Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Immigrants Loused Up My City

This blog has been happy to share a number of bishops’ views on immigration policy and in particular Arizona’s Immigration Law. If one could summarize the bishops’ central concern and argument, it is to “welcome the stranger”. I’m happy to keep posting these since:

1. This is an institutionally related Catholic blog and supporting what the bishops say is what we do;

2. I am convinced by the Gospel and Old Testament mandate to welcome the stranger;

3. On a visceral level – and let’s be honest, 99 percent of immigration arguments stem from the visceral level – I particularly like the stranger in question. I come from San Francisco where the only semblance of normality and sanity left is in the communities of ‘strangers’ from Mexico, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, etc.

A few anecdotes -

A political commentator in San Francisco recently assessed whether former Police Commission President Theresa Sparks could be elected in a race for a Board of Supervisors seat. The judgment was that she would be regarded as “too conservative” for the district.

Now get this – Theresa Sparks is a divorced father of three who went to Thailand about ten years ago to undergo “sex reassignment surgery.” S/he now sells sex toys for a living and was named “Woman of the Year” by the ultra-liberal California State Assembly in 2003.

What makes Sparks “too conservative”? She is regarded as, gasp, “business friendly” – in that she runs a business, albeit a sex toy business. Worse yet, she took that business from being a failing coop (good) to being a successful privately owned business (bad).

It is not the “strangers” from Mexico, the Philippines, China or Vietnam, almost all of which have a very solid grasp on gender and are happy to work hard at the many small, often family businesses they run who would regard Sparks as “too conservative”.

Actually, the “strangers” who have loused up San Francisco, and indeed California, are immigrants from other states. The massive immigration in the 1950s to the 1970s of rootless individuals from other states seeking to find themselves or lose themselves in San Francisco has turned a once great, and once very Catholic, city into an embarrassing freak show. From the transsexual sex toy salesman Theresa Sparks (Kansas City) to the abortion queens Barbara Boxer (Brooklyn) and Nancy Pelosi (Baltimore) to psychopaths like Jim Jones (Indiana) to the intolerant gay narcissists Tom Ammiano (New Jersey) and Mark Leno (Milwaukee), nearly every kind of nut in California shares in common being a white, native born American from another state (Mayor Gavin Newson, admittedly, is a native San Franciscan).

I used to joke that California doesn’t need a wall along its Southern border, but along the Sierra Nevada.

Incredible contrasts can be found in San Francisco. I witnessed a scene one afternoon which crystallized my visceral attitude toward foreign immigration. I was eating a bowl of Pho at a Vietnamese shop in an area the City now calls "Little Saigon". The area used to be known as "Gross!". There is still an element of the latter alongside the industrious Vietnamese who now live and work there.

Anyhow, the Vietnamese owner of the shop had double-parked his truck (a necessity given the parking situation) in front of the restaurant. His teenage son ran out to the truck to pick up some big boxes of supplies. Holding them, the young man had to stop on the sidewalk while an ancient, inebriated crossdresser had to be roused from his perch blocking the service door.

Similar scenes are common throughout other immigrant communities in the City. In the Mission, an impossible number of taquerias, carnicerias, groceries, panaderias and other small businesses are manned by Mexicans and other Latinos (legal and not). In a City which has the lowest number of children per capita of any American city (SF literally has more dogs than children), a single parish in the Mission, St. Peter's, has over 400 baptisms a year. A largely Hispanic parish south of San Francisco had 500 First Communions last week. I'll bet those statistics are alarming to some people. To me, they are a glimmer of hope and a sign of life in a city otherwise intent on suicide. I'll take the culture and fecundity of the Mexicans over the alternatives in the Mission - like the massive BDSM porn factory in the former San Francisco Armory or the useless, unemployed, pasty-white, pierced, art/activist/anarchist “community” which also finds a home in the Mission.

I used to live in the largely Asian Richmond district. The neighborhood is about 45 percent foreign born. It is altogether saner, safer and happier than districts with fewer foreign immigrants. The Chinese community has recently been at odds with mostly white, aging hippie potheads who are blighting their neighborhoods with phony “medical” marijuana clubs. Again, I’ll take the Chinese (many who voiced their frustration to the Police Commission through interpreters) over the potheads any day.

Certainly, my experience of immigration is not the same as the people of Tucson or even Los Angeles. But it is also not the same as people in many places of the country now who are developing a visceral antipathy to immigrants while having little or no experience of them.

This post doesn’t aim to make any sort of prescription for immigration policy. Serious problems exist which call for a federal solution. But to those who fear what is becoming of the “American culture,” it suggests a little finger pointing in the mirror.