For years, I’ve begun the unit on race, ethnicity, and immigration that I teach in Intro to Soc with Jimmy Santiaga Baca’s poem “So Mexicans are Taking Jobs from Americans?” This week, the poem resonated harder and more deeply than ever.
It begins with the speaker casting some doubt on the question in the title:
O Yes? Do they come on horses
with rifles, and sayEse gringo, gimmee your job?
Are they bandit on horseback? Highway robbers? Muggers? Do they wrestle our jobs out of our hands, or do they pick them out of our pockets? How, exactly, does this happen?
The speaker goes on a little hunt to find these immigrant-robbers and instead just finds politicians whipping up fury about immigrants to hide the fact that the real problem is capitalism, “small white farmers selling out/to clean suited farmers…who’ve never been on a farm/don’t know the look of a hoof or the smell/of a woman’s body bending all day long in fields.”
Economic inequality, not immigration, is the enemy, but it’s harder to blame the powerful than it is to blame the powerless. Still, “millions and millions of people fight to live,/…hold their breath for years/trying to cross poverty to just having something.
Fears and anger about job loss is just a cover for racism that then can be used to justify and permit further exploitation of brown bodies. We hate those who are economically weak so that we don’t have to care for them and can take advantage of their suffering. It’s why the US government hasn’t responded with force to the disaster that hurricanes have inflicted on Puerto Rico and why, before that, we didn’t care about the economic disaster afflicting the island. It’s why so many white Americans complain about immigration but then continue to participate in an economic system that relies on immigrant labor. It’s why we are anger at border crossers but can’t take account for the ways that US foreign policy has impoverished Mexico.
Here is how Jimmy Santiago Baca ends his poem
The children are dead already. We are killing them,
that is what America should be saying;
on TV, in the streets, in offices, should be saying,
“We aren’t giving the children a chance to live.”
Mexicans are taking our jobs, they say instead.
What they really say is, let them die,
and the children too.
You can read the full-text online elsewhere. If you like it, consider buying his work, including downloads of him reading his work, and make a donation to Cedar Tree Inc., a nonprofit he started to support the use of literature and writing to change the world.
And if you like it, share it–maybe even in church today.
PS. Here’s a bonus video of the poet reading one of my favorites, “I Am Offering this Poem.” It’s just a few stanzas and only about a minute. It’s a love poem, and I hope you love it.