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ACCESS UPDATE: FLASH POINTS IN MULTICULTURAL AMERICA
Flash Points in Multicultural America By Robert Mikkelsen
Americans have been integrating new peoples and cultures into their nation since its beginning. This process is not always a smooth one, however. There have always been conflicts that have flared up between individual groups and the larger society in which they find themselves. Sometimes these have been caused by events over which the group itself has had no control.
The article below examines two such flash points, one involving the large Mexican American community in America, the other involving the small community of American Muslims. They illustrate the ongoing debate about what it is to be an American.
Pre-reading activity Before you read the two articles below, discuss the following: a
Which of the following two statements do you think expresses the more important principle? â€“
It is a human right to be able to go where one can be most successful.
Every country has the right to limit the number of people who enter it.
Can these two be reconciled?
What do you know about the attack on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001? Do you think this attack affected the relationship of Islam to the rest of the world?
Mexican Americans: Murder Sets Off Debate on Illegal Immigration On March 27, 2010, Robert Krentz Jr., a cattle rancher along the Mexican border in Arizona, called his brother on the radio saying, â€œI see an immigrant out here, and he appears to need help. Call the Border Patrol.â€? Hours later he was found dead, shot in the head. Many assumed he had been killed by an illegal immigrant afraid of being turned in (though later it appeared more likely the killer was a scout from a drug smuggling ring).
His death set off a storm of protest against illegal immigrants in the state of Arizona. The conflict had been simmering for many years. Arizona is one the main routes that illegal immigrants take when entering 2
America across the southwestern border with Mexico. Strengthened border patrols and new fences had recently redirected even more of the flow through the state.
Despite repeated attempts by the federal government, the situation seemed to many to be getting more and more out of hand. That is why a few weeks after Krentz’s death a law was pushed through the state legislature taking matters into their own hands. It required Arizona police officers to detain and question anyone they suspected of being an illegal alien and if that proved to be the case, to arrest them.
This law, in turn, drew an angry reaction from the large Mexican American community in the state. They claimed it would lead to the “racial profiling” of all Mexican Americans. That would violate their civil rights and spread prejudice against anyone who might be looked on as a “suspect” because of dark skin or Mexican American features. The American Civil Liberties Union immediately challenged the law in the courts.
Arizona’s law also drew a response on the national level. President Obama – a former constitutional law professor – called Arizona’s policy “misguided.” He said that it threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as American.” He ordered the Justice Department to seek a court order against it. This was not only because it could cause “racial profiling.” It was also because regulating immigration was a federal, not a state, matter. He pointed out that if “other states and localities
go their own ways, we face the prospectâ€Ś (of) a patchwork of local immigration rules, where we all know one clear national standard is needed.â€?
On July 29, 2010, Judge Susan Bolton of the Federal District Court found in favor of the Obama Administration and put the law on hold while the state of Arizona appealed the decision. On February 10, 2011, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced that her state will file a countersuit against the federal government, claiming Washington has failed to enforce immigration law along the southern border. The two sides continued to stare at one another across the divide. The debate was far from finished.
Spot check: 1
What happened to Robert Krentz Jr.?
Why did this set off such a strong reaction in the state of Arizona?
What did the law passed by the state legislature empower policemen to do? 4
How did the Mexican American community react to this law?
How did President Barack Obama react to the law?
Why was Obama concerned that individual states would start making their own immigration laws?
What did the courts decide about the law?
Quotes on Arizona’s Law:
“They’re going to start messing with us, pulling us over and asking for ID. We don’t like that. We’re going to have to fight the law until we get rid of it.” Alfonsso Garnica, holding a “Stop The Hate” poster opposing the Arizona law.
“The culture is being destroyed. You call anywhere, it’s ‘Push One for English, Two for Spanish’. All it does is make it easier for people to live here once they sneak into the country.” Gary Arbitter, carrying a “Silent No More” sign supporting the Arizona law.
“People don’t like the idea that they will be stopped and *carded because of their skin color. I’ve had the sheriff stop me, and I’m not from the other side of the border.” (*Asked for a “green card” proving legal immigration status) Ross Canyon, Navajo born in Arizona.
