Monday, May 31, 2010

Shades of Patriotism

On Memorial Day I saw a biker on a noisy chopper riding the downtown Portland streets with a huge U.S. flag extending from his motorcycle. If I were one to profile from his appearance, I might otherwise assume he was an unsavory dude. But wrapped in the red, white, and blue, onlookers no doubt regarded him as a patriot.

Compare the furor that results when pro-immigrant activists march with the Mexican or the United Farm Workers’ flag in U.S. rallies. When media broadcast these images during 1990s protests against California’s Proposition 187, one of the drafters of that hateful initiative warned of La Reconquista in which the “militant arm of the pro-illegal activists . . . have vowed to take over first California, then the Western states and then the rest of the nation.” Similar outcry accompanied pro-immigrant rallies in 2006 when flying the Mexican flag was seen as disloyal and treasonous. That same year, Pahrump, Nevada, home to the closest legal brothels that service Las Vegas, passed an ordinance targeting displays of the Mexican flag. Flying another country's flag by itself was punishable by a $50 fine and 30 hours' community service, unless it was flown below a U.S. flag. For good measure Pahrump also declared English the town’s official language, but repealed the flag ordinance in early 2007 when apparently someone read the Constitution.

California poet Francisco X. Alarcón once called flags “stupid rags soaked in blood.” Francisco X. Alarcón, No Golden Gate for Us (1993). I consider him a patriot for his revolutionary poetry, now targeting Arizona’s anti-immigrant and anti-American law. For proof and clarity, check out the facebook page Francisco created, Poets Responding to SB 1070.

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