By Tony Robles
I was moved deeply by something I recently witnessed on youtube. A group of minutemen and their supporters gathered with signs and requisite patriotic symbols in front of the Mexican consulate in Santa Ana in support of Arizona’s immigration law. It was a typical minuteman crowd, dripping of entitlement and no sense of responsibility for the history of the landscape that they so vociferously assert to love and defend—a history of murder, removal, and extermination of native peoples. “America for the Americans” and “Go back to Mexico” they say (as well as “God Bless America”). Again, the entitlement is astounding. Across the street from the minutemen was a school whose yard was filled with Raza children at recess. In beautiful resistance they began chanting: Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co! A feeling washed over my body as if I was deprived of oxygen and, in an instant, the breath of life entered me and nourished everything that had been lacking in my soul. A deep breath took me.
For the last 20 or so years I have worked as a security officer—off and on—making the rounds of the financial district, guarding the loading docks and lobbies of what Henry Miller described as the “Big tombs in the sky”. When I first started out, I was a young kid in community college studying broadcasting. The guard job gave me flexible hours and an uncomfortable polyester uniform—itchy, especially in the crotch area (that I dare not scratch), with a nice little policeman’s cap to top it off. I was dispatched to a variety of places. I was nervous, unsure of myself. I would end up with older guards, most of who seemed to have a desire to lecture me.
One such guy was the “field lieutenant”. He was a guy with a brilliant head of white hair. He stood erect and walked with an authoritative gait. He could have been speaker of the house. He explained my post duties to me as if my country depended on it. He then said, “Loose lips sink ships”. I thought, my goodness, what a dinosaur this guy is, laying the World War II stuff on me. He asked me if I’d ever heard of that expression and I, wanting to be respectful like my Filipino father taught me, answered no. The supervisor explained that talking loosely of security related business—namely ours—could make us vulnerable or, more to the point, sink our ship. I shook my head like a good boy, acting like I’d never heard such precious information, but in reality, I’d heard John Wayne say the same thing on a black and white rerun during “Dialing for Dollars”.
One particular post I was assigned to was an office building a block away from the Transamerica pyramid. The guy assigned to train me was an older man, white (White was his last name), who had seen a thousand guys like me pass through—young, brown and going to school (AKA: YBGTS). I was not in the security business as my life’s work (ala White) but as a means to an end. And–as I had done at the other security guard assignment–stayed quiet—and so did White.
But one day Mr. White spoke, going on for some time about immigrants and the way they freeload off society. And I stood there like a good boy, shaking my head while this man told me that the most important contributions to America were made by the founding fathers. I thought of the image of presidents carved onto Mount Rushmore and how a photo I’d once seen of Ray Robinson, Joe Louis and a young Muhammad Ali held more meaning for me. He stressed the words: most important. I was transfixed by his conviction, imparted unto me like the gospel from Charleton Heston himself. And who could dispute such a man as Charleton Heston, having co-starred with God in all those high budget movies (as well as being spokesman for the National Rifle Association–not to mention the hero in the Planet of the apes)? The man looked and spoke to me like I didn’t know anything. But in the back of my mind I knew that while he was erasing my people from history, their footprints were deep in the American landscape as Filipino agricultural workers, union organizers and leaders, poets and artists. Many ended up at the International Hotel 2 blocks away from our security post, fighting eviction from their homes and community. My people’s history was so close and yet there I was, getting a history lesson from a fellow security guard who thought he was better but was, in reality, making 6 dollars an hour just as I was. But I just stayed quiet as he spoke. It has bothered me for more than 20 years. I have never forgotten my silence.
Those children chanting Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co…in the face of the minutemen is everything I couldn’t say on that day. Their voices are the words I didn’t express when I was working with Mr. White. I thank those kids and want to tell them that their voices are heard, loud and clear, and that they have plenty to teach us. Now, when I feel I’m being silenced, I hear the words Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co. I hear those kids.
© 2010 Tony Robles