Thanks to Jan Brewer, we are all Arizona. The fascist machine that she’s created has been on my mind a lot lately. I am a staunch protester of SB 1070 that took effect on Thursday, but I didn’t expect it to be delivered to my doorstep in the same week, a reminder perhaps of how quickly the essence of this fascist machine can travel and put into practice by those with very narrow minds.
On Monday, I decided to do my laundry early in the evening. I usually do it late at night, around 9pm, so I don’t have to run into the residents of the building. To do laundry, I had to go through the front door (one doorman) and the elevator (another doorman) to be taken to the basement. During the day, the laundry room is full of brown people, all maids of the white people who live in my building. After a few times of being asked by the brown maids where I worked, I decided to stop going there during the day. I live in an all-white-resident building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. As the only brown person in my building, I have been mistaken for a delivery boy by newly-hired white doormen (they’re all white), and have not been let into the building until the another doorman confirmed that I lived here. Once they found out that I actually lived here and had no pizza to deliver, they became extremely gracious, as they should be. The laundry room is next to the exit of the parking garage. At 5:45pm, I was happily stocking the washer with my clothes, when a woman, who so resembled Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, suddenly appeared at the door and condescendingly confronted me with, “WHAT APARTMENT ARE YOU IN?” Shocked, I actually answered her, and she left. Just like that.
Thanks to my netbook and wifi, I had access to my Facebook account and managed to post the incident as it happened. I usually stay in the laundry room until I finish, and spend my time doing some work on my netbook while I wait. I really should thank countless of you who responded to my public outcry with very supportive statements. I would find out within that hour that the hapless Jan Brewer of the Upper East Side was actually in a “position of power.” The doorman who witnessed the incident was just as angry and was more than happy to give me the real name of this woman. I was thinking, if such were the types to sit at the decision-making table in places like this, it comes as no surprise that there were no doormen-of-color in this building.
I was very furious that evening. I still remember her inimical gaze, the kind that rips into your soul. It was also the second time it happened to me in my building. I regret not having insulted her back, but what would that accomplish? I realized the reason why I decided to do my laundry late at night was because I really didn’t want to encounter another racial incident and ruin my day. I have developed coping mechanisms to survive this filthy rich white neighborhood I have lived in for over ten years. People wonder how I got here or what I’m doing here. I am obviously not one of these people. I tell them simply, I have relatives around the block. Yes, there are Filipinos on the Upper East Side. Yes, I am one of them. In fact, I spend so much time walking around here, I am probably a landmark, like the rusty lamp post in the corner.
Let’s talk about racial profiling. If I were a blond man doing my laundry on Monday, the Jan Brewer of the Upper East Side would think twice before violating me with such a highly-charged question. She would think twice, thrice, or may not even ask. She might even ask the doorman who I was first. She might even think I was cute. Or I might even take my shirt off for her and flex. She might even stutter while she asked me. Or she might just walk past me and assume I was a friend of one of the residents of my building, while muttering to herself, whoa, who was that? Whoa! Yet no, since I was brown, just like the women who cleaned their houses during the day, she just had to stop and find out where I WORKED. Yes, she didn’t think I lived here. She thought I worked here. She wanted to know my affiliation in the building by the apartment number I gave her. And now that she knew that I worked for Apartment # _, DANGER was lifted off her shoulder. Danger meaning, Me.
And such is the nature of racial profiling.
When Mexicans in Arizona are stopped by the police, who according to the real Jan Brewer of Arizona should be given the power to harrass, interrogate, and then arrest, only one assumption is made about them: these dangerous people don’t belong there. Because the Jan Brewer’s minions have already been blessed to propagate “if you’re brown, you must be illegal,” racial profiling has now been, to put it simply, institutionalized and systematized. And if you’re indeed one of the Mexicans who live there (remember, you NEED to look like a Mexican migrant), you need to save yourself the trouble and get out.
Diversity is in the Heart
I love America. I love the diversity of this country. I came from quite a homogeneous culture, with slight regional differences. But we basically resemble each other and ate the same food. I have lived in New York most of my life now, so any hint of homogeneity has faded in my brain (and tongue). I thrive in highly diverse environments. I choose it for work. I get restless when I work in an all black situation, or all white, or even, like in my last job, all-Filipino (teachers). When I was in San Francisco recently, I experienced culture shock because I only saw Filipinos for five days. It is so cliche to call New York the microcosm of the world, but it truly is. It is such a mesh of culture, that the melting pot has been taken to another level, just like this Mexican restaurant where I was the other night that was run by a family of Palestinians. Where do you find that?
Today, on the train in Manhattan, I gave directions in Spanish to some tourists who wanted to go to Wall Street. They probably assumed I was Latino. Being asked in Spanish by lost Latinos in New York is part of my quotidian existence. I love the idea that as a Filipino immigrant, I can assume many roles. Where else can this happen? In Arizona, I would have to carry an ID every single day, because I would certainly get stopped for looking like a Mexican migrant worker. I wonder what the police would think if I flashed them my Harvard student ID.
Jan Brewer is Everywhere
Jan, Jan, Jan. How holy do you think art thou? I don’t know what goes through the brains of these people who think they are better than others because of their color. In the time of Obama, the Jan Brewers of America seem to be coming out of their holes, and making their “holiness” a public spectacle. In Obama’s blackness, they find a reason to turn their bigotry into a public platform, after all, they “voted” for a black man. The down economy is their excuse to make accusations against the brown universe, and “post-racial” America is their forum to speak out. For the Jan Brewers, this is not about race. It can’t be. Not with a black president. In one of my job interviews, the non-profit Jan Brewer just couldn’t resist asking me, Where are you from? while his male counterpart ripped my resume apart and punctuated the ripping with, When did you leave Argentina? nary a blink (Yes, I studied there, but I am not from there, you racist idiot). They were both very comfortable with highly directed (and illegal) ethnic questions that had no bearing with the job. For these types, I make sure I wrote “Filipino” as one of the languages I speak on my resume. I am not sure Che Guevarra’s relatives spoke that language. Indeed, I, a brown immigrant man, have many coping mechanisms and am well-equipped to deal with these circumstances, or so I thought. Unfortunately, the Jan Brewers are quickly multiplying, with new strategies in the blame game.
The Jan Brewers are nervous. They are afraid the brown people are taking over the country. They are afraid that Spanish will become the lingua franca. And all of us will be watching Univision and not CNN, and eat rice and beans. They are afraid that sitcoms like Friends, Seinfeld, or Sex and the City, all set in New York, will have brown lead characters in it. And all the hospital shows will have Filipino and Jamaican Nurses. Ah, they don’t exist. After all, New York City has no brown people. None (except in my building.)
America’s face is changing. Jan Brewer is very afraid. Because she is very afraid, she needs to make sure that racial profiling becomes the law of the land, so we can send all the Mexicans back where they belong. (Yes, Texas.)
As the country diversifies and as racism permeates the brown universe, Jan Brewer will take on new identities. In the future, the Jan Brewers will no longer be white and blond. She will be black, latino, or worse, Filipino. That’s how viruses spread. We have already seen them, but that is for another blog entry.
Related Reading: Alto Arizona, Alto Arizona Art Campaign, Wordstrike: Writers Against SB 1070, New York Times Coverage of SB 1070, Videos of protest against SB1070 from Puente, New with Nezua (interesting mock ICE checkpoint), Vivir Latino Coverage, Racism Review Archive on Mexican Americans,