The Obama administration’s lawsuit against Arizona (which contends that Arizona’s soon-to-be-enacted state law unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy) has refocused my attention on SB 1070, which, many argue, sanctions racial profiling. And yes, I have read the Arizona law and am familiar, of course, with federal immigration law.
Last year, my family and I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina for a conference that my husband was attending. We took a day trip to Savannah, Georgia. Back at the airport in Charleston, we had been “upgraded” to a Nissan SUV. We appreciated the gesture, but thought nothing of it until later. While driving to Savannah, we were stopped in Beaufort County, South Carolina, and given a ticket for speeding through a construction area. Out of a line of six cars all going the same speed, we were the ones stopped. My husband was going with the flow of traffic. It was all a bit suspicious. We honestly believe that we were targeted for a DWB – “driving while brown,” and in a Japanese car, no less (we still wonder if giving us that car was intentional, as my husband noted that everyone in that region drove an American car, much like they did in Rochester, New York, where he obtained his Ph.D.). Please don’t laugh or roll your eyes. The phenomenon is absolutely real. Although we are Americans (I was born in Los Angeles and my husband naturalized in his childhood), my ethnic background is Filipino and Venezuelan, and my husband was born in Manila. Our beautiful little daughter, born in San Francisco, is a bit morenita as well.
I don’t wish to rehash the unbelievable instances of racism that my husband and I have encountered individually throughout our lives (despite being highly educated, squeaky clean, and well-dressed – at least most of the time), but will use an incident that happened to my law school classmates as an illustration. One day during school, several classmates and I decided to head over to Zankou Chicken (a Armenian-style chicken joint famous in the Los Angeles area for their rotisserie chicken and garlic sauce) for lunch. Most of us showed up there and went ahead with our lunch. As we were finishing, a car of four classmates, all men, finally showed up. They were late because they were stopped and questioned by police for no apparent reason on the way to the restaurant. All were stellar law students, dressed well (albeit not in ties and button-down shirts – this is California, after all), and in a normal car, except they happened to be African-American, Arab, Mexican-American, and half African-American/half white. They took it in stride – because things like this had happened to them many times before.
So in my case, I don’t feel as if I am a victim, the same way my classmates did not. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes just the way things are. However, it does not feel so great when it happens to YOU. So now you know where I am coming from, and why Arizona’s SB 1070 and its support by different segments of the population (and now, a majority of Americans, according to a recent poll) makes me nervous. Take a look at this fascinating article and segment by Rachel Maddow from last April. It is all a bit unsettling, no?