1917: The Year I Would Have Been Banned From The U.S.


Chapter 29 of the Second Session of the Sixty-Fourth Congress of the United States of America, February 5, 1917, passed “An Act To regulate the immigration of aliens to, and the residence of aliens in, the United States” (also called the “Asian Barred Zone” if you want to do some research yourself). If I had been alive and not a U.S. citizen at the time this legislation took effect, I would have been among the immigrant hopefuls who would have been banned from entry. I would have been a “defective” person on the “prohibited” list, an “undesirable”.  That’s what this piece of law was all about. The United States was expanding its category of people to discriminate against. Rather than list all the legal rigmarole that are the basic nuts and bolts of the wherefores and heretofores, the gringa will get to the heart of the matter. I will focus on the sections that express the minds and wills of the white majority of the United States in 1917.

Section one defines the term “alien” as any person not a native-born or naturalized citizen of the U.S., but specifically excludes the Native Americans of North America and the Native Islanders of U.S. territories. At this time the Philippine Islands and Hawaii were U.S. territories. Once the term alien was defined, the U.S. could then make it clear who was, and who was not, invited to the party. The following were to be banned from entry into the United States:

  • Idiots (good thing all those legislators got here before 1917)
  • Imbeciles
  • Feeble-minded
  • Epileptics (that would be me)
  • Insane persons
  • Anyone who had a single attack of insanity at any point in their life (that rules out pretty much everyone I know here in the barrio where shit gets real from time to time)
  • Persons with a “constitutional psychopathic inferiority” (At first I thought that must mean psychopaths, until I looked up the definition of those words according to that time period. “Constitutional” means a condition you are born with. “Psychopathic” means regarding the realm of the mind or emotions. “Inferiority” means sub-standard in function, adaptability and self-progress. So, persons who were born with a mind, or set of emotions, that was below average were prohibited.)
  • Alcoholics
  • Paupers
  • Professional beggars
  • Vagrants
  • Persons sick with a contagious disease
  • Persons with a mental or physical defect that would affect the ability to earn a living
  • Convicted felons of moral crimes
  • Polygamists (again, the Mormons)
  • Anarchists
  • Prostitutes
  • Contract laborers
  • Persons likely to become a public charge
  • Persons who had their passage paid for by another party
  • Stowaways
  • Unaccompanied minors
  • Asians not originating from a U.S. territory
  • Prior deported persons
  • Illiterates, unless returning residents or immigrating to escape religious persecution

The classifications of some of these people, such as, idiots, imbeciles, beggars, epileptics, feeble-minded, physically defective, etc., became the basis for a following trend in American municipalities to pass what were commonly called “ugly laws”. Not only did the white majority in America want a “white” America, they also wanted a “pretty to look at” America. It remains ironic that these same classes of people who were prohibited from entering the country would often pass by the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, an icon of hope, bearing a plaque which read:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

What a big, fat, American lie. And America’s been lying to everyone since the day the Puritans first set foot on the shores of Plymouth. The immigrants here in my barrio, however, are nobody’s fools. What I find incredibly interesting is that most of my immigrant neighbors are better educated on the true history of America than most native born Americans. Where they got a stiff dose of startling truth in mandatory world studies of their country of origin’s education systems, we native Americans get brainwashed with the propaganda machine our country created to make us good little American boys and girls, isolated from the rest of the world, and puffed up with a sense of superiority. Being a gringa in the barrio is a humbling experience. Especially when I realize that many of my immigrant neighbors were not on my country’s reject list like I, myself, would have been.

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/39%20stat%20874.pdf

http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2850&context=jclc

https://books.google.com/books?id=pXW69O5po3AC&pg=PA165&lpg#v=onepage&q&f=false

Photo credit:  en.wikisource.org

Proud Laborers of the Barrio


From time to time I hear politicians, as well as certain people in the media, stirring the “class warfare” pot. They all remind us we better stock up on our provisions.  Gather up your pitchforks and torches.  And, for God’s sake, don’t forget to pile up all the junk you can find to safely barricade your “domain”.  Class warfare? Seriously? I don’t know about you, but this gringa and all her neighbors in the barrio do not have time for such nonsense.  We’ve got mouths to feed and the only way to do it is to work, work, work.  If the gringa is not pounding away at the keyboard working (or playing Spider Solitaire), scrubbing a toilet, laundering yet another load of stinky socks and unmentionables,  then she’s having adventures with the Latin man of her dreams or basking in the glory of the presence of the kids and grandkids. And, as far as I can tell, all the people in the barrio are doing the same. So, why all the paranoia and fear-mongering from the politicians and media?

