August 18, 2006

Commentary:

Minutemen: a trip back to the 60s

Dear Community Members:

If anyone would like to see what it was like in Mississippi or Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960, they should volunteer as human rights observers at a Home Depot. For the past two Saturdays, several people, but not enough, have monitored the obscene display of racial hatred put on by the Minutemen at the Home Depot on Imperial Avenue. There, you can experience a flag carrying patriot scream obscenities in your face and watch these same “heroes” deprive the most vulnerable of people—day workers—from making enough money to eat. It really is “just like the 60’s.” You can watch the Minutemen chat up the police and the armed guards from Home Depot and watch as they do nothing to restrain these people from chasing cars and potential employers all over this “private property” parking lot. If you are a human rights observer, though, you will be relegated to a distant strip of sidewalk.

While this circus seems to be a sideshow to the immigration policy debate, it should be remembered that this race baiting and harassment is preventing many, many workers from getting work. As one man said, “we don’t work, we don’t eat.”  In addition, the Minutemen were screaming threats at ANY car that drove by and that they perceived to be driven by an “illegal”— in other words, anyone who seemed to be Latino. Home Depot appeared to do little about this harassment toward their own customers. Residents of the City of San Diego should take heed since Mexican Americans in North County are already being asked for their papers, and Latinos are being filmed by Minute-persons as they shop in the supermarket.

While perhaps 10-15 observers came out on Saturday, it is depressing that so few people seem to care about this unbelievable display of race hatred in a community of color. A council person was invited to come on Saturday but did not show up. Surely the echoes with 1960 must be obvious to a whole generation of Latino and African American activists, but apparently not. Perhaps we will have to wait for the fire hoses.

In my view, a non-violent stance is particularly important here. The day laborers are subsisting in the shadows of the secondary labor economy. They are exploited by employers and are without the rights to resist this exploitation. Some fear deportation. While they might wish that all of us would go away, that is not going to happen because the Minutemen are invading their “safety zones” and exposing them to the media, the police and potentially the INS. Observers should take care not to endanger these workers further. Also, now that the situation is in the public eye, the workers should be consulted about next steps, whether that means contacting the National Day Laborers Organizing Network or considering the creation of hiring halls. Again, I am struck by the lack of solidarity with those who work in the shadows; Native Americans, Chicanos, African Americans and Asian immigrants who have all worked in the segmented labor economy whether as debt peons, contract labor, slaves, or as workers who endured the dual wage system. The legacy of the plantation is alive and well in San Diego.

Some understaffed human rights groups have been monitoring the situation over the past months. I am not mentioning their names because I would probably omit someone; nor do I have permission to acknowledge them in public. I do know that they deserve special praise for their work. At the Imperial Avenue Home Depot, a group of students have taken the situation in hand and have begun organizing to protect the workers. Concerned people can contact Shannon Dowdy for information on further actions. Shannon can be reached at friendsofdaylaborers.sd@gmail.com.

Today, Sunday, I have heard that one of the Minutemen was finally arrested for his outrageous behavior towards an African American customer who got out of his car and challenged the Minuteman’s hateful rantings. For many people of color, it is all too clear what history is repeating itself. The question is, will we as a community tolerate this behavior? All who wish to help should coordinate with The Friends of Day Laborers (since they took this on), I do have some thoughts:

Council members should be called on to take a stand on the matter of protecting day workers.

Community members might consider a non-violent show of strength at these sites to send the message that this intense racial harassment will not be tolerated. It is crucial that we match Minutemen violence with non-violence; otherwise, we are jeopardizing the safety of the workers and our own moral authority.

Mayor Blumberg of New York has asserted the importance of immigrant labor to the city.

Our communities should take a coordinated stand against the despicable behavior I witnessed. The level of cowardice of these people who attack the most vulnerable workers in the city is truly horrible.

Let us be silent no longer and let us carry on the spirit of the Marcha of April 9.

Gail Perez

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage