Pardon the disturbance, but we refuse to be silent

Photo by Nar Dorrycott

“[The Legislature is] the place to put down the guns, unclench the fists and act like decent, full-grown humans willing to solve their differences without violence. And — this is the part that actually makes it work — to abide by the results until the next time to fight, whether that’s in court, at the polls or in the next legislative session.”

Legislators show that men will be boys — if you let them

— Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune

Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey attempts to minimize the events in the Texas House of Representatives on the last day of the session (“Men will be boys”), where a member of the majority party threatened a peaceful protest of an unjust law, calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and yelling for deportations. The protesters were predominantly Hispanic.

The law in question, Senate Bill 4, is not even a month old and racial profiling and the politics of intimidation are already in full force. SB 4 is a law that seeks to punish local law enforcement and municipalities for not taking on the federal obligation of immigration enforcement. This is also known as the “show me your papers” law since it encourages questioning of citizenship for even routine traffic stops and has shown to lead to racial profiling.

When the member was reminded that his last name is Rinaldi, the product of Italian immigrants, his response to me and my colleagues was, “at least my people love this country.”

He said this on Memorial Day, knowing full well that I and my fellow Hispanic colleague are both U.S. military veterans. Love of country can even come without full rights — the first casualty in the Iraq War was a legal permanent resident.

Yes, there was a time I took up guns. I proudly served as a Stinger missile gunner and later as a military intelligence analyst in the U.S. Navy. But let me be clear: You don’t need to wear a uniform or wait for the next legislative session or the next election to speak up and do what’s right. Each one of us can do that at any moment, on any given day.

And what was right that day was to stand up for the peaceful protestors, which included families with children, ministers and veterans. After all, it’s not our House; it’s the people’s House.

Last weekend on a Portland train, good Samaritans stood up to defend two women who were being verbally assaulted simply for wearing a hijab. One was a serviceman, but they all did the right thing. While Rep. Rinaldi did not wield a knife, his verbal attacks on the protesters in the gallery on Monday were based in the same fear of the other — but in Rinaldi’s case, those “others” actually have been in Texas longer than the “gentleman” from Irving.

Ramsey calls this all a “beef” — the result of being on the losing end of a vote. He doesn’t get it. This isn’t a disagreement about an issue, it’s a disagreement about the issue — who we are as a people and the values we stand on. Waves of immigrants have blessed this land and spilled their blood over more than two centuries. Yet one thing has always remained constant: our Constitution.

This isn’t about decorum. I’m a sailor; I can take the salty language. This is about whether we sit idly or stand up in the face of ethnic scapegoating, racial profiling and abusing the power of the state to intimidate the less powerful.

One final history lesson for those like Rep. Rinaldi who want to challenge my citizenship or my loyalty: I’m from El Paso, which boasts the earliest settlements in Texas. My colleague and fellow veteran, Rep. Philip Cortez, is from San Antonio, which is getting ready to celebrate its 300th anniversary. Our ancestors’ names can be found among the heroes of the Alamo, among the honored on the Vietnam Memorial as well as on the Texas Capitol grounds.

So excuse the disturbance, Mr. Ramsey, but we have no intention of remaining silent in the face of bigotry and injustice.

César Blanco

State Representative, District 76