“I can’t even order a hamburger in English anymore!” a skinny gabacho told me as we stood in downtown Santa Ana. In front of us were a row of police on horseback, clenching batons. At our back were 60 or so mostly white anti-immigrant protesters. And swarming all around our little circle were Latinos: almost all wearing white shirts, everyone headed to the Santa Ana Civic Center Plaza for a rally marking the National Day Without Immigrants.
The gabacho continued. “Every time I go get a hamburger, some Mexican always screws up my order! What kind of country is this where I have to order a hamburger in Spanish?”
“So where’s this Spanish-only burger joint?” I asked the guy, whose name I never got but whose yellowed, jagged teeth will haunt my dreams for years.
No, really: Where?
Um, in Carl’s Jr.
Which one? I want to order a hamburger in español. The word in Spanish is hamburguesa, you know.
Well, uh, I don’t eat hamburgers anymore. I grill them on my grill.
So where can I get a good hamburguesa?
While Los Angeles Latinos dealt with only a smattering of anti-immigrant activists, Orange County Latinos faced off against the Orange County Anti-Immigrant All Stars, the people who can’t give you a straight answer about hamburgers, but who have the ear of Congress. For a couple of hours on Monday, they stood on a Santa Monica street corner and tried their damnedest to provoke a Mexican riot. But the marchers didn’t take the bait. Most walked by without even turning their heads. Others stopped and stared, bemused.
“Do you know all the immigrants in the world know English before they come to this country except Mexico?” Hamburger Boy’s friend told me.
Who pays for their English classes? The United States?
How should I know? But everyone knows. Asians. Europeans. But not Mexicans.
What about Costa Ricans?
Um, yeah. I think they know English a little bit more than Mexicans.
How about Guatemalans?
Don’t know about them.
Most of the big O.C. anti-immigrant names were there: the Rev. Wiley Drake, who bellowed through a megaphone and came out the day before on KABC-TV arguing that the Bible requires opposition to immigration. Barbara Coe, president of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, co-author of Proposition 187, and the grande dame of the anti-immigrant movement. Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist was nowhere to be found, but a contingent of Minutemen Angels — ladies born around the middle of the last century — handed out plastic “USA” jewelry.
Drake and Coe are always good for a quote. At one point, as a yellow bus idled next to the Santa Ana Public Library, Drake shouted, “Attention, please! Last call for the Tijuana taxi.” With her megaphone, Coe — nice butch haircut, red-white-blue ensemble — quickly added, “Use your welfare checks to go back to Mexico.” But the real fun was talking to the anti-immigrant movement’s storm troopers, the soldiers of Velcro, fanny packs and sweatshirts, the guys who blasted “Born in the USA” from their Ford F150 truck and made jokes about tacos and amigos.
“This is the first time I’ve ever attended one of these protests,” a short, middle-aged white woman told me.
What made you attend?
I was talking to a friend in Brooklyn, and she told me illegals live there! Imagine! Mexicans in Brooklyn! I never realized there was a problem!
So you don’t mind all the illegals living here in Southern California?
No, I do. I can’t even visit a hospital anymore!
How long have you lived in Southern California?
My entire life.
And you just realized illegal immigrants live in Southern California today?
No, they’ve always been here! But today is the day we start civil war!
What about in 1994, when Proposition 187 passed? Did you have a problem with illegals then?
No! There weren’t as many then. Some of my best friends are Mexican!
I moved on to another young man.
So how about those Mexicans?
They’re ruining this country! Look at all the flags!
I mostly see American flags.
They’re liars! They really want to wave the Mexican flag! All they want to do is get free welfare!
Do you know any illegal immigrants who want welfare?
All of them!
[Pauses.] All of them!
Another woman shouted, “In my country, you speak my language.”
What language is that?
English. This is America.
So people shouldn’t speak Spanish.
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No. They need to learn English. They shouldn’t be translating the national anthem into Spanish.
So what do you think about the guy next to you with the “Viva Minutemen” sign? That’s part Spanish. And he looks Mexican, too.
She looked to her side, where a dark-skinned man silently held a yellow “Viva Minutemen” placard.
“He’s okay, I guess.”?