Dear Mexican: I believe that the words people use to describe other people, intentionally or unintentionally, reflect their political values. But I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, so I write to you. You described Cesar Chavez as hating “illegals” in a previous column, and as being ethnocentric early in his career. This isn’t the first time that you’ve used the word “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants, and I have problems with that. Now, if we are going to use that term to describe undocumented immigrants, then a lot of U.S. citizens who have committed crimes such as drug trafficking, corruption, murder, embezzlement, rape, warrantless wiretapping, harassment, stealing and many, many others, including the ones perpetrated by our departed president, are really the ones who should be called illegals. Using this term only plays out to the right-wing agenda (the Minutemen, Rush Limbaugh, the Real Housewives of Orange County, the wackos in Congress, etc.) and contributes to the bashing of immigrants and Latinos in general, whether they are documented or not. You must realize that Latinos, especially if they are poor and uneducated, are perhaps the last “safe” target for bigotry and scapegoating in our land of the free and home of the brave. —Saw You Once Moderate a Panel Discussion
Dear Pocha: This was the question I fished out of your ramble: “Why do you use the term ‘illegal immigrant’ in your column, when it’s such a hateful term to describe human beings?” The easy answer is that this is my column, and why aren’t you upset that I regularly call Mexicans wabs, gabachos, African-Americans negritos, Asian-Americans chinitos, Muslims Mohammedans and bash Guatemalans (the true last acceptable target for bigotry) every couple of weeks? Read a bit more closely, and you’ll realize any slur used against a group of gente in Ask a Mexican is for satirical, reappropriating reasons ; the only sacred vaca I’ll never slander is undocumented college students.
On a more fundamental level, however, I use “illegal immigrant” to make a point. As it stands, it’s the most moderate term to describe those millions of folks who live in this country in violation of immigration law. Think about it: Know Nothings love to use “illegal alien” because it allows them to describe Mexicans as an invading menace. Aztlanistas, on the otra hand, use “undocumented immigrant,” as gratuitous a bit of P.C. pendejada as Chicanao.
For leftists like yourself, Saw You Once, to avoid using “illegal” in describing someone’s immigration status implies that something is shameful about the word and their status, and we should all therefore avoid using it. Not this Mexican. On that note, I’ll always use “illegal immigrant” and “illegals” with pride and turn the question around to others, one asked long ago by the iconic Chicago Chicano punk group Los Crudos: Ilegal, que?