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UCC Executive Minister on Oklahoma Immigration Law

Convenient Memory Loss

November 26, 2007

M. Linda Jaramillo

Executive Minister

I hear story after story about communities across the
country being torn apart by fierce debates over immigration. I read
speech after speech delivered by political leaders adding inflammatory
remarks to an already hostile social environment. In all the
fear-producing outcries, immigrants are named as the problem with
America. One such place is the State of Oklahoma.

What mystifies me about all this is our apparent memory
loss. I am confused by our patriotic cries that raise the American
flag and the Statue of Liberty as the icons of our culture. Yet, we
seem to have forgotten that the thirteen stripes on the flag represent
the original colonies made up of rebellious and courageous immigrants
coming to this land to make a better life. We have forgotten that the
Statue of Liberty is called a symbol of freedom and opportunity,
inscribed with these words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your
huddled masses yearning to breathe free…." We have forgotten that
most of the American West was Mexico not very long ago. Most alarming
is that we ignore that this land first belonged to Indigenous peoples
who have been set aside.

This memory loss reminds me of my history lessons in
public schools over a half-century ago. As an eighth grader, I was
required to take Colorado History. The problem with the Colorado
History class was that the textbooks left out significant information
about the real history. Never did I see people in those books who
looked like me, even though my ancestors had been on the land for
centuries before the United States expanded and created states like
Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho,
California, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The school books only told
stories about those who traveled west on wagon trains – courageous and
rebellious immigrants in search of a better life. It seems that the
authors of the history textbooks had lost their memory too.

Now, our memory loss is showing up in hateful state legislation
that strips people's dignity and their basic human rights. Oklahoma
House Bill 1804, enacted November 1, 2007, is based on assumptions
that have no proven foundation. Legislators and the Governor endorsed
a bill that blames "illegal" immigrants for the economic woes and
lawlessness in the state. Where is the data that proves that
"illegal" immigrants are committing crime at a higher rate? Where is
the data that verifies that "illegal" immigrants are draining public
resources? This bill is not about data, it is about a loss of memory
that has rendered people invisible in the history books and in today's

What is even more ridiculous is that the State of Oklahoma claims that
this law will be enforced without discrimination. It reads, "The
provisions of this section shall be enforced without regard to race,
religion, gender, ethnicity, or national origin." Let's not kids
ourselves: this law is all about discrimination. Oklahoma is but an
example of bigoted public policies being considered in many
statehouses in this nation.

Hispanic Oklahomans are leaving the state in droves out of fear. Many
of them are not recent immigrants; they have been there for
generations. Native Americans in Oklahoma are being mistaken for
Hispanics and targeted for deportation.

Last week's celebration of Thanksgiving is based on an historic event
in this nation. But as we celebrated, we seemed to have forgotten the
truth about our history. We've had a convenient loss of memory.

The United Church of Christ has more than 5,700 churches throughout
the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of
congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC
setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC
congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on
important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed
to unity in the midst of our diversity.


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