Column No. 4315 Length: 625 words
FOR SMITH AND SUAREZ, THERE’S A CURE FOR NEIGHBORLY TENSIONS
By Esther J. Cepeda
Hispanic Link News Service/Scripps Howard
Be nice to your neighbors. Your future depends on it.
Tensions over Mexican immigrants have been roiling in village board rooms across the United States, 41 to be exact, with Hazleton, Pa., garnering the lion’s share of the spotlight. At issue: grassroots efforts to enforce anti-illegal immigrant legislation that trump those of the federal government.
The drama between town fathers and mothers and the daughters and sons who’ve chosen to adopt them played itself out recently in a town called Carpentersville, a suburb of Chicago. There, an outpouring of immigrant activist muscle collided with certain economic realities which mimic those across the nation, resulting in an object lesson in neighborly love.
It started when Carpentersville officials decided they would show the estimated 18,000 Hispanic residents — about half the town’s population — who’s who by threatening to cleanse the streets of unsavory immigrants. The officials enacted a curiously named Illegal Alien Immigration Relief ordinance. It would, mimicking some others nationally, make English the official language for village documents, forms and signs, levy high fines on landlords who rented to "illegal immigrants" and deny business permits to employers found to have knowingly hired undocumented workers.
The board didn’t expect immigrant activists to mobilize more than 3,000 supporters and voice what, just weeks before, an independent task force of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs had found in a highly publicized report that the region’s future is tied to Mexicans.
According to the report, 11 percent of all foreign-born U.S. residents are found in the Midwest. In the Chicago metropolitan area that number goes up to a whopping 18 percent, 41 percent of whom are Mexican. The authors say in no uncertain terms that the region’s economic growth depends greatly on how well it can integrate the booming Mexican community into the local economy.
A Census analysis showed that of the 219,000 new homeowners in the Midwest, 52 percent were born in other countries. In Chicago and surrounding suburbs the percentage was 81 percent. Is it any wonder that Carpentersville, facing a tremendous public outcry, not to mention shaky legal legs, pulled a 180 and tabled the matter indefinitely?
Okay, the stern warnings from its insurers that such legislation would cause "clear liability exposure" leading to high financial risk resulting from denial of liability coverage might have had something to do with it, too.
So where does this town go from here?
It should go to where it should have started: back to the most basic, dare we say All-American tenets of small-town living: Love Thy Neighbor and Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.
There are lessons for both sides.
The town folk can take a cue from Leave It to Beaver. Make a tuna casserole or bake a carrot cake and deliver it with a cheerful "hello" to the new arrivals on your block. Thank them for propping up your community’s economy with their work ethic and motivation to become homeowners.
For the new arrivals, it’s far too easy to huddle in the shelter of their relationships with family and friends who came before them. They can reciprocate the welcome by complimenting George next door in English, no matter how awkward, on his manicured lawn, nice children and friendly pet dog.
To cinch the relationship, they can acquaint their new neighbors with some homemade tamales or a pot of gallina en mole.
To cement the bond forever, on a Sunday morning when George appears a bit under the weather, Manuel can offer to share his magical Mexican cure called menudo.
Not a perfect plan, but it’s a start.