The Tortilla Curtain

The other day, I stopped and got gas and I've been thinking a lot about it ever since

The scene: In the morning at a 7-eleven in a northern part of San Diego – about 25 or 30 miles from the border with Mexico.
    In the shade of a tree in the parking lot, a about a dozen “day laborers” –  I’m guessing mostly Mexican and mostly here in the illegally – are gathered, waiting to see if there might be work that day.  It’s not an uncommon sight near where I live, and I can think of several other places that these guys could be found with regularity.
    About 10 feet away, on the sidewalk are four or five Caucasians.  They’re dressed in military-style fatigues (though I doubted any had actually served – they looked a little worse for wear), and they have a large US flag and a number of signs.  One reads: “Secure Our Borders”  Another: “Deport Illegals” and of course: “God Bless America.”

My reaction: At first I am puzzled – in that “are these guys serious?” sort of way.  I look on for any sign of interaction or antagonism between the two groups.  They are studiously ignoring one another.  While the car is filling, I walk in their direction a little to get a better look at the signs.  One of the flag-wavers sees me taking notice and gives me a thumbs-up.  I stop, pause and shake my head.  “I don’t agree with you.” I say.  His thumbs-up turns into a gesture of dismissal and he turns away.

I wasn’t sure how to feel.  I’m no fan of illegal immigration, but yet I don’t really have anything against the guys standing in that lot trying to get a day’s work – doing crappy hard-labor (landscaping, construction, etc) that most Americans are not real excited about doing and for a lot less than most Americans would accept, even if they were so inclined.  There’s a big part of me that admires it.

    My mixed feelings about illegal immigration aside, the one thing that I knew was that what the flag-wavers were doing wasn’t my idea of America – shoving the flag in someone’s face and proclaiming that this is our freedom – not yours.  I thought it was classless and confrontational and we can do better.
    But then when I got home I thought maybe it WAS my America – because what I witnessed was a great demonstration of the First Amendment in action.  Two diametrically opposed groups peacefully doing their thing and/or saying their viewpoint.

Either way – the border may be a big topic in Washington, DC – but we see the effects of it here everyday in Southern California.  I suggest that anyone interested in the topic read TC Boyle’s book “The Tortilla Curtain” – it’s a good and entertaining read and captures many of the disparities of wealth, class, and culture in this part of America.

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