By Janet Murguia
`JANET is a lying, fact-misrepresenting Mexican jerk. There will come a day when the average American has had enough of her and her lies and runs her back to Mexico with the rest of the diseased, ignorant, budget-ruining, crime-causing scum they are.”
Since I became head of the National Council of La Raza three years ago, I have received hate mail. My predecessor got it as well.
Typically, we shrug it off as coming with the territory. When people tell me to “go back to where you came from,” I joke that they would be surprised to find they are sending me back home to Kansas.
It is no longer a joke. I received that e-mail above at the height of the immigration debate and have received many more, including death threats. So have many members of my staff. The immigration debate has opened the floodgates to hate speech in this country of ours. Hate and extremists are defining the debate on immigration.
Hate is part of our national legacy. Throughout U.S. history, American Indians, blacks, Irish immigrants and other groups have suffered from injustice stemming from hate. The immigration debate has made the Hispanic community hate’s latest target, and too often, the news media serve as the anti-immigrant bullhorn.
The Internet, television and the political stage have become platforms for hate. Turning the term “illegal” into a noun, nativists, extremists and politicians have broadcast their messages across the country. They demonize
the undocumented and, in turn, all Latinos. They depict us as disease-ridden invaders and criminals.
The media have been instrumental in moving this language from the fringes of society right into our living rooms and everyday lives.
Dan Stein, president of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, has warned that immigrant groups are engaged in “competitive breeding” aimed at eliminating white power. He has appeared on MSNBC at least eight times and on CNN at least 18 times. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled FAIR a hate group.
Television-talk-show hosts like CNN’s Lou Dobbs have echoed the anti-immigrant hate speech, calling undocumented immigrants “criminals” and an “army of invaders.” Glenn Beck, a CNN commentator, jokingly read an ad that said the one-step solution to the immigration and energy crises is a “giant refinery” that produces “Mexinol,” a fuel made from the bodies of illegal immigrants coming here from Mexico.
The news media are not the only ones willing to work with anti-immigrant extremists; some politicians do, too. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee accepted the endorsement of Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist, a man who proclaimed he is “proud to be a vigilante.”
The distorted images projected by the media and some politicians have had dangerous consequences. All Latinos become targets for anti-immigrant hate crimes and speech because it is impossible to look at us and determine who is a citizen and who is not.
According to the FBI, anti-Latino hate crimes have increased by 23 percent over the past two years.
The reality is that most immigrants, undocumented and documented, are hardworking and family-oriented – they are a part of our national fabric. Many hold down multiple jobs to provide for their families. The undocumented would choose to be here legally if they could, but the immigration system is broken. For people wanting to come here, there is a 20-year backlog to legal entry.
The only way to combat hate is to confront it with something just as strong, just as pervasive in society – hope. The hope for a better future for all U.S. residents is the driving force behind National Council of La Raza efforts to unite with others to silence hate speech and stop hate crimes.
Last month, I experienced the power of hope firsthand. I was honored to be the first Hispanic keynote speaker at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. unity breakfast in Birmingham, Ala. I urged blacks and Latinos to renew both communities’ historic commitment to promoting equal opportunity for all of us. Unity among all communities will strengthen our resolve to remove hate from the mainstream.
Anti-immigrant groups are using every medium to spread their message of hate. We must be just as persistent with our message of hope. The National Council of La Raza has launched a Web site, http://www.wecanstopthehate.org, as part of our Wave of Hope campaign. We have also written letters to politicians and network executives insisting that they eliminate hate from the immigration debate on their news programs.
Hope is more than just wishing for improvement. It is an expectation backed by action. The media have a responsibility not to amplify the voice of hate. The rest of us have a responsibility to challenge those seeking office to renounce the politics of hate and to distance themselves from those known to be affiliated with hate groups or vigilantes. Together, we can ensure that hope triumphs.
Janet Murguia is president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy and civil-rights organization. She writes a monthly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service.