A Chicano in Prague
Oppression: Whether communist, fascist or economic, the power to degrade people’s lives speaks the same language.
Los Angeles Times
August 30, 1996|EMMANUEL BURGIN | Emmanuel Burgin is a contributing writer to El Sol de San Diego newspaper. He recently returned to San Diego from Prague where he completed his first novel and began research on a second.
PRAGUE — Am I the first Chicano in Prague? Rudolfo Anaya, the esteemed Chicano writer, can lay claim to being the first Chicano to travel to China. It’s from “A Chicano in China,” his journal of that journey, that I derive my title.
Although it would be an accomplishment, something to tell the grandkids, I doubt that I am the first Chicano in Prague; we travel everywhere now, borders never having grasped our imagination, akin, perhaps, to the Native Americans’ inability to conceptualize the owning of Mother Earth.
My sojourn here to live among the people has been twofold: that I may begin to understand the effects an oppressive communist regime has had on its people and to witness the struggle to Westernize in the face of the tidal wave called the global economy.
In so doing, I hope to better understand the intolerant attitudes that sometimes rear their ugly heads in my country. In California, oppression of rights, the plague of the downtrodden, has joined with economic struggle and taken a place at the kitchen table of the immigrant and working poor. The battle to retain rights granted by the Constitution, compounded by the historical economic struggle that all immigrants have known has created a crucible in which something volatile is brewing.
I was greatly alarmed and affected by Proposition 187. Not so much by the politics and the rhetoric of the politicians–after all, politics is a dirty business–but by the public’s prevalent eagerness and acceptance of this mean-spirited rhetoric.
There is always a deeper meaning behind the action. A wildfire needs grass, shrubs and trees to consume in order to move forward. I am alarmed at the deeper meaning of this acceptance: the insensitivity of a friend, the latent racism of a kindly neighbor.
Language that is designed to separate and abuse and spread fear, in other words, oppress, eventually settle comfortably into the laps of those whose ideas of what a good society should be are, those who are, in the extreme, racist and, to say the least, not very understanding of the multiethnic society that we are.
Dialogue of oppression can be wrapped in many colorful packages (economic stability, rights of citizens, unfair tax burdens, crime) but it is still the language of oppression, words that fan the flames of frustration, anger, hate and racism.
It is good to remember the words of Gyorgy Konrad, a leading Hungarian writer who as a child barely escaped Auschwitz, then the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian Fascist party that wanted to shoot him and dump his body into the Danube.
“Intimidating or constraining or killing one’s fellow man for belonging to this or that group has become inimical to Europeans, despite their long history of racial, national and class hatred, or rather because they have learned from their history and finally realize that discrimination leads to murder.”
When our representatives try to pass legislation that will divide the people and discriminate against a segment of the population, we are in dangerous territory.