“We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act. But decades of federal inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.” Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer
“The Mexican government condemns the approval of the law [and] the criminalization of migration.” Mexican President Felipe Calderón
Spot check: 1
Gary Arbitter said “The culture is being destroyed.” What culture was he referring to?
What evidence did Arbitter have of this? Do you find it convincing?
Who is Felipe Calderón and what does he think of the new law? Can you explain why?
Who is responsible for the situation in Arizona according to Governor Jan Brewer?
Why is it ironic that Ross Canyon was pulled over as a possible illegal immigrant?
What is it that Alfonsso Garnica dislikes?
American Muslims: Of Mosques and Men One quiet February evening in 2010 in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Dr. Manoor Mirza became aware of the full extent of the damage that had been done by the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington nine years earlier (9/11 = September 11). He was seeking permission from the county Building Commission to set up a small mosque in the town of Wilson (pop. 3,200) for the 100 or so Muslims in the local community. Most were refugees from Bosnia and Albania.
Dr. Mirza expected no trouble. He was a respected citizen. Instead he suddenly found himself the center of vicious attacks on his religion. He was told Islam was a religion of hate. Muslims were out to wipe out Christianity. They murdered their children. “I 6
just think it’s not American,” one of them summed up. Mirza was deeply shaken, “I never expected that the same people who came to me at the hospital and treated me with respect would talk to me like this.”
He was not the only one to be surprised. A month later there was a much larger national uproar over plans to build a Muslim cultural center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, the place where the Twin Towers had once stood.
Although the plan – referred to as Park51 – had been approved by the authorities and was supported by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, opponents were outraged. They claimed it was an insult to the victims of 9/11. This was “sacred ground,” they declared. Protesters carried signs declaring “All I Need To Know About Islam, I Learned on 9/11.” Bloggers condemned the center as an example of “Islamic domination and expansionism.” The rhetoric in the blogosphere grew rabid.
September 11, 2010: For the first time since the 2001 attacks, September 11 was marked by divisive political rallies in Lower Manhattan, as both opponents and supporters of Park51 held dueling protests. ©Scanpix
Altogether, six other new mosque projects across the U.S. also faced bitter opposition in 2010. Does this mean that hatred of Islam (Islamophobia) is on the rise in America? Well – yes … and … no.
On the one hand, this concerned only six out of an estimated 1,900 mosques in America. Clearly, having trouble was the exception, not the rule. Polls have shown that most Muslims in America feel safer and freer in the U.S. than anywhere else the Western world. As one American journalist put it, “Islamophobia in the U.S. doesn’t approach levels seen in other countries (like France and Switzerland) where Muslims are a minority.” Perhaps this reflects the American Constitution, in which both freedom of religion and the separation of church and state are guaranteed. In addition, with an estimated population of 2.6 million, Muslims remain one of
America’s smallest and most varied groups, coming from many different nations and cultures. Their numbers pose a threat to no one.
On the other hand, prominent American Muslims fear that opposition to Park51 is part of a “pattern of intolerance” that started after 9/11 and has deepened over the past years, perhaps reflecting the America’s involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A poll taken in September 2010 showed that 61% of Americans opposed Park51, while just 26% supported it. Fully 44% viewed it as an insult to those who died on 9/11, while only 23% said it would be a symbol of religious tolerance. This troubles American Muslims. “The core argument emerging from *the anti-mosque protests+ is that Muslims are not and can never be full Americans,” remarked Eboo Patel, a prominent American Muslim.
Fearing further attacks, some American Muslims have argued that the Park51 project should be scraped. Others believe backing down would be a mistake. “If they don’t build it, they will be agreeing with those who say Muslims are not proper Americans” said a recent immigrant from Iraq. “In that case I might as well go back to Baghdad.” Like the American public, the American Muslim community was divided in it attitude towards Park51.
Returning to Sheboygan County, the town’s executive council eventually granted the local Islamic Society permission to convert a building on Dr. Mirza’s property into a mosque. Imam Mohammed Hamad now leads prayers there. Protests have died down in Sheboygan, but the wounds inflicted by 9/11 on the relationship between American Muslims and the larger American society remain open. Only time will heal them.
