By The Time I Get To Arizona
Reading today's New York Times: Arizona Enacts Stringent Law On Immigration, sent a chill up my spine. It wasn't the proverbial chill. This chill was colder and darker.
I know the question of how to deal with all the undocumented people living and working (or looking for work) in the United States is a complicated issue, one that doesn't have easy answers. But this new law would "make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally" and could very easily lead to intense racial profiling.
Another potentially dangerous thing about this hyperbolic law is that it plays to people's fears, and it may faintly lend a whiff of permissiveness and subtle encouragement to hate mongers around the country. In New York, where I live, there have been several hate crimes in the past couple years that have resulted in the deaths of Hispanics. One involved a group of teenagers who would go "beaner hopping" (their actual phrase) every weekend for months.
Perhaps we poets need to be caretakers of the language around this subject: for example, illegal alien vs. illegal immigrant vs. undocumented migrant.
Maybe this law, however troublesome and misguided, will help push immigration to the surface and force the government to take on this thorny, hyper-charged issue in a responsible and humane way. I assume, I could be wrong, that if most people look inside their hearts, they don't want to see families ripped apart. They don't want to see an undocumented, tax-paying father or mother yanked out of a legally-registered car and forced to munch sidewalk while their documented children (born in the USA) watch in horror from the backseat.
Fellow blogger Mark Nowak recently wrote about the Split This Rock festival, an independent poetry bonanza that took place in March in Washington DC. Anyone interested in the intersection of social activism and poetry should consider attending this vibrant mixture of workshops and readings.
It seems apropos to share the first verse of the 1991 Public Enemy song, By The Time I Get To Arizona, a powerful, surgical, thumping creative response to the state's refusal to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
I'm countin' down to the day deservin'
Fittin' for a king
I'm waitin' for the time when I can
Get to Arizona
'Cause my money's spent on
The goddamn rent
Neither party is mine not the
Jackass or the elephant
20.000 nig niggy niggas in the corner
Of the cell block but they come
Population none in the desert and sun
Wit' a gun cracker
Runnin' things under his thumb
Starin' hard at the postcards
Isn't it odd and unique?
Seein' people smile wild in the heat
'Cause I wanna be free
What's a smilin' fact
When the whole state's racist
Why want a holiday F--k it 'cause I wanna
So what if I celebrate it standin' on a corner
I ain't drinkin' no 40
I B thinkin' time wit' a nine
Until we get some land
Call me the trigger man
Looki lookin' for the governor
Huh he ain't lovin' ya
>But here to trouble ya
He's rubbin' ya wrong
Get the point, come along.
Jeffrey McDaniel is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Chapel of Inadvertent Joy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Other books include The Endarkenment (Pittsburgh, 2008), The Splinter Factory (Manic D, 2002), The Forgiveness Parade (Manic D Press, 1998), and Alibi School (Manic D, 1995). His poems have...