There is no doubt that the symbolism of anti-immigrant hate in the United States is acquiring ever more grotesque forms, harkening back to a rather ignominious past that we thought history had turned to dust, in ancient books that only serve as references.
However, the most recent episode has as its victim an immigrant of Peruvian origin who is also a naturalized U.S. citizen, Mahud Villalaz of Wisconsin, who had battery acid thrown in his face by an individual with whom he was arguing about a parking space.
This, but not before the man yelled at him to “go back to your country,” since he had come to “invade” this one, according to Mr. Villalaz’ account.
Any similarity with official anti-immigrant rhetoric is no longer a mere coincidence, these days.
Because if analyzed well, the very fact that this incident occurred —captured on a security camera— represents the quintessence of rejection of The Other, the different, the person of color, he who speaks with an accent, he who upsets the status quo of supremacist attitudes, he who no longer allows himself to be stepped on and reclaims his rights. He who defends himself, whom they want to disintegrate, disfigure, disappear. That is how things become diluted in a lethal acid.
That is how big the hate that the supremacists distill now in every thought related to the immigrant, in every public act where they basically express hate or in every defense they make of the person who serves as their inspiration for all this and more, sitting in the White House.
The very fact that this incident occurred —captured on a security camera— represents the quintessence of rejection of The Other, the different, the person of color, he who speaks with an accent, he who upsets the status quo of supremacist attitudes, he who no longer allows himself to be stepped on and reclaims his rights.
Breaking that scheme has taken years of struggle, fight, organizing a community that has been vilified for decades, falsely accused of being the cause of problems in the country that is the self-proclaimed “most powerful in the world,” but then tries to play the victim and blame one of the most vulnerable sectors that keeps on making its way with effort, work, education, and paying taxes: immigrants. Especially Latino immigrants, whether or not they are documented, as in the case of Villalaz, who is already a U.S. citizen.
The formula has always been the same, since the mass deportations of Mexicans in the 1930s —including U.S. citizens of Mexican origin that did not speak Spanish— to laws like the ignominious and anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in California which, this November 8, marks 25 years of having been approved, but which fortunately was not put into practice because it was blocked by the courts and later declared unconstitutional; or the massacre of 22 victims in El Paso, Texas, perpetrated by a supremacist in the beginning of August of this year, whose objective was to kill the largest number of Mexicans possible; or the constant accosting of Spanish speakers, as if being bilingual or multilingual would inflict damage on a nation as multicultural as this.
These are just some of the examples that have gotten the most media attention, the ranks of which, sadly, Villalaz has been added, the attack already classified as a hate crime and for which he has formally accused one Clifton Blackwell, age 61.
Already Darryl Morin, from the organization Forward Latino, had explained this fact, according to press reports. In his opinion, “I don’t see how it could be anything else, as this is, sadly and tragically, a textbook case of hate.” He added, “I dare say it was premeditated — because no one walks around with a bottle of acid and hangs out in a predominantly Latino neighborhood for no reason.”
Essentially, with sadness and worry it is perceived that instead of fading, the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment is strengthening even as we approach a new electoral cycle in which will be defined not only whether incendiary rhetoric against minorities will be the norm that rules public discourse in this era or, on the contrary, end up in the trash can as has happened at other times.
Some change, at least, has been reflected more recently, for example in elections like the one in Virginia, where campaigns running terrible anti-immigrant ads failed to resonate with the majority of voters, who consciously decided to break with politicians that continued copying the presidential model of xenophobia with the absurd hope of winning.
At the end of it all, the signs of the attack on Villalaz’ face will also be a metaphor for the hate that is expressed right and left against immigrants, documented or without documents, something that goes beyond the fact of migration and which has given way to the prominence of xenophobia and racism, that will once again be put to the test at the polls in the coming year, an exercise that will also test not only an ever more diverse electorate, but also a society like that of the United States, which will decide if it prefers to have an election ballot or a bottle of acid in hand.
David Torres is a Spanish-language Advisor at América’s Voice.
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