The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dear Mexican,

Dear 'Mexican',

Be careful out there. In spite of what you might hear from the Irondale City Council, you have been targeted.

In the state of Alabama, there is a strong history of hatred, and your group is just the latest in a long list of people targeted because they are different. Our state history of hatred has been displayed on television for decades primarily by the images of fire hoses and police dogs that targeted peaceful blacks during the 1960’s.

More recently we’ve heard the hatred against gays as Republican former candidate for governor Roy Moore suggested using “the power of the sword” against “homosexuals” in an opinion he wrote while serving as Chief Justice of the Alabama supreme court.

But hatred against Latinos has been documented in our history as well. In 1921 a Puerto Rican man named Pedro Gussman was married to Ruth Stephenson by Father James Coyle at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Birmingham. Ruth’s father, Rev. R. E. Stephenson, was a Methodist Episcopal Church minister, and also a Klansman, and he gunned down Father Coyle on the steps of the Catholic parsonage on August 11, 1921 not long after his daughter was married.

Father James Coyle

Now this has long been viewed as an anti-Catholic act, and the race of the murderer’s son-in-law has been mentioned as secondary. Stephenson was acquitted, and Catholics were targeted by the Klan for years to come.

But this incident underscored that both racial and religious differences were not going to be tolerated in our state.

During this same time period and for decades leading up to it, Blacks in Alabama were being targeted in much the same way Hispanics are being targeted today. The records from courthouses across our state demonstrate the capture and imprisonment of thousands of random indigent citizens under inconsequential charges or in some cases, for violations of laws specifically written to intimidate blacks (vagrancy, riding freight cars, loud talk with white women) and then held and “sold” for cheap labor for years in order to pay off their trumped up fines. This re-enslavement of blacks is documented in Douglas Blackmon’s book, "Slavery by Another Name".

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the whites in power rarely openly voiced their intent or their hatred of blacks and others (other than when disguised by wearing their white robes and hoods). The same is true today. The lawmakers may not admit to their hatred of you, but when we listen to the rhetoric of their like minded constituents who make the assumption that, for instance, all construction workers are illegal (rather than all construction workers are Hispanic), it’s easy to determine their mindset. “There’s a building going up nearby and all the workers are illegals,” they might say on local talk radio.

If I were stopped in Irondale for speeding, I wonder if the officer would ask for proof that I’m a U. S. citizen? He would see my driver’s license and my insurance card. Neither of those proves citizenship. But I probably look like him, or like other officers on his police force, and I talk like a southerner, so he probably wouldn’t ask.

If you were pulled over for speeding, you would be more likely to be asked about your origins.

But the Irondale immigration resolution says “nothing in this resolution requires, condones, or approves any profiling based on race, creed, color or place of origin.” As Irondale Council person James D. Stewart (who is black) said, the resolution would not need to include that language if the rest of it was designed to prohibit profiling in the first place.

Odds are that this law will be struck down just as the discriminatory Arizona law will be, and legal groups are looking at the Irondale resolution now. But it could take months or longer for the legality of the laws to be determined.

In the meantime, be very careful when in Irondale. You or your friends or family members could disappear, just as the blacks did in and around Birmingham a hundred years ago. You are dealing with xenophobic people in Irondale, and elsewhere.

No todos los residentes de Alabama son así. No todos tienen el odio en nuestros corazones. Agradecemos el trabajo que haga y las contribuciones que hacen a nuestra sociedad y nuestra economía.Tenga cuidado ahí fuera.


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