Friday, March 31, 2006


Paul W. expressed some confusion about my last post. It's not that I don't understand the usage "illegal alien," it's just that where I am from it is a slur that no one should really use, any more than the English equivalent of "mojado." I fully understand the technical and colloquial use of the term. I would suggest that in Channing's terms that calling anyone an "illegal alien" is contrary to understanding the likeness of God in them. Furthermore, I would suggest that the theological calling of our tradition compells us to help all develop their faculties of the soul regardless of which side of which line they were born on.

I grew up in San Marcos, California. Thats 49 miles from the border. People would often visit (usually for underage drinking or cheap pharmaceuticals) Baja California without any thought to Alta California.

My first teaching work was 12 miles from the border. Some were born on one side, some were born on the other. The whole thing seems so much more arbitrary when you live there.

And the machinery of injustice is so much more real, when you have to drive by security checkpoints to get to Riverside or to visit family further north along Interstate 5. From the age of 6 on, visiting my grandparents or anyone else in my extended family meant having men in uniform with guns looking into our car to see our skin color. When we played youth soccer, one of the highlights of the year was the American Youth Soccer Organization day at Disneyland. La Migra would always look at us differently if a teammate named Sanchez or Lopez was going with us to Orange County.

Wake now compassion, give heed to the cry, voices of suffering fill the wide sky; take as your neighbor both stranger and friend, praying and striving their hardship to end.


At 10:20 AM, Blogger Chalicechick said...

I think I share Paul's confusion.

What I don't understand is whether you're saying:

1. We need to come up with a different term (E.g. "Person currently ineligable for the benfits of citizenship") that sounds more like an expression of legal standing than a comment on their humanity.

2. We need to abolish the concept of citizenship altogether and make everyone who comes through our doors functionally a citizen, making them eligable for welfare, able to vote, etc.

I thought you meant the first after your first post. Now it sounds more like the second.

Abolishing the term is not a problem for me. I don't see it as the slur you do, but if people want to change it that's fine.

Abolishing the concept of citzenship would make it awfully hard to run a democracy, IMHO.

fully expecting to get "This is a democracy NOW?" as a response, but it really is.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Paul Wilczynski said...

If "illegal alien" is a slur, then how would you refer to someone who is from another country and is in this country illegally?

Would you decline to come up with an alternative description on the premise that everyone should be allowed to go anywhere in the world they want without restriction?

At 3:20 PM, Blogger birthingjourney said...

Is there a difference between a European immigrant and a Mexican immigrant? I hardly see those from Germany, England, Poland, etc referred to as "illegal aliens."

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Chalicechick said...

We don't talk about people who are here illegally from europe much because there aren't enough of a critical mass of them to affect anybody's economy.

We certainly heard, say, the Irish and the Polish called things FAR nastier in the early part of the twentieth century when there were enough of them some places to affect the local economy.

To be honest, I never gave the term "illegal alien" much thought. But if it is offensive, I'm happy to be PC and learn a new term.

What's the preferred thing to call people in this legal demographic?


At 6:57 PM, Blogger birthingjourney said...

"We don't talk about people who are here illegally from europe much because there aren't enough of a critical mass of them to affect anybody's economy."

Really? What is your source for that statistic? And tell me exactly how those "other" dark immigrants are affecting our economy? especially when they are working under the table for next to nothing?

At 4:56 AM, Blogger Chalicechick said...

Obviously tracking people who are trying to hide is is very, very difficult.

I figured we were going on not statistics but common sense given that I'm sure you can't back up your assertion that people don't call European immigrants "illegal aliens" with statistics. I guarantee that if you'd asked me what someone who comes here from, say, France, with the intention of staying illegally, was hiding from immigration and got a job through non-legal methods was, I'm pretty certain that's what I would have said. The nationality doesn't seem all that significant to me in light of the easily-labeled surrounding situation.

I don't have statistics on how many German illegal immigrants there are, though I would assume far fewer given that a German would have to fly here and overstay a tourist visa, as opposed to sneaking across the border. Also, the European economies are fairly strong and the standard of living is fairly high, so people have less reason to come here. It's previous been asserted on this thread that a large number of Mexican immigrants come to educate their kids. The German education system is arguably bettter than ours.

I am not sure why your tone is so confrontational. I am in favor of educating the childen of people not here legally, though I can certainly understand that doing so is expensive. Health care and other social services are just fine. I'm less crazy about someone coming here and instantly getting food stamps, but I can probably deal with that even.

All countries that provide lots of social services face a problem of how to let in as many people as possible and still be able to provide them. We're very open to immigration compared to most of the developed world. Europe is seriously cracking down. Australia especially has always been next to impossible to get into, ditto Japan.

