Oh, Thursday. Wedged between “Hump Day” and “FRIDAY!”, it seems to be one of those days of the week that lacks its own character, defined by the things it is not. Which is why I am choosing to give this particular day the special treatment it (possibly) deserves.

To make good on my promise to devote specific days of the week to particular content categories, today marks the inaugural Thinky Thursday: a day of contemplation, reflection, and absolutely no mentions of that pesky final day that remains dangling over our work week.

For this week’s Thinky Thursday, for reasons that are probably obvious, Arizona comes to mind.

Last night, I supped at a jam-packed Mexican restaurant to commemorate Cinco de Mayo–as, I suspect, did everyone else there– with some good ol’ fashioned gluttony. Yet, as I sucked down my requisite bottle of Negra Modelo, I couldn’t help but feel the irony of my little tribute. Cinco de Mayo–a holiday that owes its existence to the Mexican militia’s unexpected victory against occupying French forces in the May 5, 1862 Battle of Puebla–is essentially the Mexican cultural equivalent of St. Patrick’s day: a holiday that, while virtually unnoticed in its motherland, is widely celebrated among Mexican-Americans as a day of ethnic pride. Approximately 30% of Arizona’s state population is Latino–mostly Mexican–and just two weeks after the state’s passing of a draconian  anti-immigration law, and one week before the potential signing of a bill to end ethnic studies classes, it’s probably safe to assume that many Cinco de Mayo festivities this year have been bittersweet.

Having grown up in the South Side of Milwaukee (home to a very large, and rapidly growing, Mexican population), I’ve witnessed my share of Cinco de Mayo celebrations. I’ve also been privy to the complaints of a few non-Latino South Siders who, oblivious to my half-Latina status, have felt the need to exorcise their xenophobic demons upon my burning ears. These were mostly older, retired folks–many the children of immigrants themselves–who liked to ruminate about the “good old days” before their childhood church’s inscription to Our Lady of Czestochowa was replaced with one for the Virgin of Guadalupe, people who tended to use phrases like “those people who won’t learn English” to describe their Latino neighbours. While my adolescent self would stew over their remarks (and possibly say something regrettable), my older and marginally wiser self believes that crotchety old fogies like those I encountered in my youth tend to be less concerned with a perceived “immigration problem” than with their own relevance. As the faces of their lifelong neighbourhoods change beyond recognition, they want to be reminded of their enduring cultural legacy. They want the church their kids were baptized in to keep the name “St. Anthony’s” on its sign, even though they know it’s been “Iglesia San Antonio” to the church’s congregation for at least twenty years. They need to be told that they aren’t simply being replaced and forgotten, and this is completely legitimate.

What is not completely legitimate is what is happening in Arizona. Under the new law, police officers are required to detain people they suspect are in the country illegally. Individuals are required to carry their immigration papers at all times; failure to do so constitutes a misdemeanor. Residents are allowed to sue government agencies if they suspect immigration laws are not being enforced. Kelly McParland of the National Post–which, I should add, is Canada’s conservative newspaper–writes, “Anyone with dark skin and Latino features faces regular questioning by every cop who happens to cross their path. Every day. At any time. Over and over.” While Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer insists that this law does not condone racial profiling (and has since approved of minor rhetorical adjustments to cover her tracks), such vague reassurances are difficult to swallow–particularly when considering the ethnic studies ban still on the table. To echo a comment made by my brother, now that Arizona has succeeded in criminalizing an entire ethnic population, the next step is to deny said people the academic study of their history. These legislative acts are not simply uneasy compromises made in the sake of justice, but targeted acts of discrimination which blatantly serve to alienate a sizable minority population.  Instead of keeping the old English sign on the Latino church to placate a noisy few, Arizona has opted to raid the church and bully its congregation, to the service of no one.

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