Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Clash of Cultures

From this morning's Austin American-Statesman, several stories that reveal the negative effects illegal immigration is having on Hispanic US citizens ...

The rancor of the immigration debate subjects many Mexican Americans to hostility from some non-Hispanics who equate being Hispanic with being illegal, a presumption that ignores their centuries-old presence here and implies a connection with Mexico that no longer exists. That hostility breeds Mexican American resentment of the undocumented and reawakens painful memories of the Mexican American struggle to be counted as equals in U.S. society.

"The white guy says, 'Those Mexicans,' but the Mexican says, 'We're not Mexicans,' " Davila said.

That uneasy feeling of standing outside both societies is reflected in a phrase uttered by generations of Mexican Americans: "Ni soy de aquí, ni soy de allá." (I'm neither from here nor from there.)

Ironically, grievances about cultural differences often mirror the rhetoric of the immigration debate.

Though a wide body of research indicates that Mexican and Spanish-speaking immigrants are "becoming American" in time, some Mexican Americans with long-established roots in Austin assert that many of the newcomers are not fitting in: They're not learning English, not assimilating, and they don't care to. The natives rail about immigrants who don't appreciate Mexican American culture and upset venerable neighborhoods, packing rental houses in large numbers, turning front yards into parking lots and drinking outdoors long after bedtime.

Another common complaint: that the newcomers are too demanding, expecting special treatment from social service agencies or local businesses or even churches.

"They want us to adapt to their ways," Davila said, recounting a story told to him about immigrants who groused about the Tex-Mex fare at a popular East Seventh Street restaurant because it wasn't real Mexican food.

"Mexicans put us down," said Leon Ramirez, a 62-year-old manager at another Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin, where he estimates that 90 percent of the kitchen and wait staff is from Mexico. "They say, 'You're pocho.' " Pocho is a slur Mexicans use to describe Mexican Americans who "act American" or forgot their heritage.

Ramirez says his co-workers, some of whom he said he suspects are here illegally, routinely deride Mexican American customers behind their back with put-downs about their dress, mannerisms and culture.

But some Mexican immigrants say it's the other way around: that it is Mexican Americans who discriminate against people of their own heritage, treating them disrespectfully and without compassion, giving them poorer service than others ...