June 2015, New York City. A presidential candidate spews, “... the Mexicans ... They’re bringing drugs. ... They’re bringing crime. ... They’re rapists."
North Carolina, July 2019. A crowd at a presidential rally chants, “Send her back!” about Somalia-born, naturalized citizen, U.S. Rep. Illhan Omar, while at the podium the now-president tacitly sanctions the crowd’s rapture. Both of these instances and countless others of that ilk have generated much social censure. A new normal?
As I see it, less highly charged acts of microaggressive bigotry are equally devastating. My wife and I received a piece of mail addressed in hand printing to my wife’s name first, then mine as, “or John Lopez.” Curious. It reeked of that fourth class mail vibe: Occupant. We recognized the lettering style as that of a friend with whom we’ve been out of touch. Kyle (the name I’ll use) and I grew up in the same neighborhood, attended the same schools K-12 and beyond. But the return address on the envelope showed no name. Unusual.
Inside the envelope: two glossy 5x7 inch peel-off adhesive “bumper stickers,” no note or card. One sticker had white letters on a spritely green background with an enigmatic message, "Don't change Lopez let Lopez change you." The other, a dark blue oval outlined in white with "Trump" in the center; beneath that, "Make America Great Again!"
I’m a light-complected, American of Mexican descent born in Los Angeles. Kyle really knows me and my wife — he knows she is an American of English-Dutch heritage born in Pasadena, California. The hell, nearly 50 years ago he attended our wedding.
Such drivel. No salutation or explanation along with the stickers. This was troubling in a threatening, pseudo-sinister way.
As I see it, Kyle supports the president’s original ill will. This president has not only promoted but encouraged a blithe incivility — casual, callous, ugly — specifically targeting us of Mexican heritage but significantly including all non-Eurocentric immigrants, particularly those migrants of color. Like the congresswomen. Seems Kyle got that memo, doesn’t it?
As I see it, this blithe incivility has reached into all facets of American life — a menacing, xenophobic plague. In the absence of an authentic civil discourse, ignorance and hate metastasize, affecting the very structure of our personal relationships.
Am I a victim? In need of self-defense? No way. I’m the son of an immigrant mother. I’m a reasoned patriot, a retired social studies teacher who for 28 years recited the Pledge of Allegiance (like congresspersons?) in classrooms, with a chorus of kids, hands over our hearts, no less than 5,000 times during my teaching career.
When I was an 8-year-old, I was chased by schoolyard bullies who shouted out “wetback!” Dad told me, “Junior, stop running. Just look them in the eye and tell them, ‘My father carried me on his shoulders, I didn’t get wet.’ Then walk away.”
As I see it, Dad’s advice translates presently thus: Don’t be intimidated. Define how you live your life. Publicize the incivility; auger for its redress. Be the ideal you wish for, positive in spirit and deed. Act in ways consistent with your beliefs that America is the preeminent nation of immigrants. “With liberty and justice for all” is not fake news, Kyle.
As I see it, respectable Americans will win out. Especially at the ballot box.
John Lopez Jr. lives in Corvallis.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!