SO I was standing in an Indian Casino in Okmulgee Oklahoma. Or rather, the "Casino Room" of a truck stop, run by my tribe, the Muskogee Creek Nation. I'd just won thirty bucks off the slots and was wisely calling it quits. I'm standing in line to cash out, and to my left there are four young Latino guys. It's late Saturday afternoon, and these dudes are dressed up for a night on the town, spit-polished boots, perfect white cowboy hats, pressed jeans and western-cut shirts. They are dropping a few coins in the machines and talking animatedly to each other in Spanish. They've worked all week and they are blowing off some steam. They look good.
Next to me in line is a wrinkled, brokedown-looking white man. He has the sloped shoulders of a guy who's been on disability for a long time. I notice him because I see in him shooting the evil eye, a dog-shooting ugliness, a sour grimace of hatred. He's watching the Latino guys. He sees me next to him, a big pale-skinned bearded bubba, assumes I'm a safe bet, and hisses from his thin set lips "You should have to speak English if you're gonna gamble here".
What the fuck pulling a lever on a slot machine has to do with speaking English is the question I don't ask him.
In all the silly, blown-up, manipulated debate about immigration, there are many voices. There are honest people who don't agree with me that immigrants to this country should be welcomed and helped to succeed, and that we should open up our nation to a much higher level of legal immigration, thus reducing the need for illegal border crossings and lives lived in the margins. Many of these people make cogent arguments based on reasoned, thoughtful principles. They see as much as I do a broken system, but offer a different way to fix it.
But then there's this. Raw, knife-slice tribalism. Ugly insecurities fanned by megalomaniacs. Bitter sad people who are desperate for any available scapegoat that will stave off a critical self-evaluation, and make them begin the painful questioning of an American economic system that has fucked them over all their lives.
I'm not saying that the conservative leaders who are railing about immigration are driven by the same base emotions as this pitiful old man. They are smarter then that. I am saying that they are relying on him, and people like him, to fuel the right-wing political machine with their blind rage and race-bating hatred.
Which is worse in a degree of magnitude I can't even calculate. I didn't feel angry at the old man, out there on the wide-open plain with his poverty and struggles, being lured by the AM sirens of unrighteous indignation. No, I felt sorry for him. It's those who have fed him that lie, the lie that four hard-working clean-cut young men speaking in their soft rolling tongue were the cause of his world of problems, they are the ones that made me angry.