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Wednesday, Jun. 01, 2005 at 12:45 AM
Here's a satirical take on a better place for the Minutemen to "police the borders." Repost from Colorado Indymedia.
Open Letter to Congressman Tom Tancredo and the Minutemen
I grieve for what is happening in my hometown. Immigrants are destroying the culture of the community and displacing families. They put children at risk and are turning schools into battlegrounds. Please deploy your resources to monitor and police the waves of white Christian conservative immigrants who are taking over Southern Colorado, forcing their culture on others, and breeding like rabbits.
I left Colorado Springs when I graduated from high school in 1986. Of the years since then, I spent most in Southern California. Throughout the 1990s, each time I returned to my Colorado hometown, it looked more and more like my adopted Southern Californian home. Most obvious was the seemingly instantaneous strip mall-ification and breakneck speed development that made parts of the city literally unrecognizable even to someone like me, who grew up there. There have been moments when I felt like chunks of Orange County had been plopped down at the feet of Pike's Peak and Cheyenne Mountain. Perhaps the same could be said of many other places in North America. However, even the corporate media tells us something is different about Colorado Springs.
The Springs, we are told, has become a "new Jerusalem" for the Christian right, a refuge from what they see as "urban" problems and fertile soil for building their "traditional" communities. In his May 26 Harper's Magazine article on the city, Jeff Sharlet writes about this transition, telling the story of one "megachurch" (New Life) and its political power. Left out of the story Sharlet tells, as is the case with so many other stories of the "new Colorado Springs," is the subject of race.
What I have seen on my frequent trips back to visit family are not signs of "better living through Jesus," but of a gradual and very specific cultural and ethnic "cleansing." In a city where one high school was not long ago christened "Sand Creek" (and not for the purposes of remembering the racist massacre) and where layers of indigenous history have long since been buried or scripted into settler nostalgia for profit, the religious right is paving the way for a "new American century" with only an indigenous past and not an indigenous present.
Here is what I see when I go back home now: Chicano families I knew, some of whom had lived in the area for generations, are gone, the influx of white Christians (mostly from California) has continued unabated, and the population of migrant Mexican workers (doing the work the white immigrants didn't want to do back in California either) has increased. Perhaps it's easier for me to see because I'm not there on a daily basis and the similarities to Southern California are more obvious to someone who shuttled back-and-forth between the two areas during the heady development boom of the 1990s. But the minority Latino population in Colorado Springs I used to see was a historical Chicano or Mexican American community. Now the most visible Latino population is made up of recent Mexican and Central American immigrants, a shift I can't help but see as inextricably linked to the white flight out of Southern California.
Chicano families are getting harder to find each time I go back. I have heard that some people I knew moved to Pueblo or further south. Across the street from where my friends Victoria and Sal used to live are now big box stores and chain restaurants, and the last time I checked, a white family was living in their old home. This is not to say Colorado Springs was ever the capital of Aztlán. In high school, I remember white kids making fun of a girl who changed her name from Martinez to Martin. "She doesn't want people to know she's Mexican," one popular (and very tanned) white girl said.
Not all the Chicanos are gone. There are still people who self-identify as Chicano and Mexican American in Colorado Springs, including in my own family. The astronomical increase in the white population, which continues to multiply at an unsustainable rate, makes the remaining Chicano population look smaller. With so many white people flooding into the Springs, the population could stay more or less the same and still be overwhelmed by the white religious right's expansionism.
There is also an "old white" on "new white" gang war that ultimately hurts Chicano and indigenous Southern Colorado. This white-on-white turf dispute has led to a curious new gang "sign," the "Native" bumper sticker. Over the past decade, it's been hard to miss the ubiquitous green and white gang stickers (modeled after a Colorado license plate design) with the word "Native" printed across a mountainscape and affixed to the bumpers of cars. Almost invariably, these cars are driven by white people who sometimes explain the stickers as jabs at the waves of (white) Californians who relocated to Colorado in the 1980s and 1990s. Without the slightest sense of the obscenity of their claim of “Native” status, these white drivers see themselves as different from the white Californian transplants who, as the corporate media purported, were escaping rising property costs to settle in the wide, open spaces of the rustic mountain state, “where the buffalo roam.”
