By Mercedes Garcia
These are the messages I received from Geraldine Ridgway’s op-ed published in Nov. 20 edition of the Pajaronian:
“Why can’t you Mexicans be like all the other ethnic groups that were mistreated in the past? Why don’t you just grin and bear it and move on to be successful contributors of this country? You are ungrateful and violent people.”
Maybe she should just say “…and some of you, I assume, are good people.”
The viewpoints she expresses show a lack of consideration for various historical truths. First, in stating that the first Hispanics coming to Watsonville came to work in the fields, ignores the fact that the Watsonville area was Mexico at one time, and the U.S., after the Mexican War, bought out the whole southwest for a few dollars. So can she still say that Hispanics “did not build Watsonville?”
With regards to other ethnic groups, Japanese people were never violent, that is true, but they did demand reparations for people who were placed in internment camps, and got them, thankfully. How can any of us say whether they or other groups are bitter or not? The situation with Hispanics is different from other ethnic groups because of the proximity to Latin America, where movement between the home countries is easier. Also, most of us want to maintain our ancestral culture, heritage and language because we simply choose to do so. That does not make us less American. That is what is difficult for some people to see and accept.
Another point she mentions is that her children worked in the fields to pay for their education. That is what our family did, and it was hard work. But to equate that experience with people who depend on fieldwork for their livelihood is not fair. Depending on field work to support your family is risky economically and is hazardous to your health. Comparing the summer work of teenagers to that is offensive.
As to the cannery workers making ”unrealistic demands,” having seen the harsh results of cannery work on my mother’s body after working in a cannery for 22 years, I tend to doubt that the demands were “unrealistic.” Many large companies move to Mexico or China for cheap labor and more profit for the company owners.
To say Hispanic immigrants have benefited from “our educational system” sounds as though the schools belong only to certain people. Immigrants pay taxes too, whether they are documented or not. Public schools are for everyone.
I do not know what reasons she has for perceiving that some people want to “push the rest of you out.” Feeling threatened by the use of Spanish in a predominantly Spanish-speaking community may be understandable, but is it useful? Wouldn’t it be better to accept it as a natural and positive situation? I know people who do not speak Spanish that are happy residents of Watsonville and accept it the way it is, without longing for a “better past.”
With regards to the statue in the town square that she references, I do not have strong feelings about removing it because George Washington’s part in history was significant. But the people who advocate removing it are bringing to light the fact that he was a slave owner. It is time that we acknowledge that owning slaves was wrong, and that the country was built on the backs of slaves and other oppressed people. Why not put up a statue of an original resident of this area, like an Amah Mutsun Ohlone Indian? We all owe them that recognition.
In conclusion, I recommend reading books (such as “White Fragility” by Robin DeAngelo) and watching programs on PBS TV (such as “The Reconstruction”) that explain how white supremacy has permeated the culture and laws of this nation from the beginning. It is only by acknowledging the reality of systemic racism that we can begin to heal and construct new ways of living in a diverse community. Feeling defensive about hearing the terms like “white nationalism” does not help. It only keeps us further from acknowledging the truth and resolving issues.
Mercedes Garcia is a native of Watsonville. Her views are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.