On January 19, 2012, the Phoenix New Times published “Brown Wave,” a feature article detailing the role that undocumented activists played in last year’s Phoenix City Council race, a race which ended with District 5 incumbent Claude Mattox losing his seat to newcomer Daniel Valenzuela. In the article, Gary Segura, a pollster with local firm Latino Decision, attributed the rise in Hispanic involvement to the “spasm of anti-immigrant sentiment” that has come to define Arizona in the national consciousness. It would seem that, after decades of discrimination against Arizona’s Latinos, the Brown Wave has finally begun to crest. With the November general election looming ever-closer, this surge in community awareness could not be better timed.
A brave new era is just beginning to dawn in the American Southwest. Soon, the inevitable horde of campaign strategists, pollsters, pundits and hacks of all persuasions will gather in the shadow of this Brown Wave, to predict when and where it will thunder down, and to decide how to best take advantage of it when it does.
It may be that the next few years will see a sense of human decency creep into the immigration debate. It may be that undocumented immigrants will begin to be seen as capable, worthy future Americans instead of foreign invaders who must be repelled at any cost, lest they steal all our jobs and infest all our hospitals. It may be that building water stations in the Arizona desert will eventually be viewed as an expression of human decency and not as providing aid and succor to the enemy.
Funny enough, this change will not be due to our sense of ethics as a country, but to the harsh and inevitable march of demographic reality. The change will not be credited to the bloodless academics writing angry screeds in their air-conditioned offices, nor to the priests of affluent parishes. Nor will the credit go to the deserving and tireless idealists who have scuffed the streets registering new voters.
Rather, as Mr. Segura presciently observed, the thanks of the movement belong to the people we are least prepared to give them to, and it is to them that I dedicate this article. I propose a toast: to all the racists, nativists, eugenicists, incumbent politicians, and out-and-out haters who make up a vocal, but shrinking, portion of the Arizona electorate. Without them, where would Arizona be? It is precisely because our Latino community has been forced to endure the blast furnace of racism that it has solidifed into a powerful voting bloc.
Without the years of Sheriff’s deputies stopping cars based on non-existent hunches, without the endless barriers to employment and health care and higher education, without the word spic and all the black bile it encapsulates, the mass of people we know as Latinos might never have had a reason to associate in the first instance. Instead of a common political identity, we might have seen old feuds and ancient divides take root in our state. Whether in the life of a community or the life of an individual, the most useful lessons often come from bitter enemies, not kindly teachers. It is not only our friends who help us along the way.
As Jesus said, “love thy enemy.” And don’t be afraid to give them a toast before the door hits them in the back.