That the exodus of conservative white Californians coincided with the vitriolic anti-immigrant racism that eventually led to the passage of California’s Propositions 187 and 209 (which denied health care and education rights to undocumented immigrants and repealed affirmative action respectively) did not factor into most accounts of the white migration at the level of general public discourse, even if occasional comments were made about white Californians wanting to leave behind the dangers of "gangs" and "crime" (read: people of color).
But what I see doesn't seem to factor into the story of the religious right in Colorado Springs. The white immigrant scourge has been very successful in defining the terms of the narrative. They're tricky like that.
When trying to understand the religious right in the Springs and its political power, many journalists today turn to sympathetic "human interest stories" inside the so-called megachurches. Stories "introducing" readers to individual pastors and church members have appeared on NPR programs and in a variety of newspapers and weekly news magazines over the past few years. In his Harper's piece, Jeff Sharlet explores what he calls "America's most powerful megachurch" in Colorado Springs, the New Life Church, situated on the north end of town near the Focus on the Family headquarters and the Air Force Academy. He calls the Springs a "city of fables," and in so doing (even with a critical eye on the religious right), omits the real issues expressed along "color lines."
The story Sharlet tells follows a predictable pattern. A determined pastor heeds his unlikely calling and establishes a church, against the odds, in a remote location, and the faithful flock to create a "new" community based on "traditional" values. When "Pastor Ted" Haggard arrived in Colorado Springs, Sharlet writes, "Colorado Springs was a small city split between the Air Force and the New Age." (While I always felt the military's presence growing up there, I never noticed the "ungodly" New Age problem. And the Springs was hardly a "small" backwater.) By battling "gays and witches," Haggard believed the "evil forces" dominating the city could be vanquished. He even apparently hung out at the Hide and Seek, a local gay club, to woo converts. The city itself, in Haggard's eyes, would be the final battleground; the stand down between good and evil would take place in school board meetings, prayer circles, and real estate developers' offices. New Life has succeeded in creating battles, to be sure, but the casualties of their war, as I see it, have been families, specifically Chicano families.
This is not to say New Life hasn't also made life harder for lesbians and gays in the Springs, also the birthplace of Colorado's anti-gay Amendment Two. But when Fred Phelps' notorious Kansas church recently protested a gay-straight student alliance at Palmer High School in downtown Colorado Springs, many more people showed up to protest Phelps' hate-mongering than to participate in the Phelps' followers' "God Hates Fags" chants. (To quote my Uncle B, Phelps must have been worried that "those Focus on the Family wannabes were slacking off and sucking up to the queers.") The public rallying around the downtown students' efforts to promote gay rights was heartening. In that counter-protest, I saw hope that the immigrant scourge had yet to succeed in completely taking over the Springs.
But the questions of racism and increasing economic stratification don't seem to garner the same level of resistance even from the besieged progressives of the Springs. I believe this is, in part, a result of the craftiness of the immigrants and their misleading use of language to force their views on others, especially other white folks who are easily scared.
Across North America many megachurches boast diversity in their membership. In Orange County, I had occasion to witness one jarring enactment of what such diversity can look like. A teenage boy to whom I am close was invited, along with his family, to the home of one of his mother's church "friends." (His mother was a member of the enormous Saddleback Church, a big sibling to New Life.) The boy's mother was having car trouble and asked if I would drive them there. I walked them to the door of an excessively large Aliso Viejo home, and the host invited me inside too. Thomas Kincaid paintings, hallmarks of conservative Christian affluence, adorned almost every wall, and every other guest in the home was a white 30-something adult. It didn't take long to figure out that these "good Christian couples" had "adopted" the "poor Filipino American family" for Christmas. They made a big show of handing out gifts to the boy and his siblings (white Barbies, brand sneakers, and religious propaganda).
If this is what "diversity in membership" looks like within megachurches, the increase in the recent Mexican migrant population in Colorado Springs takes on an added layer of significance. It appears these white immigrants prefer their diversity to be hierarchically clear-cut. I don't think it's a coincidence that the various displacements and relocations that mark the Springs today are shaped by stark income disparities. NAFTA policies fuel the extralegal movement of people across borders, which fills the need for cheap labor to maintain lawns, clean buildings, and wash dishes. And the dwindling percentage of Chicano or Mexican American families keeps the prospect of a larger, non-subservient Latino class further at bay.