Based on: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2011798,00.html
Spot check: 1
What was Dr. Manoor Mizra applying for in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin?
Why did the reaction to his application surprise him?
What is “Park51” and why have some people opposed it?
How many Muslims live in the United States?
Do most American Muslims feel safe and secure living in the United States?
Why are some American Muslims afraid of increasing Islamophobia?
Why are American Muslims divided about Park51?
What eventually happened to Dr. Mizra’s application?
Opponents and Supporters of Park51:
The folks who want to build this mosque, who are really radical Islamists ... don’t have any interest in reaching out to the community. Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives and possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012
Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. President Barack Obama
This building will serve as an emblem for the rest of the world that Americans recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent. Donna O'Connor, whose pregnant daughter died on 9/11 10
The pain never goes away. When I look over there and I see a mosque, it's going to hurt. Build it someplace else. C. Lee Hanson, whose son, daughter-in-law, and baby granddaughter were killed on 9/11
I don't think the Muslim leadership has fully appreciated the impact of 9/11 on America. The wounds remain largely open [...] and when wounds are raw, an episode like constructing a house of worship — even one protected by the Constitution, protected by law — becomes like salt in the wounds. Akbar Ahmed, Professor of Islamic Studies at American University
The presence of mosques like the one planned near Ground Zero, which will be an educational center as well as a place of prayer, is one good way of transcending ignorance. Mark R. Cohen, Professor of Jewish Civilization at Princeton University
Spot check: 1
Why does Donna O’Connor support building Park51?
What leads a leading Muslim American like Akbar Ahmed to oppose Park51?
Why might some think it surprising that Mark Cohen supports Park51?
What does Newt Gingrich compare Park51 to? Is this justified?
Why does C. Lee Hanson want Park51 built somewhere else?
Getting your facts straight
Read the two fact boxes and answer the questions:
Illegal Immigration â€“ Fact box (2009 figures) -
Arizona has a total population of 6.6 million
An estimated 375,000 are illegal immigrants
1.7 million Arizonians are of Mexican American heritage.
The United States has a population of 310,000,000
There were an estimated 11.1 million illegal immigrants in America
60% of all illegal immigrants are from Mexico.
President Obama has proposed that a national immigration reform should let illegal immigrants pay a fine, learn English and become citizens.
Where do most illegal immigrants come from?
Work out the percentage of illegal immigrants in relation to the total population of America. Then compare this with the percentage of illegal immigrants in relation to the total population of Arizona. Which is highest?
American Muslims â€“ Fact box -
The majority of American Muslims were born abroad.
Most American Muslims are middle class.
By 2030 the Muslim population of the United States is projected to increase from 2.6 to 6.2 million.
58% of Americans said there was "a lot" of discrimination against Muslims in 2009.
Violence towards American Muslims did not increase after 9/11. 12
More than half of American Muslims say that it has been difficult to be Muslim in America since 9/11.
About a quarter of Muslims say that they have experienced discrimination in the U.S.
Do most American Muslims feel they have experienced discrimination?
To what income class to most American Muslims belong?
Do most Americans believe that American Muslims have suffered discrimination?
How large is the American Muslim population expected to be by 2030?
Discuss one set of questions below in pairs or groups.
Mexican Americans: a
In addition to racial profiling, how might the Arizona law be damaging to the Mexican American community in the state?
Which “basic notions of fairness” in America do you think President Obama felt were being threatened by the law?
Why do immigrants come to America illegally, do you think?
President Obama has proposed a way for illegal immigrants to become American citizens (see fact box above). Others think this would be unfair because it would allow them to “skip ahead” of people already waiting to get into the country legally. What do you think?
There are foreigners living illegally in Norway today. How should they be treated? Should they be allowed an opportunity to become citizens?
American Muslims: a
Some Americans apparently believe that a person can be either a Muslim or an American, but not both. Why is this, do you think? What is your opinion of this?
Why would America’s involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased tensions between American Muslims and the larger American society? Is this also true of Norway?
