"600 Words by Esther J. Cepeda"
Our constitutionally protected freedom of speech is a beautiful thing. "The freedom to speak without censorship and/or limitation," as Wikipedia so elegantly puts it, is "the synonymous term freedom of expression, sometimes used to indicate not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on 'hate speech.'"
Ahhhh, hate speech -- like an oft-quoted remark about pornography, people may have trouble defining it, but they seem to know it when they hear or see it -- or so they think. But hey, I'm not here to induce a legal argument for one over the other, the topic simply sprung to mind once I started getting the inevitable emails about the "filthy animals [in Haiti] getting government welfare [from the "American people"] when we've got our own crisis going on." But don’t take my word for it, you’re only a quick Google search away from reading the truly vile things people are saying about Haiti.
I’m sure you've heard it, too. For every kid who's hit you up for a dollar to add to their school fund for Haitian relief efforts, you've heard someone in a corner muttering (quietly now, but they'll get louder, believe me) about how "we" here in the United States are in a crisis because so many hardworking Americans are out of a job and the economy is in the crapper.
The backlash was inevitable, but I choose to believe that in most cases people did not know that -- hello!!! -- Haiti has been so poverty stricken for so long that last year mothers were baking mudcakes in the sun to fill their children's stomachs with something that would keep them from bloating up and dying in that same sun.
Most people --especially those who don't travel out of the country often -- don't really understand the dire circumstances abroad and can't imagine that most Americans, even those suffering through the toughest of economic times, are still better off than millions around the world.
Still, I was ornery when my inbox sported a bulletin from theCenter For Immigration Studies. They took the opportunity of this nation's unified response to the impoverished country to put out a Fact Sheet on Haitian Immigrants to the U.S.
Why? It appears to add facts to underlie angry blog posts such as: "The Answer to the World's Problems — Immigration to America," "Help Haitians — in Haiti," "Illegal Use of Welfare Can Justify Fee Waivers for Haitian TPS Applicants," and "Spreading the Inevitable Flood of Haitian Refugees Around the Region," which they are also promoting.
My thought: what, not enough Haitians just plain dead enough for ya, that you have to whine they might be coming – gasp!— here?
Nope, I'm not complaining. As residents – not "citizens", but merely residents – of this great country, we're all entitled to our opinions, informed, uninformed, malevolent, concerned or otherwise.
And because of that I send out the only thing you can extend to people so bitter and angry that they can only ooze hatred on the weakest among us: I send love.
Yes, to all those who may read this and rail against the Haitians who have mostly captured this country's compassion, consider yourself hugged.
Esther J. Cepeda writes the "600 Words" & "Pregunta del Dia" columns, and is also the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her views and reporting do not necessarily reflect those of ISAC. "600 words" is a registered trademark of EeJayCee, Inc., Copyright 2008. May be reprinted with permission, contact firstname.lastname@example.org