone who will be able to go into your house and retrieve your belongings and send them to you when you are back in your country of origin.
  • Figure out how you will get your money out of your US bank accounts from a remote location.
  • If you can, get a reputable immigration lawyer now, and get your papers in order now.

 

For those of us that are citizens, we have to consider what we can do to protect our neighbors. I’m afraid the “Muslim Ban” was a dress rehearsal. We responded admirably and put a stop to that nonsense. Nevertheless, Bannon/DJT may push on. Right now, deportations of non-criminal immigrants are ramping up. So we must remain vigilant. And we can not let horror and exhaustion get the best of us. Stay involved. Don’t give up. We are on the right side of history.

 

 

Some thoughts on Columbus Day

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This morning we got up early because my son was marching in the Columbus Day parade in NYC with his high school band. The band is a source of great pride in our community, and it has won prizes in years past for performances in the parade.

My son, however, had mixed feelings. He loves playing in the band and a trip into the city with his friends is always exciting, but he doesn’t value the holiday. He identifies not only as Latino and Guatemalan, but also as an Indigenous person. His story is his to tell, so I won’t tell it all here, but I will say that the one picture we have of his birth mother shows her wearing the traditional traje of an indigenous group.

Yesterday he asked me what I thought the world would be like if Native People had colonized Europe instead of the other way around. We talked about the possibilities, alternate realities, and the “guns, germs, and steel” reasons for Europe overwhelming the indigenous Americans.

This morning he put on a tee-shirt with Mayan iconography under his band jacket, a necklace with his name in Mayan, and a bracelet he’d gotten at a powwow hosted by the Wampanoag People on Martha’s Vineyard. He loaded his phone with Native American music and dug through the laundry to find his earbuds (he always forgets them in some pants pocket). He chose to wear his nearly waist length hair down. Some of this may have been adolescent posing, but some of it may be personal armor. I handed him a Cliff Bar and made sure he’d brushed his teeth and hair and dropped him off at the high school where the parking lot was rapidly filling up with other teens who look a lot like him.

We ran into a neighbor on the train, and a few other parents from our town on the parade route and settled in to watch. Finally our kids came through, and they were awesome, and we were proud, and then after a quick trip to the Museum of Natural History we sat on the train forever, stalled because of track work after a derailment.

Back home I checked in with my son (who’d traveled back separately with the band on the bus). He was impressed by the protesters—we’d seem them too: Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump outside of Trump tower, a group dogging Governor Cuomo about Indian Point nuclear power plant, and a batch of college students chanting and holding signs that said, “Stop Celebrating Genocide.” My daughter asked what genocide was, and I said something like killing a whole group of people, ethnic, racial, or religious, or killing enough of them to damage their culture, and she said, “Yeah, I see their point.” My son said he thought all the protesters were interesting, but he noticed that most of the parade watchers weren’t really celebrating Columbus, or his “discovery” at all—it was more of a celebration of being Italian.

It was a tiring day, but all in all I felt lucky. Lucky we lived near enough to NYC that my son could participate in a parade that provided so much thought provoking conversation, and lucky that my kids were so perceptive, so smart, and so interested in the world around them.

Daily Prompt: Careful (talking to my kids about racism)

snowboard-663304_1280via Daily Prompt: Careful

I don’t usually use the daily prompts, in part because I don’t get the chance to visit my blog daily. When I have a few moments to write, I’m often working on my next book. But this prompt jibes with what’s on my mind right now.

Lately I’ve found myself advising my children to be careful when they make an assumption about someone else’s racism.

My son, who loves snowboarding, has been looking forward to joining the high school ski club since 6th grade. Finally, he’s old enough. At the first meeting, he noticed that most of the kids were white. He has radar for this: he’s always noticing the ratio of white to brown and whether it reflects the general population of the town, or school, or whatever. He came home pretty keyed up. According to him, a white girl had looked at him and said, “What are you doing here?”

I’ve gotten careful to not jump in with my take. Instead I said, “How did that make you feel?”

“Angry! I was so angry!” He talked about how he was gonna school her–she was gonna feel like a fool when she saw how awesome he was in the terrain park. (He’s been snowboarding since he was 5, and he is awesome.)

“That was so racist!” my son said.

I admitted it was pretty ignorant, and that it might have been racist. Or it might have been classist. Or maybe she assumed he wasn’t into snowboard or skiing because he wasn’t one of the preppy, jock kids. Maybe she just didn’t like him. We talked about how it is true that we don’t see a lot of Latinos on the mountains we go to, in part because there just isn’t a tradition of snow sports in Central and South America, so when people move north, skiing and snowboarding just isn’t on their radar. Maybe that was the reason that girl had made that ignorant comment.

I said I hoped comments like that didn’t keep kids out of the club who could otherwise enjoy doing something their family didn’t traditionally do.

I do wish people were more careful with their casual comments.

Yesterday, I took my daughter shopping for a new mattress at BJs. As we were leaving the store with it, a child asked her mom, “Where did she get the money for a new mattress?”

“That’s so racist!” my daughter said.

“Maybe not. Maybe that kid wants a mattress herself, and her mom just finished saying they couldn’t afford one. So maybe it was more about jealousy, or curiosity.”

I don’t want my kids to always be on the lookout for the racist comment. There are plenty, and they come all the time, in the weirdest places, in the weirdest ways. But I’ve learned it’s nicer to get through your day mostly ignoring the non-threatening ignorance. I could be cut by every stupid comment, or I can let it roll off, and think that it has more to do with that other person’s shortcomings than anything about me, and just get on with my day.

We were watching Zootopia on Netflix, and my kids were pointing out every moment that was about racism, or profiling, or awkward inter-racial relations. A sweet, fat, and probably gay tiger called a bunny “cute”, and she, rather uncomfortably, explained only a bunny can call another bunny “cute”, but other species should avoid that word.

The tiger was mortified and apologetic.

Maybe I am too much of an apologist for the people who say such stupid things, but really, I bet a lot of people, especially kids who haven’t learned any better yet, are like that tiger.