Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Xenophobe by Any Other Name

In light of my recent commentary regarding the euphemistically titled "Illegal Immigration Relief Act" in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, my views on immigration have caught the interest of quite a few people on the blogosphere, most of whom disagree with me. Strangely enough, the people whom I have engaged on this issue have been quite civil with me, and they actually seem quite offended by the idea that I might think of them as xenophobes. What they fail to realize is that I don't think of xenophobes as evil people. Rather, I think that xenophobia, prejudice, and ethnocentrism are part of human nature, and that very few people ever learn to transcend these flaws. Indeed, rather than even trying to transcend these flaws, some people embrace their hatred and intolerance of others as if they were religious principles.

At one end of the spectrum of hate and intolerance, we have people who acknowledge intellectually that it is wrong to persecute people simply because they are different. And yet it is human nature to try to conform to societal norms, and (for the most part) we come to accept our own culture's customs as being the "right way" to do things, so when we encounter someone who prefers to do things differently, we are genuinely perplexed. To wit, "Why can't they just be reasonable and do things our way?"

When it comes to immigration, xenophobia will always be part of the equation. Even people who are strongly in favor of immigration have told me that they think people who come to the United States to live and work should do their best to learn English and assimilate into American Culture. To a certain degree, I agree with this sentiment, but not because of my xenophobia. Rather, I agree with this sentiment because I know the hardships that immigrants will have to endure if they do not learn English and assimilate into American Culture. Even so, there are ethnic enclaves in the United States where you can be born, die, and hold public office without ever becoming fluent in English. And to the degree that law-abiding people choose to live in such enclaves -- be they citizens or residents -- I think that they should have the freedom to do so.

Prior to its passage of its now infamous ordinance authored by Mayor Louis Barletta -- which incidentally made English the city's official language -- Hazleton was well on its way to becoming a Latino enclave, and notwithstanding Barletta's self-aggrandizing political rhetoric, he was either motivated to author this ordinance by his own xenophobia or is cynically exploiting the xenophobia of his constituents. In my opinion, the latter possibility is the more likely of the two, and this makes Barletta a very dangerous man.

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