Are We Heading to a Race War?

Arizona’s state legislature passed “the toughest measure in the country against illegal immigrants” yesterday, requiring police officers to check your immigration status if they have a “reasonable suspicious” you are not “legal.” It also makes it a misdemeanor to not carry your immigration paperwork.

You can read about it at the LA Times or at the Arizona Republic.

I think Annie Lai, an attorney with the ACLU, said it best: “One of the most disturbing aspects is that many innocent U.S. citizens, Native Americans and lawful residents will be swept up in the application of the law because of the requirement that officers detain and investigate the immigration status of people they come across.”

And that’s the long and short of it. Not only has Arizona further criminalized “illegal immigrants,” it has also criminalized “legal immigrants” and all brown-skinned people, anyone who might look like some bigot’s stereotype of what an “illegal” is.

Even if this “collateral damage” of the bill is unintended (and I think there is enough of a record of racism in this nation and this region for one to make the plausible argument that it is not), and even if that damage could be contained and minimized in some way, the fact of the matter is that this state has now seen fit to legalize the policing of the movement and presence of human bodies in ways unheard of since the era of Southern Slavery.

So where will this take us?

We are already seeing an increase in physical acts of violence committed against Latinos, much of it related to bigoted notions of legality and illegality. In extreme, though not unfamiliar instances, this has resulted in death. The US fomented drug war, further given shape and violence by the incompetence of Mexican authorities to do much of anything, is claiming lives and escalating the culture of fear and racism on both sides of the border. And individual states are passing measures that come right out of fantastical satires of 21st century fascism.

I consider myself a reasonable person. I am also one who is very committed to peace. For me, this is a real political and social project, not just empty rhetoric. It comes with a fundamental belief that we can, in fact, create systems of human relations that meet everyone’s basic human needs, including the freedom from needless acts of violence–whether physical, emotional, economic, or political. But even I am scared about the future.

I can’t help thinking that we are heading toward a much darker time. To suggest that wanton violence may be a part of that time is silly. It already is. And we all moved one step closer to further nurturing it yesterday.

Mexicano to become next Archbishop of LA

Pope Benedict XVI named José Gomez the co-adjutor archbishop of Los Angeles.  The 58-year-old Gomez, who currently serves as the Archbishop of San Antonio, Texas, now becomes the official successor to Cardinal Roger Mahoney when he turns 75 next year, the mandatory retirement age for archbishops.

You can read the LA Times story here.

The appointment of Gomez is already being lauded as a momentous day in the LA Archdiocese, since the Mexican-born priest becomes the first Latino to hold such a high position in the region since 1846 (the Spanish-Mexican era).  As the Times writes, his appointment “was apparently a nod to the demographics of Los Angeles, where Latinos form a large part of the overall population and especially of the region’s Roman Catholics.”

Gomez is a conservative priest; he is a member of Opus Dei and received his current appointment near the end of the papacy of John Paul II.  Pope John Paul II made a record number of appointments to the Church hierarchy in his final years, most of which involved conservative advocates in the Church.  He increased the size of the College of Cardinals (the body who chooses the pope) and, in the case of the U.S. Church, made key appointments to major Archdioceses.  Gomez’ new appointment continues this trend.

If you are Roman Catholic and Latin American, then the appointment of Gomez is, I suppose, a momentous occasion.  In a city like Los Angeles, where the Mexican (and Central American) population is a definable sector of the city’s economy, society, culture, and, well, everything, then this kind of  recognition is fitting.  It is especially noteworthy that it comes from an institution that has struggled to meet the culturally-specific spiritual needs of the people it serves.  (All previous Archbishops of the LA Archdiocese, proper, have been European or U.S.-born whites.)

But there are other forces involved here, too.  Los Angeles is an immigrant city, making it one of the epicenters of US Catholicism in the 21st century.  As the US Catholic Church continues to lose its hold over the US faithful, the immigrants who revitalize our economy and society also do the same for the church.  The appointment of a mexicano, in particular, is a clear attempt to make immigrant LA feel more welcome and at home in the church.

But immigrants are not loyal Catholics without limits.  One of the major trends facing the Catholic Church is the growth in Latino immigrant Protestant sects and established Protestant Churches who are making major inroads in their recruitment of the Spanish-speaking.  This is an ages-old problem in the Church, one referred to as “Protestant leakage” in their U.S. historical records.  The appointment of Gomez is also a clear attempt to stem this tide, and reaffirm the place and position of the Catholic Church in Latino America.

Only time will tell if they are successful, though I personally think the cards are stacked against them.  With the scandal of protected pedophilia plaguing the Church now, this is a critical moment in its North American history–a time without comparison.  Out of this moment of crisis will come a reshaped Church, one likely even more immigrant-dependent than in the past.  But the ultimate question is the extent to which it will be adversely affected by these scandals.