September 21, 2007

Commentary:

Racism in North County: Is it ‘Mississippi With Palm Trees?’

By Mark R. Day

How palpable, how blatant and how pervasive are racist attitudes toward Latinos in North San Diego County?

Really, one does not have to look very far. So let’s take the virtual “Bronzeline Tour” bus and visit a few hotspots.

All aboard!

First stop: the North County Times headquarters in Escondido whose editorial pages for years have allowed free-for-all racist comments on its newspaper blogs. Its ownership and mostly white staff show an exquisite insensitivity to North County’s growing Latino population.

Their coverage of Latinos focuses almost exclusively on undocumented immigrant day laborers and teenage gang members. In fact, NC Times cartoonist Mark Thornhill recently published a sketch portraying Latino gang youth as cockroaches being swept into a dustpan destined for a trash can.


Cockroach Cartoons: Left: From North County Times, Right: From The Insurgent (White Aryan Resistance)

Thornhill may be drawing his inspiration from the “The Insurgent,” the official online magazine of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR) which presents several cartoons with the same motif. The word “cockroach” applied to Latino immigrants is also commonplace in the email chatter of the anti-immigrant San Diego Minutemen.

Any respectable newspaper publisher or editor would reject such blatant racial stereotyping and fire the cartoonist. Not the North County Times. In fact, the cockroach cartoon appeared shortly after Latino leaders criticized the NC Times editors and their new publisher for precisely these kinds of abuses.

To make matters worse, the NC Times recently conducted a poll asking its readers to vote on whether or not the term “anchor baby” is a racial slur. “There’s only one conclusion we can draw,” said Fredi Avalos, an adjunct professor at a local university. “People outside our community seem to know better than we do what is and what is not insulting to us.”

Ethnic Cleansing in Escondido

On our way to the I-15 freeway, we pass by the Escondido City Hall. When Mayor Marie Waldron and two city council members voted 3-2 last year in favor of a rental ban against undocumented immigrants, a Minuteman in the audience shouted “Pack your bags. It’s over. Go home!”

The only thing that stood in the way of a Latino mass exodus was the U.S. Constitution. It precludes any local govern-ment’s efforts to regulate immigration. A federal judge overturned the ban, and now the city has to pay the ACLU nearly $2 million in legal fees. Poor babies.

“These city attorneys should be fired,” remarked a local resident. “They don’t even know our Constitution. Wasting our taxpayer’s money. Shame on Escondido!”

Fallbrook: A Nativist Paradise

Next stop: St. Peter’s Church in Fallbrook. It’s Saturday morning, and the San Diego Minutemen are walking a picket line demanding that the pastor close down his church-sponsored hiring site for day laborers.

The protesters hit the clergyman below the belt by presenting an effigy of him wearing a devil’s mask and waving signs about “priest perverts.” Later that morning, a Minuteman sprays a can of mace in the face of a parishioner who challenges their presence.

These open displays of anti-Catholicism, including the disruption of a First Communion service and a funeral, provoke a strong reaction from the Catholic League in New York. “There are legitimate ways to protest,” said Catholic League president Bill Donahue. “This isn’t one of them. By succumbing to anti-Catholic bigotry, the San Diego Minutemen discredit their cause.”

Vista: Future Visions?

Next stop for the Bronzeline tour bus: Vista, population 90,000, 47 per cent Latino, and growing. Today we attend a community meeting about visioning the city’s future. The city has spent more than a $1 million to study this plan, but has made little, if any outreach to the Latino community.

In fact, there are only three Latinas at this meeting who heard about it by accident. And to make matters worse, community activist Tina Garcia Jillings overhears a businessman telling the head of the chamber of commerce: “They ought to round them all up and send them on a bus to Tijuana.”

Later, at a breakout session on cultural diversity, Fredi Avalos writes this quote on a poster board, challenging racist attitudes in the community. The response is swift, and angry. “Why do you people separate yourselves so much?” shouts a diminuitive woman with a Scottish accent.

Others continue to interrupt, annoyed by the introduction of a theme they find uncomfortable. Avalos is barely given time to make her summary.

Others continue to interrupt, annoyed by the introduction of a theme they find uncomfortable. The Latina is barely given enough time to make her summary.

Never mind that Vista is deeply riven by racial tensions aggravated by officer involve shooting deaths of young Latinos (three in one week in 2005), weekly checkpoints by police officers in the Townsite barrio, and other tensions with law enforcement officers.

Nobody here seems to see racism as a serious problem.

A few days later, a Latino merchant asks the head of the chamber of commerce about sponsoring a 16th of September (Mexican Independence Day) celebration. “Absolutely not,” he counters. “This would be divisive. Can you imagine how the Minutemen will react?”

Welcome to Vista where the whites hold tightly to the reins of power, and the growing Latino population finds few outlets for expressing their culture, creativity and talent.

The City of Vista also enacted an ordinance last year —this one against the hiring of day laborers near a local supermarket. Once again there were constitutional problems and costly attorney fees. The city has now ceased to enforce the ordinance.

Carlsbad: Only Dogs Need Apply

We are heading back to San Diego now, but we will take a detour at Cannon Road off the I-5 near Car Country Carlsbad. There we will visit migrant farm workers who pick strawberries, one of the wealthiest cash crops in the state.

Every weekend, volunteers from Pilgrim United Church of Christ bring food to the workers and refer them to medical and legal aid. Nowhere have volunteers done more outreach to migrants than in Carlsbad.

The strawberry pickers used to live in shacks in the nearby hills. But developers have since blanketed these areas with gated communities with names like Calavera Hills, Summerhill, and Mystic Point.

Over the past five years a citizen’s task force has addressed the farm worker housing shortage, conducting numerous community forums and time-consuming studies.

The task force found several viable locations for a shelter, but each time the proposals were nixed by the Carlsbad City Council. The latest place was in an industrial park. Again, the city council voted it down. It now serves as an animal shelter.

It’s late now, and the tour is concluding. “What about County Supervisor Bill Horn’s office?” shouts someone from the back of the bus. Another chimes in: “And what about the Pete Wilson statue in Horton Plaza?”

“Not now,” says the bus driver. “Not today. That’s another tour.”

No wonder comedian Dick Gregory called Southern California “Mississippi with palm trees.”

Mark R. Day is a journalist and two time Emmy award-winning filmmaker. He lives in Vista.

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