I don't have all the answers. I don't think that either Australia's "Don't let them in unless they have a job" or Canada's "Don't let them in unless they have the skills we need" policies are fair, but I don't know that completely open immigration is the best policy either.

That said, I am a particular fan of boat people. Anyone with the brains, guts and fortitude to build a raft out of old tires and sail it here has genes America needs, IMHO.


At 5:00 AM, Blogger birthingjourney said...

boat people? interesting term you choose.

At 6:56 AM, Blogger Chalicechick said...

The term?

It's like "people who build boats out of scraps and sail them the hundred miles or so from the northern coast of a central American country to the southern coast of the Unites States" except it is much, much easier to type and say.

Is "people not in this country legally" a preferred alternative to "illegal aliens?" My husband suggested "undocumented workers" but at least one of the people I know who is here illegally doesn't work so it seems strange to apply it to her.

If "boat people" is also an offensive term, please tell Wikipedia.


At 12:57 PM, Blogger birthingjourney said...

boat people is a slur for Asians. Sorry, Suzyn, I can't help but take that one personally.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Chalicechick said...


As is really obvious from the context I was talking about people from, like, Haiti.

I'm not saying it would be impossible to build a boat and sail here from Asia, but it would be awfully difficult, don't you think?

I get from the Wikipedia article that people talked about refugees from Vietnam using that term in the 1970's, but I think you can pretty safely say that anyone who uses it today about people coming to America is talking about people coming form central America.

That said, what I originally wrote still applies to Asia. Anyone with the brains, courage and ability to build a boat and sail here from Asia dounbly deserves citizenship. We need those genes, too.


At 2:58 PM, Blogger birthingjourney said...

While it may be outdated, most slurs are outdated and continually used. I heard that term growing up along with other slurs that perhaps you were not privy to hearing in your experience of being white and middle class.

My experience was in the midwest. I have also heard that term frequently used in San Francisco.

I do not judge you for being naive but please be more conscious of what you are saying. It is easy to take your experience for granted.

Back on topic, I like what Radical Hapa mentioned on his blog about "illegal human beings." We need to think of each other as human beings. There is no "illegal" human being and those who say there are...hmmm.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Chalicechick said...

CNN, NPR,The BBC and Amnesty International do not treat the term as a slur either, FWIW.

I assume that people use terms like "illegal aliens" because:

1. They grow up hearing them so they don't sound weird. (e.g. I read at "Happy Feminist" that some Irish people are offended by the term "Paddy Wagon" because it comes from the idea that police vans are full of drunk Irish people. I can't say the term "Paddy Wagon" had been one I used much, but certainly I'd never considered the possibility that it might be a slur. And when I think about it, I'm still not convinced Paddy isn't supposed to be driving the wagon given the large Irish police presence in New York City. But either way, that "Paddy" is short for "Patrick" and there are a lot of Irish people named "Patrick" and the stereotype is that they will end up in police vans is a lot of mental ground to cover when you're used to hearing the term.)

2. People can't agree on an inoffensive term. I've asked over and over for what an acceptable term might be right here and thus far have been ignored. (My guess is that it is really the concept that gives you difficulty and you find it hard to label an offensive concept inoffensively. I don't necessarily agree with that, but I can understand it.)

As far as I can tell from a little looking in to the issue "undocumented" is more or less considered OK, but the second word seems to be a sticking point. I can find people making cases for "Undocumented alien, undocumented workers (some of them don't work), undocumented migrants (some of them don't migrate, they only come once,) undocumented immigrants (which seems the best to me, but I don't see it much.)


At 7:38 PM, Blogger birthingjourney said...

Some sources may not use the term negroe as a slur either even though it is.

"Boat-People: Asians or Cubans Could apply to any peoples who took a boat to immigrate to another country. See: FOB."

The Racial Slur database

the fact that you are even arguing this is disconcerting. FWIW-It must be difficult to have to actually think about not making racial slurs.

At 4:52 AM, Blogger Chalicechick said...


I was going to write a big defense, but the number of common English words on that list speaks for itself.

Clearly the context is vital to whether a term counts as a slur.

Unless we all want to stop using words like "brother," "cashew," "apple," and "grout" entirely, we're going to have to cut each other some slack when the usage of the term is clearly benign.


Whether a term that white people mostly for other white people (e.g. Yankee, Brit, Redcoat, POHM, WASP, Paddy Wagon) counts as a racial slur is an interesting question. Somehow, I'm not quite getting "redcoat," what the 1700's era American soldiers called the British soldiers, as a racial slur or ethnic slur (after all, the patriots were Brits transplanted a few generations before, how could they really be any different ethnically,) but whatever. Oddly enough, they left out "yuppie," which should probably be there as WASP is.

I did ask for this resource and thank you for giving it to me. At this point, I could use it to further argue, but I am more interested in it as a question of societal fucntioning.

