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Piñata debate papers over bigger issues

Guest Writer
Guest Opinion

Piñata-Gate. Or the Great Piñata caper. What shall we call it?

Tucson protesters in early July beat up a piñata in the likeness of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and all of a sudden, we are facing the End Times.

At least if Arpaio gets his way, it will be the end times for Pima County Public Defender Isabel Garcia. Yes, over a piñata incident.

We are living in interesting times.

The Bush administration took us into a war under false pretenses and, after the deaths of thousands and the displacement of millions, not one of them has had to account for this decision.

In Arizona, frustrated with the federal government’s inability to create a coherent immigration policy, Arpaio has decided to take on the role of the nation’s No. 1 “Migraman” – with a vengeance.

Civil rights activists have criticized his actions – such as roving roadblocks to catch lawbreakers – as thinly disguised racial profiling.

When Arpaio came to Tucson to promote his new book recently, protesters headed by Derechos Humanos, a human rights organization, decided to exercise their First Amendment rights and tell the sheriff his racial profiling is not welcome here.

Garcia – who has long been affiliated with Derechos Humanos – was present during the great piñata incident, so now she is being held to account for this caper.

Apparently, she stood by and laughed while protesters took whacks at his likeness.

As a city, we apparently need to define the meaning and significance of piñatas – or to have a philosophical discussion of their meaning. As for Arpaio, he wants Garcia’s head.

Perhaps, as with bullfighting and cockfighting, there needs to be a thorough discussion as to whether piñata-bashing is appropriate for the 21st century.

Piñatas do send out messages. And children do understand these messages.

It is not unheard of for children to fall in love with their piñatas. When that happens, the child will not permit the other children to bash the piñata.

That’s the peril or danger of creating likable piñatas. That’s why star piñatas are popular. It’s hard for children to attach themselves to stars as they might a princess or superhero.

In this great piñata caper, it appears Arpaio does have his defenders, including some writers, a radio talk show host and quite a few adults who have taken offense that a piñata of their hero was taken to the woodshed.

Yes, piñatas are serious business.

Thousands of people have died on the border this past decade due to intentional policies that force migrants into deserts and mountains.

Walls – historically a symbol of oppression – are going up all along the U.S.-Mexico border.

And Draconian laws and massive immigration raids are ripping families and communities apart.

And we’re supposed to debate piñatas?

Garcia has been placed in the cross hairs of those who seem to believe “invading brown hordes” are the source of all their problems.

These migrants, who have come here primarily to work, have been demonized, dehumanized and treated as a threat – to national security and the American Way of Life.

Yet in this movement, we are told it is not brown people who are being targeted: only the illegal ones (the ones not truly human).

What is it that permits people to spew venomous hate and orchestrate campaigns that call for the incarceration and repatriation of brown peoples and confuse it with law and order?

If their focus were whites, African-Americans, Indians or Jews, their careers would have rightly been over long ago.

Yet because their hate campaigns target “illegal” and “faceless” brown people, these hate-mongers convince themselves they are not racists. Not that the word scares them anymore; some consider it a badge of honor.

I digress. This is supposed to be about the serious topic of piñatas, not about how anti-immigrant discourse has rendered the word “racist” meaningless.

Meaningless or not, we can at least be comforted to know that the anti-immigrant messages are not preached anywhere in any mainstream house of worship. Quite the reverse. It is the churches that preach compassion toward all human beings.

And as for the piñatas, yes, they are symbolic. But they are made mostly of cardboard.

Roberto Rodriguez is a research associate in Mexican-American studies at the University of Arizona.



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