Power and Vertigo

This collection of scholarly essays proves Arizona's anti-Latino fervor won't last long

The last several years have seen Arizona's national reputation plummet, a reality that is well-deserved and therefore all the more embarrassing.

At first, it seems so much worse when the disparate actions and social forces that created the current political climate here are gathered together under one cover, laid out with a bit of history and context, and revealed for what they really are: a sad, rather ridiculous and laughably ill-conceived power grab.

But there is some good news after all.

Reading Arizona Firestorm: Global Immigration Realities, National Media, and Provincial Politics, a scholarly compendium that explores in depth the fears, anxieties, myths and lies that resulted in SB 1070, Proposition 200 (the 2004 voter-ID law), the fight to kill ethnic studies in Tucson and the general anti-immigrant, racist atmosphere that still prevails in Jan Brewer's Arizona, I was struck by one essential truth: They can't win.

The good that will come from this dark period is that someday, not too long from now, we will likely elect a Latina governor. She is in high school right now, and she is angry. She has been accused by the power elite of plotting to overthrow her country simply because she wants to learn about her ethnic heritage. As is often the case when power is wielded stupidly and brutally, a fire has been lit in her belly and her mind. The future is hers, and it almost seems worth staying in a place that, for now, is only getting stupider, meaner, poorer and hotter, just to see what happens.

Not surprisingly, the move by the current powers-that-be to limit Latino students' educational opportunities, based on nothing more substantial than a deep-seated fear of brown skin and ineluctable changes to the state's demographics, has already backfired, in part because, according to the book's chapter on the right's assault on ethnic studies, "Latino students who report more knowledge of their ethnic history, traditions and culture ... reported significantly less depression and higher self-esteem.

"Their commitment and engagement to their own education has deepened. These students and community members are more aware of the stakes involved in legislative activity, and have found a reason to express their civil rights in support for one of the few educational programs that they believed truly helped them succeed. They believe that HB 2281 (the law that made Mexican-American studies illegal) is designed to thwart an education that gives them a better chance of educational success as it bolsters democratic activism."

One wonders: Did Brewer and Tom Horne and John Huppenthal and all the other slowly dying dinosaurs really believe that these young Americans were going to lie down and give up? In 20 years or so, those of us still around will hopefully look back on the Brewer administration as a turning point in Arizona history, a clear and bright before-and-after line—the years when a glaring miscalculation inspired a generation.

Any such future leaders of the state who are looking to get a start on their campaigns would do well to pick up Arizona Firestorm. Editors Otto Santa Ana and Celeste González de Bustamante, professors at UCLA and the UA, respectively, have done a great service by gathering an impressive array of history, interpretation and scholarship on the various anti-immigrant, anti-Latino legislative actions that have plagued Arizona for years. A large portion of the book is dedicated to a careful and comprehensive look at the media's woeful role in the whole mess, and other essays reveal economic and social complexities that have been largely ignored by the right in favor of simplistic posturing and scapegoating.

One essay in particular, "Immigration in the Age of Global Vertigo," takes the "long view," delving into the "inherent duality" in Americans' feelings about immigration and ethnic identity: "We celebrate it looking backward, but fear it in the here and now.

"In the current era, when immigration is closely bound with globalization, these twin forces activate feelings of vertigo—the dizziness that comes from a sense of losing control," the essay says.

One problem with the book is the fault not of its editors, but of the vagaries of the publishing industry: The volume went to press before the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on SB 1070, making some portions of it seem already out of date. Nonetheless, Arizona Firestorm is an essential book for our times. I'd suggest that it should be read in our public schools, but I know that, for now, anyway, that's a nonstarter.

But only for now.

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