None of those words would be listed in the dictionary as slurs any more than "boat people" was, but all of them have the power to hurt people in the right context.

IN DC, we had a politician lost his job a few years ago for using the word "Niggardly," which comes from the Scandanavian "hnogard" and has nothing to do with race.
(Googling the word reveals that a teacher got fired for using it in 2002) FWIW, the racial slur comes from Niger, which is Latin for "black." (That said, anyone who makes such a mistake probably isn't cut out to be a politician anyway.)

I, for one, will do my best to let others cheer for the Yankees, exterminate their wasps, and shop for red coats without giving them the what for they may deserve, but the larger question of how we communicate with each other still stands.

Sad, yet funny, story: When I was a little kid, we did some sort of simulation exercise in the forth grade where the class was divided into loyalists and patriots. For a week, we did things like writing letters to each other arguing about who should pay for the French and Indian war.

Within that week, the groups developed a whole range of insults for one another, primarily "Brit Brats" for the loyalists and "tax cows" for the patriots, though there were many, many variations.

If a bunch of forth graders can work that fast, polite discourse may be doomed.


At 12:15 PM, Blogger birthingjourney said...

I have observed this many times over in white liberals that as long as blatant overt racism is not present, then why the hell are the rest of us whining, playing victim, so sensitive or angry?

I have observed this many times over in white liberals that as long as blatant overt racism is not present, then why should they have to be more conscious of their choices of words and actions? “My actions are benign because I am a liberal. I’m not racist nor stereotyping.”

I have observed this many times over in white liberals an underlying expectation for the people of color to “teach” the white liberals about racism, that the burden is on us. I’m sure most of us are willing to help and lend some education, but I do think the white people ultimately need to figure this out for themselves and take full responsibility here.

It is important to understand the implications of words and actions on others. White people are privileged by sheer birthright. When they do not have the direct experience of racism in all forms, blatant and subtle, they haven’t the slightest idea of the impact of their words and actions. It is easy to hide behind liberalism and go into denial on your own forms of racism. We are all racist. Just because someone voted for Kerry does not let them off the hook. Just because someone has dark friends doesn’t earn them a medal.

Recognize and change the subtle forms of oppression that exist. By being white and denying the existence of racism to a person of color is in fact racist. It is not like physical lynching but for those of us that are the recipients, it is a psychological and emotional lynching. I have experienced all forms of racism and the subtle versions hurt the most. Why? Because usually those who are dishing it out are in severe denial and are often my friends or acquaintances. For many, a little education goes along way. For others, there is no polite discourse because there is a deep inarguable belief (denial) that racism does not exist. Sometimes they lack the humbleness and ability to take responsibility to take a step back and honestly look at their actions. Those that are blatantly racist I can just write off, and fortunately these days blatant racism is unacceptable (in most places). Those that are more subtle and lack the ability to be humble perplex me. I want so badly to see the good in these people. I know that one day they will understand. But when someone like you, Suzyn continues to argue, it disturbs me and makes me question why you chose to be a UU in the first place. My plea to you as a human being and a UU is step back, be humble and take responsibility.

Four of the UU principles have come to mind throughout this discussion:
• The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
• Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
• The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
• Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Back on the topic of immigration.
Immigration laws are blatantly racist, cruel and inhumane. Perhaps those of us that are uncomfortable with thinking through our word choices could look at the bigger picture here. These are women, families, children, human beings who are trying to survive. Those of us with privilege, myself included, have no clue what that must be like. I can only imagine the pain and desperation they are feeling. I can only imagine that it might be much like running from an abusive partner, the fear, the need to go somewhere else to save yourself and children. I can only imagine the heartbreak when one is so poor that a family has to be split up so the children can get a meal. Many of the people deported are CHILDREN being ripped away from their families. Oh and by the way, these children are often US citizens.

Do you think these choices that they make are simple? Do you think their intention is to take away our creature comforts? What are we afraid of? What if they theoretically had a piece of the resources? What really is the worst that would happen? Would that mean less bon bons for us? It is not true that immigrants consume more in government services than they pay in taxes. It is not true that immigrants take away jobs.

Empirical research on the effects of immigration to the UK on employment and wages finds little evidence of overall adverse effects of immigration on outcomes for people born in the UK. Factoring in illegal immigration would not change these results: in fact, if illegal immigrants could be measured, accounting for them is likely to lead to smaller empirical effects (Center for Economic Performance, 2006).

Immigration is a threat to our way of life, to our comfort. But try to think of why it is happening in the first place. While we are driving our cars, living in our houses and typing away here on our computers, there are families dying and starving. Do you have any concept of what happens at the US-Mexican border? People are murdered. Families drown in the Rio Grande. Women are raped. What do you think that must feel like? Perhaps a bit uncomfortable but maybe not as uncomfortable as the threat to our ways? Sorry but, their safety far outweighs our comfort.