Do you think that American Muslims are justified in their fear that Islamophobia is increasing in the United States?
Do you think that Park51 should be built?
Discussion: First Person Statements
Read the statements below, and then discuss the questions in pairs or groups.
I was brought here illegally at age 1. I think everyone born in the United States is so lucky. We say the pledge of allegiance every morning. I am the one that does it every day and doesn't sit right down. I say it right. I want to be here. I want to learn. I love this country more than they do and they were born here. I want to go to college. I want to be a teacher. But I must be a legal citizen. I lose hope a lot. Grace, San Diego, CA
People call it the country of dreams … I often would ask my mother why she brought us here. We are only discriminated and not wanted. She answers with a sad expression on her beautiful face. We brought you and your brothers and sisters so that you wouldn’t be hungry anymore. So that you would have a better life. This country indeed has given our family so much and here I haven't ever been hungry. But there is also a lot of hate against us Latinos. Maritza, Scroggins, TX
I’m an 18 year old kid who can’t travel, drive, and get a job anywhere else than Jackin-the Box (restaurant), my record is completely clean but I’m not an American citizen and because of this I can’t achieve my goals in life, nor can I have the normal life a teenager should live. I’m trapped and all because I was born a little too south of a dumb imaginary line. Charlie, San Diego, CA Based on http://www.myimmigrationstory.com/
I live in an area that borders California and Oregon on the coastline. There are many, many, many illegal Mexican children attending our schools. They are the troublemakers who come in with no discipline or speaking abilities much less willingness to go to school. They eat our free meals, require special teachers and bilingual helpers and interpreters. This is a major problem and a drain on our taxpaying. Sally, Oregon
We in Virginia Beach are overrun with Mexicans and everybody and his brother are joining them. There are no jobs here. They play Mexican music at the malls and in stores, sell Mexican food, and even write about selling to Mexican markets in the local rag for grocers. At the rate we are going, the entire USA will become a colony of Mexico. Miss Ross, VA
I can understand why people come into this country illegally but it doesn’t make it right. I feel sorry for the children of illegal immigrants. If you need to deport someone deport the parent. The children are the innocent parties. I know people are going to say that is unfair to the children and yes this very well may be the case but then isn’t it unfair to deport children back to a country they know nothing of? Kerri, Indiana 15
Compare the statement of Grace in San Diego with Sally in Oregon. Grace seems to be highly motivated to go to school. Yet Sally seems to believe that illegal immigrants like Grace are troublemakers with no discipline. How can this difference be explained?
Kerri in Indiana believes that the children of deported illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country. Do you agree? What difficulties would such a solution create?
Why do you suppose an 18-year-old illegal immigrant like Charlie cannot get a driver’s license, start a career or travel abroad? He blames his fate on being born to south of “a dumb imaginary line.” Can a border be thought of as an “imaginary line”? If so, who “imagines” it?
Maritza believes there is “a lot of hate against us Latinos (Spanish speakers in America). What evidence of this do you find in these First Person Statements?
Find answers to one or more of the following questions. Mexican Americans: a
Has immigration reform been passed on the national level since this article was written? If not, is there legislation being proposed?
What happened to the Arizona law? Did the courts declare it “null and void” or did they accept it or some parts of it?
How many illegal immigrants live in the United States today?
When did “racial profiling” become illegal in the United States?
American Muslims: a
Has the building of Park51 gone ahead as planned? What is its status today?
What are the major counties and cultures from which American Muslims come? 16
Have there been any recent protests in America against the establishment of other mosques?
Who are the “Black Muslims” of the United States? How do they differ from the other Muslim groups?
Being an American
The following are characteristics which some view as important to defining a person's nationality: -
language family and ancestry physical characteristics religion citizenship place of birth place of residence loyalty values
Judging from the two articles you have read, which of these characteristics do you think lead some people in the United States to be skeptical of Mexican American? How?
Are these the same characteristics that lead others to be skeptical of Muslim Americans? Is there an overlap between the two?
Which of these do you consider to be most important in defining someone’s nationality? Why?