Recently the gringa and her caveman escaped the barrio for “uptown” (which means we went a few blocks west).  We had lunch at a local restaurant. The lady in the booth behind us was talking on her phone to a family member. She was giving this person directions to the neighborhood pool from her home. Overhearing her directions (yes, I am a notorious eavesdropper), I was able to determine that I was familiar with the neighborhood she lived in.  It is an exclusive, gated housing development.  All the homes back up to a golf course. Many of these million dollar plus properties are of the most modern designs incorporating the latest technology. Sometimes they are marketed as “smart homes”.  I easily drew the conclusion that this was probably a wealthy woman.  As she explained the details of purchasing a seasonal pool pass for the neighborhood pools she concluded by expressing her dismay that because these were “public” pools even people that did not reside in her “village” could get these passes, they just had to pay more.  It seemed disturbing to her to find herself sunning next to a table where one of these poor families had set up camp so she explained if she had to go she preferred to go early and on a weekday.

My husband and I have taken our kids and grandchildren to these pools numerous times over the years.  What I would like to know is how can a rich person know another person is poor when you are all basically wearing underwear that passes as outerwear simply because the fabric is lined? Does the working class gringa and her familia have a glowing, poor person aura?  Do we exude a distinct barrio fragrance? Do the wealthy have a poor person detector implanted discreetly in their body? Perhaps it is my banged up, duct taped ice chest that has seen many seasons of use at the pool, the beach and the campground that gives me away. Maybe it’s the twenty dollar haircuts we all sport from Great Clips. She might be able to detect the presence of an eight-dollar-a-bottle Clairol redhead (before I went blonde). However, most likely it is the Wal-Mart brand drinks and snacks that always litter the table. Yes, that’s probably it. I shop generic. Ya know, the “more bang for your buck” method of shopping? Perhaps we are seen pulling through the parking lot in our old, beat up mini-van with the one broken door that has the lock duct-taped down so no one makes the mistake of unlocking and opening it because we’ll never get it closed again if they do! But, don’t hate the van, it was paid for! I do know, however, that our manners are not the dead give-away. We may be working class and can’t afford Gucci, but, by golly, being polite and considerate is a freebie to all!

Please, have no fear, rich folk, if you find yourself side by side with the poor folk. We are all out for the same thing, just a little fun in the sun.  Heck, just think about it. That beautiful park you are enjoying is manicured regularly by some working class Joes. Speaking of manicure, your lovely toes and fingers are sporting a mani/pedi compliments of some working class gal (or guy). That bottle of sparkling water you’re enjoying with your organic what-not tidbit was trucked to your favorite store by a person just like my husband. Chances are many of the things that make your life easier and more pleasureable are made possible by the working class. And it is highly likely many of these working class laborers are immigrants who are here to build a better life, not take yours.

As you pass another taco truck or landscape crew salute the courage of these men who, like my husband, left behind all that they knew to enter a foreign country, often all alone, not even knowing the language. And yet, they are making it on their own. As you pick up your clothes at the dry cleaner or enjoy an immaculately clean home thanks to a wonderful house cleaning service, take a moment to admire these women.  These are women who have often survived a life of extreme disadvantage and possibly risked a dangerous journey to immigrate. The hope for a better life was worth the risk to them. Rather than consider working class immigrants suspiciously, consider them heroes. One day their children and grandchildren will owe all of the opportunity and privilege they enjoy to these brave men and women. Our country is enriched by people like this. They are landscapers, cooks, crop harvesters, nannies, seamstresses, truckers, handymen, busboys, hair stylists, etc. They are not just immigrants, they are immigrants who have come to embody all that is American. They are America.

So, please, all you wealthy folk out there who are concerned that us working class folk are biding our time until just the right moment to shriek, “BURN THE WITCH!” and come after your Bentleys and Birkenstocks, it just ain’t so.  There is no need for you to clean out your local Wholefoods Market of Perrier and organic bon- bons.  There’s no reason to have KBR on your home security networks’ speed-dial.  You see, first of all, we working class folk simply don’t have the time to engage in revolt. I stated some of the whys and wherefores of that in the opening paragraph.  But, we also don’t have the extra moolah to fund such an effort. I mean, have you seen how much a pitchfork costs these days? Extras like that are simply not in a barrio budget.  The familia of the barrio spends all of their money on their family and a better life. They will not waste a nickel on something that is going to just cause trouble for another. Most barrio families came here to leave that kind of trouble behind. The simple truth of the matter is, working class people are just not the type of people to bang on your door, poke their hand out and demand a piece of your pie.  Working class people are proud.  Working class people are humble.  Working class people are independent.  We do not want what is yours.  We are satisfied with what is ours.

The barrio is a beautiful place.  The gringa doesn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. You can keep your golf course real estate and your mansion that talks to you. I am happy with my patio garden and an apartment I can clean from top to bottom in about forty-eight minutes flat leaving the rest of the day for my own pleasure. When we moved here the Caveman and I joked we were gonna “slum it” until all the kids were finished with college.  You see, wealthy people don’t sweat tuition. The truly poor get financial aid. Working class people pay every single dime.  We don’t make enough for us not to sweat it and we make too much for the government to think our kids need help. But, we don’t complain. We are proud that our oldest has finished, two are still at it, and the youngest, showing much promise, will soon be on his way.  So, even though it may have started as a temporary move to the barrio, now I want to stay for life. We may not have much but we always have enough, and, of love and laughter and good times, we have plenty. So, what in the world is there to fight for? All of our dreams that really matter have already come true.