Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Feeling Native

For days I've mulled over a New York Times story about the town of Fremont, Neb., population 25,000, which finds itself in a raw divide over immigration. What must it feel like to experience the fading away of the town you've known forever into merely a pimple on the globe's fanny?

At the core of all the alleged immigration anxiety that has prompted an unenforceable law in Arizona, self-anointed "Minutemen" in Herndon, Va., and ripples of xenophobia in countless little towns like Fremont, where suddenly the descendants of immigrants oppose immigration, lie not merely some Angloes hankering for their pre-Civil Rights white sheets, much less any real knowledge of immigration demographics, policy or law.

At heart, this is about being a former something, in Fremont's case a mid-19th century railroad and farming town, that has now been absorbed into a more cosmopolitan world, courtesy of urban sprawl, globalization and the Internet.

Fremont is now only an exurb of Omaha, which is "big city" as it gets in Nebraska — been there. Herndon, whose "bustling downtown" you can pass in less time than it takes to read this sentence, had even less significance before its notoriety.

As for Arizona — what can you say about a state that doesn't even observe daylight saving time? — it's been downhill since the alliances between the Pueblos and the Navajos, long before Europeans set foot in the area.

Bewildering, isn't it, to dwell in country music's homeland (or a wannabe facsimile) — with whispered-about wife-swapping, divorce-prone barroom flirting and unmentionable inbred farmland fornication — to awaken with the world at your doorstep and all your wailing misunderstood.

Nothing would seem to resemble the complaint of a hateful Arizona kicker than that of a bewildered Afghan mountaineer (or Mexican farmer or Navajo tribesman or Pueblo villager): "Where do these people come from and what do they think they're doing in my country?"

Watch out, folks, history's multilingual, multicultural bulldozer is coming!
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