'Crossing the Line'

There's a new thing in the barrios . I call it terror of government. You call it what you like.

I've just done my periodic service registering Latino voters in a Santa Ana barrio . (I volunteer regularly because I want to help and because I speak a glib Spanish.) But this year if these people saw me at all, they saw me through lowered eyelids. I mixed with dozens of Latinos outside a popular public market. But not quite mixed. I was an alien there, with an alien public document. Finally a young man--a U.S. citizen but who himself refused to register to vote until he'd talked to his papa--confessed that these people were all scared. Citizen and noncitizen alike, they all enjoyed the comforting anonymity of the large South Bristol barrio , and feared being singled out as "voters." Who knows what that would lead to?

Back at headquarters, where I turned in my meager gleanings, the members of the Latino Unit said, "So now you know. That's the way it is."

But my point remains: This is not the way it used to be. They used to shake my hand, invite me in for a beer. The barrio was an open and friendly place.

Therefore, my further point is in order: This is the fallout from INS Western regional Commissioner Harold Ezell's years of insistence that aliens are dangerous, from his publicized sweeps that treat alien workers like criminals, from his intentional confusion of illegal entry with illegal drugs, etc.

This propaganda cuts two ways. Of course it is "successful" with the general public: Surveys show that people are increasingly suspicious of aliens. And inevitably a defensive reaction sets in within every ethnic enclave: the beginnings of ghettoization. I have no doubt that ethnic relations in Southern California are worse than they are in the Old South today. For some transitory political advantage we are being led down a dangerous but well-marked road.


Laguna Beach

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