Be nice people. Treat others as you would like to be treated. It really is that simple. Even the Bible says so.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Chalicechick said...

I don't think you would want to be treated the way you've treated me, either. From the beginning of this discussion your tone has been far more that of someone trying to start a fight than someone trying to have a discussion.

IMHO, problems are solved by discussions, not fights.

I'd kind of gathered that this was where you were going with the immigration question, that it was hard to come up with an inoffensive term for an offensive concept.

As I've said, I don't have all the answers. Fully open borders doesn't seem like a practical solution if for no better reason than we don't really have a place to put everyone.

Better foreign aid and programs that help other countries develop seems like it should be part of the equation. We don't have to house everyone if we can work to make living conditions in other places better. Though the idea of a McDonalds on every block in Mexico is certainly appalling, globalization has been shown to raise the standard of living. I don't think people even want to come here and get welfare because we don't have a job for them. I suspect they would be a lot happier in their own country working on sustainable development.

I do think immigration rules should be relaxed to some degree and the paperwork should be simplified. The people not here legally whom I know are here more because of whom they fell in love with than actual financial need (not everyone can get married, not everyone who gets married bothers to keep up with the permanent resident alien paperwork, which I understand is considerable.)

That said, you cannot solve a problem if you cannot talk about the problem and I think your resistance is better spent doing things other than making a big deal over people using suboptimal words when you have no optimal words to suggest.

When the government changed "the Department of War" to "the Department of Defense," nobody was fooled after all. My theory is that pejorative terminology doesn't affect people's thoughts nearly as much as lots of people think.


At 3:40 PM, Blogger birthingjourney said...

I believe that this is in fact a discussion, and the only resistance I see is on your end. We have to identify the problem and look within ourselves to make change initially. Then we move onto legislation and policy. Ideally if we can do both, we may see the best results.

I heard a slur from you and expressed that I took it personally. Whether you agree or not does not matter. Most reasonable people would have stepped back at that point. You continued to declare that what you said was fine as long as it was in your context and you could back it up. So that makes it okay to directly insult a person?

Perhaps you missed the point entirely. You made reference to "boat people." To be more direct here, my father came from the Philippines and was often referred to as a "boat person" "fresh off the boat" "nigger" "gook" "chink" and "jap." Need I go further? As a child I knew these slurs by the age of 4. I was also called these slurs on a regular basis along with many others.

And guess what? This illegal immigrant was a cardiac surgeon who saved lives. How is that for an effect on the economy? And yes they found a place for him in the midwest to do his residency.

So Suzyn, you can say that I am being resistant and making a big deal out of something that you perceive to be no big deal because perhaps it does not exist in your mind. But it is a big deal and it has been my experience. You can not deny that. You can disagree about what a slur is. And you have the right to not care about others' feelings. However, you can not come back here and tell me that I am wrong and unreasonable in how I was affected by your comment and now actions. A concise argument will never heal the wounds of racism. Compassion and responsibility will.

I think at this point this has become a bit more personal than appropriate for this venue. Please direct your comments in private email.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Chalicechick said...

Mostly, I wanted to give you examples to show you I meant nothing by it. I've already written that I won't do it again, but your clear implication was that I meant to insult you and of course I didn't.

We've all insulted someone before without meaning to. I figured if I convinced you that I'd head about Haitian boat people (who ended up mostly on the east coast) a great deal and Vietnemese people (who ended up mostly on the west coast) not much at all, then you'd see that I hadn't meant an insult to Asians by it, providing examples of other people who had used it as a neutral term without intending offense toward asians, we could get back to the discussion.

I was teased about lots of things as a kid and things that remind me of that do hurt, but people who remind me of those things don't necessarily mean to.

In a similar vein, I'm sure you haven't meant to twice use my easily-googleable real first name someplace that will make your accusations easy to find should a future employer make a serious search. I know you don't intend to do this, but please cut it out.

I feel you're trying to start an arguement from your first post, when you made it clear that you thought I would have totally different opinions on a European immigrant vs. Central American immigrant.

Nothing I wrote in my request for clarification implies this, but you very clearly assumed it was true. I don't think you would take it well if I made assumptions about your opinions. Why make assumptions about mine?

Why did you accuse me of that if your intention wasn't to start an argument?


At 4:40 PM, Blogger birthingjourney said...

A concise argument will never heal the wounds of racism. Compassion and responsibility will.

Your apology is accepted.

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Chalicechick said...

Thank you.


At 12:00 PM, Blogger Paul Wilczynski said...

I know this is an old post, but I just found it (again).

And learned, for the first time in my 50+ years, that Negro is a slur.

Wow. Who wudda thunk.


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