These white immigrants couch their pathological quest for dominance in the language of absolutes. Like I said, they're tricky like that.
The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California boasts a Hall of Fame for "Christian Capitalists," and New Life's "mission" is likewise predicated on the bond between cultural imperialism and aggressive expanisionism, the hydra heads of missionary arrogance and "free market" hubris. Sharlet writes that New Life's Ted Haggard sees "free market" ideology as "truth." "Globalization, he believes, is merely a vehicle for the spread of Christianity." If history teaches us anything, this spells trouble.
But that's not all these immigrants bring. The attendant development and "renewal" projects that accompany their increased presence displace and further oppress historically disadvantaged communities. The victims of this arm of their campaign are children. School closures in black and Latino neighborhoods, such as what one already sees in Oakland, California, appear to be next on their Colorado take-over "to-do" list. And they have even enlisted the help of people of color to make this happen.
As will be familiar to anyone who has followed Ward Connerly's career, having a person of color in a high-profile policy-making position of authority in no way guarantees the needs of youth of color will be better addressed. District 11 in Colorado Springs was the target of a white conservative immigrant school board take-over, and African American conservative Willie Breazell was among those who won a place on the new board. Not long after, the most vulnerable school in the district was targeted for possible closure.
Helen Hunt elementary, a school with one of the largest black and Latino student populations within Colorado Springs proper, was deemed "underperforming" according to No Child Left Behind guidelines, and Willie Breazell outraged parents and teachers alike when he explained Hunt's "failures" by arguing that middle class white parents in other districts were simply better advocates for their children. According to the April 14, 2005 Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, Breazell said, “Those parents come and articulate their particular concerns. You’re not going to get a parent from Adams or Hunt (elementaries) coming here to talk about dyslexia. They probably don’t even know what it means.”
Clearly, the impact of the immigrant scourge, while arguably legal, has been pervasive and detrimental in a community that already suffered more than its share from white supremacy and racist brainwashing. My own high school's mascot is still "the Indians," the name of Sand Creek High School appears to bother almost no one, and Sal, my fourth-generation Colorado Springsian friend who wore his "100% Chicano" baseball cap every weekend, moved to Pueblo.
Nevertheless, resistance does happen. Families and teachers in District 11 protested Breazell's comments, a kid in Widefield is being "investigated" by the Secret Service because his high school yearbook picture included the caption "most likely to assassinate President Bush," and one of my cousin's sons is planning a comic book lampooning the white "founders" of the city.
But if the white immigration problem is to be corrected and some semblance of social justice brought to this embattled city, something more needs to happen. I suggest armed patrols be set up in white neighborhoods in the Springs, particularly those newer communities on the north end of town where the immigrants are pushing their extreme agenda most aggressively. (To prevent any confusion, an entirely black, Latino, Asian, and American Indian militia should be established for this purpose.) Perhaps you can set up check points in front of New Life and Focus on the Family and detain anyone who looks suspicious (which could be anyone white who, upon questioning, indicates they moved to the Springs within the past decade or so. Or, to be safe, why not just randomly and indefinitely detain any white people). In addition to white immigration, I am very concerned about the white gang problem, the "new white" and "old white" crews. I suggest any white person caught with "gang" gear (such as "Native" bumper stickers or fish decals on the backs of their cars) be photographed and entered into a police gang registry. If any person on such a list commits a crime, she or he should be subjected to the harshest "gang enhancement" sentencing guidelines available under the law.
So is the white Christian conservative immigrant scourge that is determined to destroy more families. Through, in Haggard's words, "violent, confrontive prayer," they hope to change cities into encampments where their "values" and culture will reign supreme. Haggard also tells Sharlet, "In America the descendants of the Protestants, the Puritan descendants, we want to create a better future, and our speakers say that sort of thing. But with the influx of people from Mexico, they don't tend to be the ones that go to universities and become our research-and-development people. And so in that way I see a little clash of civilizations." These white extremists are preparing to carry out an even more extensive cultural and ethnic "cleansing," and they must be stopped.
Adrienne Carey Hurley, Ph.D., is a white person and a Japan Studies Fellow at the Stanford Institute for International Studies.
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