I witnessed anti-immigrant anger yesterday at Geno’s, a South Philly sandwich shop that, even on a good day, looks like a lunch spot for loonies. The outdoor tables under sheet metal awnings, fluorescent light on orange tiles, angry white men in ball caps, the smell of processed meat, the local wing nut broadcasting his radio show from the sidewalk – all this seemed a recipe for the sort of bigotry-fueled urban violence depicted decades ago by Robert Stone in his novel A Hall of Mirrors.
At issue was the strict immigration law recently passed in Arizona. On one side of the street were protesters alarmed by the antics of Geno’s owner Joey Vento, the rally’s organizer, who likes to rant about illegals. On the other side, at Geno’s, were Vento’s supporters, angry patriots who eat the fat-drenched swill he traffics in. In the middle were hunched and grizzled plainclothes cops whose every gesture seemed to say, “I can’t wait to retire next year…”
Vento and his fellow yahoos want the illegals sent back across the Rio Grande. “We have laws in this country,” the cheesesteak tycoon told a newspaper reporter. “That’s what makes us different from any other country.”
Actually, what made our country different was that immigrants weren’t hamstrung by draconian laws when they got off the boat. They were relatively free to build new lives for themselves. They worked hard and maybe caught a few breaks and often found themselves prospering. The children or grandchildren of these immigrants – even obnoxious self-promoters like Joey Vento – sometimes prospered in a big way.
And yet these children of immigrants, these Cheez Whiz worshippers who drove their gas guzzlers from the suburbs to the city on a moronic whim, don’t feel prosperous. They won’t acknowledge, or are too dumb to realize, that their anti-immigrant political heroes are the same people who authorized huge tax cuts for the rich and two ongoing foreign wars – the main reasons why the U.S. budget surplus became a deficit over the past decade. They know the economy is on the skids and blame its decline on Democrats in government and poor dark people.
Yesterday, Vento said fellow South Philly business owners who hire illegal immigrants should go to prison, where they will “see Big Bubba looking at them” – his term for black inmates – and decide to mend their ways. What is it about some people that makes them instantly conflate fear and loathing with Hispanics and blacks?
I think it’s their diet.