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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Protests are fine, but leave the Mexican flags at home”

    Michael HustonColumnist
    Michael Huston
    Columnist

    When an issue gets as big as immigration is in the Southwest right now, you can count on everyone having an opinion. Even high school students here in Tucson and elsewhere have chosen to voice their opinions on the matter through walkouts and protests.

    Students who aren’t even eligible to vote yet deserve praise for caring enough about an issue to take a stand publicly, and there’s no doubt that this week has afforded them a hands-on lesson in civic engagement, an experience that just can’t be duplicated in the classroom.

    That said, don’t be surprised to hear that school districts aren’t going to accommodate these demonstrations much longer and that students who continue to be involved will face consequences.

    Part of civil disobedience is actual disobedience – and that often leads to consequences. Schools are still responsible for conducting the business of education, and the city cannot continue to take police officers away from their usual duties in order to manage large-scale demonstrations.

    Now that their point’s been made and they’ve earned the media attention all protesters crave, it’s about time for students to pack up their picket signs and head back to the classroom.

    These young activists will now get to experience the other, significantly-less-fun-than-skipping-school elements of participation in democratic government: writing letters to their congressmen and newspapers and creating an informed dialogue about the issues.

    But the publicity the protests garnered has had at least some impact on proposed legislation.

    Several of the more radical bills proposed in Congress, such as HR 4437 – which would have made it a felony to be in the country illegally or for anyone, including clergy, to provide humanitarian aid to illegal immigrants – have met such strong opposition that they will likely never make it into law.

    Yet despite their overall productiveness, the protests also offered a sight that many Americans found confusing and that some found downright offensive: the waving of the Mexican flag.

    Observers of the demonstrations have been left asking themselves why, at political rallies in America, held by people who want nothing more than a path to American citizenship and to take advantage of American economic opportunity, we are seeing the Mexican flag displayed with pride and reverence.

    Some have answered that the Mexican flag is merely a cultural symbol, used by the demonstrators to show solidarity. But this is America, and flags have a special significance here.

    Inevitably, most Americans view a flag as more than just a cultural symbol. They tend to think of a flag as a sacred icon representing a nation, its government, its traditions and its people.

    It’s worth noting that student-led protests of government policy like the ones held last week would never have been allowed in Mexico. It is the freedom of this land, symbolized by our flag, that makes such demonstrations and the participation of the people in policymaking possible.

    It’s not that there is anything wrong with having cultural pride, and Mexican-Americans deserve to celebrate their ancestry.

    But this is a debate about illegal immigration and about people so desperate in their homeland that they are willing to risk everything for the chance to reach a new country with a promise of greater opportunity.

    For right or for wrong, many Americans watched news of last week’s protests on television and wondered just what the demonstrators think is so great about Vicente Fox’s corrupt government and a nation that offers so little to its citizens that millions have fled to the U.S.

    Illegal immigrants hoping for a path to citizenship should be celebrating America for all it can offer, not proudly waving the flag of a nation that has failed them.

    Immigration is one of America’s proudest traditions, and it’s one we should never cease to value. To those who doubt that America is the greatest nation on Earth, let the millions of people who would risk death to come here be submitted as evidence.

    As the country works to develop a functional immigration policy, everyone – left and right, Hispanic, white and otherwise – should celebrate this land of opportunity and the freedom that makes a debate about the issues possible.

    And if you’re looking for a symbol to unite behind, Old Glory is clearly the best choice.

    Michael Huston is a junior majoring in political science and philosophy. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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