Earlier this year, the Charlotte Observer had to disable the comments on its story about the first baby of 2012, a boy of Latino descent, because of their racist and hateful nature. Just this week, three Mecklenburg County commissioners presented a proposal that would count the number of undocumented students who attend CMS so that the county can, as Bill James put it, “send a bill to the Mexican government for the education of their young.” Luckily, the commissioners’ motion was struck down. But I have to tell you — as the mother of two Latino children in Charlotte, I am disturbed by the sentiment some in our community seem to have toward my kids.
That article about the first baby of 2012? It didn’t mention anybody’s immigration status once. (Well, I take that back, I guess you can argue that immigration status could have been implied when the article stated that the baby was BORN IN THE UNITED STATES, which would make him — yes, that’s right — an AMERICAN CITIZEN!) It was the mere fact that the child had a Latin last name and that his grandfather called from Mexico City to offer his congratulations that led to the inappropriate and hateful comments against immigrants. They can’t fool me; those comments had nothing to do with legal immigration and everything to do with bigotry and fear.
And now, commissioners James, Jim Pendergraph and Karen Bentley want to conduct an extensive probe of CMS’ students to figure out which are documented and which are not. They say that it’s about money, that our tax dollars (and when they say “our tax dollars,” they seem to be under the delusion that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, when there is overwhelming evidence that they do) shouldn’t be spent educating children who are in the country illegally, but I know better than that. As Jess George, the director of the Latin American Coalition, said in her statement to reporters, “if commissioners James, Pendergraph and Bentley are so concerned with protecting taxpayers’ dollars, why are they proposing unconstitutional practices that would cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees?”
I’m not sure how James and his gang envisioned this study would take place. Who would compile the data? Who would write the report? Would they train CMS teachers and administrators on immigration law so that they could review each student’s documentation and determine whether they were in the country legally or not? Or did they plan to hire a team of immigration lawyers to do this? Actually, I don’t think they gave any thought at all to how much it would cost. You know why? Because it ain’t about the money.
James made very clear what it’s about when he talked about sending the bill to Mexico, or Venezuela, or Nicaragua. Because even though there are 165 languages spoken by kids in CMS and 168 countries represented, it’s the kids hailing from Latin America that are the problem. And even though the motion didn’t pass, those three commissioners sent a clear message to our Latino kids: they don’t want them here.
I’ve thought long and hard about why Latino children pose such a threat to some members of our community. Is it their peanut butter and guava jelly sandwiches? Their mad soccer-playing skills? The ease with which they can transition from English to Spanish? I guess, maybe, in part... but I think the real problem for these folk is that these children, who make up 17.5 percent of CMS, are Charlotte’s future. They are the ones who will be sitting on the Board of Commissioners and delivering the babies in 20 years... and for the bigots in our city, that scene just doesn’t compute.
I absolutely agree with Commissioner Harold Cogdell when he said this type of request leaves a "stigma, a psychological impact." It's the sort of thing that instills fear and tension in the community, the kind of behavior that negatively impacts the future success of our children, of my children.
Sometimes, when I watch the news or read the comments about articles dealing with immigration, I feel like most Charlotteans are bigots, like the vast majority of our city would be happy to see our Latino children fail, but I know that isn't true. I know that the racists are just a small, albeit vocal, segment of the population. We can't allow them to demoralize and belittle our kids. Please y'all, stand up to these bullies.