7.17.2007

LI Latino Immigrants: Codebreakers

According to Reluctant Neighbors (Canvas - July Issue), relations between ethnic groups on Long Island [New York] haven’t always been happy.

Here’s how they stand now.

A cross is burned in the yard of an interracial couple.

In a nearby town a Haitian immigrant also opens his door to face a flaming crucifix.

Two Mexican men are kidnapped, taken to a warehouse and beaten within an inch of their lives. One nearly loses his hand from the knife attack he endures.

Elsewhere, a Latino man is whipped by his employer for not working hard enough.
A hanging noose is strung up in the management area of a factory in order to warn African-American employees to keep out.

It is a catalog of abuse that we’ve come to associate with places like the Deep South in the years before civil rights. But those real-life incidents didn’t happen 50 years ago below the Mason-Dixon Line. They all happened within the past few
years.
And all in New York's Long Island.

Strict racial and class segregation, as well as institutionalized racism, are part and parcel of life on Long Island. African Americans and Native Americans live America's version of Apartheid here, regulated through an endless maze of local codes and customs. The Bantustans (such as Roosevelt, Hempstead, Wyandanch, Brentwood and Shinnecock) feature crowded housing, poor government services and failing public schools. And minority enclaves lack political representation due to the use of at-large election districts.

It's through this historical racial and class frame that anti-Latino immigrant pograms are properly understood. Long Island's historic minorities--African Americans and Native Indians--have been oppressed for so long--with violence and local laws deployed to keep them in their place. And always the demand that they suffer quietly.

That racist legacy is in part why the influx of Latinos into Long Island has sparked such a negative reaction. Latinos, particularly their more visible day worker variety, are seen as wantonly breaking the island's race and class rules. Unable or unwilling to abide by elements of the code, Latinos are guilty of upsetting the status quo--and for that they're being punished.

Latino disobedience is why island politicians Peter King and Steve Levy have been given free reign in the use of governmental force (and then some) to sanction the Latino code breakers. Witness how a majority of white Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, have closed ranks behind King and Levy as enforcers of the code.