On May 7, at St. Thomas Catholic Church’s Spring Festival in Ojai, seven children line up — a Mexican girl in a long navy-blue dress with pink, white and blue polka dots; a tall girl with a long blond ponytail; two Mexican boys jostling each other; a short girl with red, curly hair; a Mexican girl in a brilliant white skirt and black top; and a slim boy with clean-cut blond hair, immaculately dressed in a black suit, a blue shirt and pale blue tie.
They pull their hessian sacks up to their waists and wait expectantly for the signal. Then they’re off, finishing in a jumble at the other end.
The mariachi band salutes them. One of the fiddlers, young and handsome, sings a sweet tenor followed by a short, rotund guitarist, singing baritone. All of the players are from Guadalajara originally.
Some of the local schoolchildren have been talking for months about being deported. In a land now ruled by white supremacists, this has begun to happen.
A president who began his real estate career like his father as a white racist refusing to sell or rent to blacks, and ran for president as a racist (Obama was born in Africa, Mexicans are rapists), is financed by billionaire Robert Mercer, who holds the demented view that only blacks are racists; and guided by Steve Bannon, his White House strategist, who passionately believes the racist French novelist Jean Raspail’s argument that Europe is being invaded by the colored races in order to destroy white civilization; and led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose racism was exposed in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee by Coretta Scott King in 1986 and as recently as this year was described by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as expressing “an unrelenting hostility toward civil rights and racial justice ….”
In apartheid South Africa, where I was born and raised, the wealth of the country was founded upon a system of cheap migrant labor. Every black South African I knew had been in jail several times for forgetting to carry a migrant labor document (“dompas”) and being caught up in random police raids, which I witnessed frequently.
Apartheid South Africa was ruled by fear from 1948, when the apartheid government came to power, to 1994 when Nelson Mandela became president. Now it’s our turn.
The immigration raids conducted today in the U.S. are essentially no different from those of apartheid South Africa. When I drove by my first “la migra” raid near Camp Pendleton years ago, I felt the same kind of horror I had felt back in South Africa — ordinary hardworking people suddenly terrorized by random acts of brutality.
The migrant labor system in the U.S. is so powerful a magnet that it renders the border with Mexico porous, a mirage. In many ways, Mexico is just a huge Bantustan similar to those created in South Africa by the apartheid regime as cheap labor enclaves.
Now, in order to show that the white man rules, 11 million brown people, almost twice the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis, are being threatened with deportation and the annihilation of their families that will come with it.
In a speech he gave before being sentenced to life in prison, Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela’s prison cell mate and closest friend, said:
“In 1962, in my last public speech before . . . being sentenced in the Rivonia trial, I showed a gathering of students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg a handful of bones which I brought back from the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
“I brought back these bones as a reminder to myself and to my fellow South Africans of the evils of racism which dominates every aspect of South African life.”
The white supremacists in the U.S. may think they are entrenched, but our children will continue to play together, the mariachi bands will never stop making their music, and these white supremacists, as they did in South Africa, will disappear down the sewers of history.
Clive Leeman, born and raised in apartheid South Africa, lives in Ojai, California, and writes about human rights issues.