Liz’s Hot Takes: The Right Kind of Immigrant
Sabato Jr. knowing what socialism is like me knowing what a dictatorship is b/c my parents grew up in the Estado Novo. #RNCinCLE
— Elizabeth Barcelos (@lavender_ink) July 19, 2016
I was typing fast, feeling furious, and trying to fit within Twitter’s 140 character limit, so go easy on the grammar of that tweet. I watched a bit of night one of the Republican National Convention tonight before heading to trivia. While I’m as aghast and appalled as the next leftie about the isolationist and ignorant rhetoric of the evening (not to mention the parade of corpses that crossed the stage as represented by grieving families turned political tools), Antonio Sabato Jr.’s speech stuck with me because of how close to home it hit me while still being absolute bullshit.
If you didn’t see it, take a gander. It’s not long:
His story is so close to mine and my family’s that I can tell you all about how absolutely wrong it is. Like my parents, Sabato Jr. is a “good” immigrant. He came from a European country and followed the rules, rules that were stacked in our favor. In my father’s case, he was sponsored by his sister, my Tia Ligia. Google and Wikipedia aren’t helping me much with how Sabato Jr.’s parents got here. This is a #LizsHotTake, not a #LizsWellResearchedTake, but I imagine that they immigrated legally because it wasn’t an undue burden on them.
The thing that really ground my gears was this quote at the 1:50ish minute mark:
Let’s unpack this with a close reading, shall we? Put my English degree (which has still to arrive, goddamnit SJSU) to good use.
Point the first: “There should be no shortcuts for those who don’t want to pay or wait.” Last I checked, the Statue of Liberty asked for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I’m not saying that US immigration policy should be based on a poem, even one as moving as Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” but that sentiment is just so un-American to me. It’s easy for someone with an actor, a realtor, and aristocracy in their family tree to tell you to shut up and wait your turn.
I wish Sabato Jr. listened to the part of his ancestry that survived the Holocaust instead. If the huddled masses had time and money to spare on waiting their turn, would they still be huddled masses? For many illegal immigrants (a term that rankles me because people aren’t illegal even if the means of their arrival in the states might be), they couldn’t wait. More often that not, they’re fleeing poverty that would keep them from being able to pay or dangerous circumstances that leave them unable to wait their turn.
Point the second: I’m not here to lecture you on communism or socialism (other than to say they are not synonymous so kindly stop using them interchangeably to save yourself from looking ignorant, kthxbai). I don’t know how his mother managed to make it to Italy, but I do know that you don’t get to appropriate your parents’ story for political points.
My parents also grew up under an authoritarian regime: the Estado Novo dictatorship. Never once have I claimed to know what it is to live in a dictatorship because my parents did. In fact, I learned way more about it from studying Portuguese history and culture in college (hellooooooo attempted second major that I had to settle for making a minor) than I ever learned from my parents. It wasn’t something they wanted to pass down to us. It’s a completely alien idea to us because we were raised in San Jose, a fairly liberal and ethnically diverse bubble. What little hardships I faced by being the daughter of immigrants had nothing to do with a fallen regime. Considering that I grew up in East San Jose while Sabato Jr. managed to go to Beverly Hills High School, I’m going to make an educated guess and say that my immigrant family struggles were harder than his.
I will fight anyone who tries to dimish what my parents did to get where they are now, but I also recognize just how privileged we are to be European immigrants. Their accents are charming; they don’t inspire jeers of “Learn English, this is America!” My siblings and I speak accent-free English (and have I mentioned that I have a degree in it?) and have no trouble blending into white American culture. I also know that not too long ago, Southern Europeans like me and Sabato Jr. were the ones that didn’t deserve to call themselves American. The goalposts have moved since then and you no longer have to be a WASP to be white. Oops, I mean American. I am aware of both my parents’ struggles and my privilege because it is something I think about all the time.
If Antonio Sabato Jr. put just as much thought as I do into his immigrant story, he would not have appeared on that stage. He’s lucky. I’m lucky. His story is exceptional, but putting him on that stage makes it look like the rule. He’s the right kind of immigrant, the kind of immigrant the RNC wants you to see, the kind of immigrant Melania Trump is too, though I stopped watching long before she took the stage. By presenting his story as the norm, the RNC justifies the narrative that “illegals” (ugh, that word again) shouldn’t be here.
I hope being used as a token and a tool was worth a little under four minutes on stage, Antonio.