This Land Is My Land

Random Lengths News | May 10, 2006
Early one morning recently with the skies overcast and gray I sat sipping my coffee on the back porch contemplating the jets flying off to the South Seas when I heard the faint sound of music in air. The children over at the 15th Elementary School were singing Woody Guthrie’s anthem “This Land Is Your Land,” a song most of us learn in our early childhood years.

You could probably get through the chorus if I just struck up the tune and the usual first three verses would sound familiar too – As I was walking - that ribbon of highway or I saw below me - that golden valley – all start to come back from the latent memories of youth. Some folks call it the “people’s national anthem” in part because of its popular appeal, in part because of its expression of unity but what you may not know is that there are three more verses not included in the popular version. This one verse may explain why–

it>As I went walking I saw a sign there,

and on the sign it said “no trespassing”

But on the other side it didn’t say nothing

That side was made for you and me.
(The complete lyrics can be found at

You see Guthrie was writing from the immigrant point of view, being a refugee of the Dust Bowl himself during the Great Depression. It was a time when whole families were moved off the land, packed up in an old model T-Ford pickup and headed for California– the land of milk and honey or as Author Lauren Coodley prefers to call it “Orange Groves and Jails” in the title of her book. The whole story, of course, can be found in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, which should be made mandatory reading for anyone graduating from public schools in the Golden State these days. In short immigration and the backlash to it have been here since the beginning– Juan Cabrillo didn’t even have a passport and in the grand scale of time even the Chumash Indians have only been here some 15,000 years. Fact is we are all immigrants on this bus!

During the desperate days of the Depression the LAPD was dispatched by the Mayor of Los Angeles Frank Shaw, to illegally intercept the hoards of Oakies arriving by the truckloads looking for work at the California boarders. The sign at the boarder said “lot full” on the other it didn’t say nothing, that was Woody’s side. This and a multitude of other historic examples explains some of the current populist xenophobia about illegal immigrants and the presence of the civilian “Minutemen” who have recently been “protecting” our southern boarders from the new hoards. The thing is for all of our talk of “freedom and Liberty for all” we really mean “just for some of us who are already here” and the inscription on the Statue of Liberty isn’t serious about accepting “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We seem to only want the ones who have enough money to buy their way in and not be a burden on society– like former dictators of puppet régimes that we’ve supported who stashed all their loot in American banks. Ferdinand and Emelda Marcos of the Philippines immediately come to mind, but there are more and will be more after the war in Iraq is over.

It seems just about everything big this country has done since the Vietnam War some president has to call a war. The war on drugs, the war on terrorism, they will probably call the effort to stem the tide on Avian flu the War on Birds! I can just imagine scrambling an entire squadron of jet fighters to take down a flock of (illegally) migrating geese to protect the homeland. Are we now to make this a war on immigrants? The thing is that each and every one of these neuvo-wars has been a wonderful public relations ploy but all a veritable costly blunder in retrospect. You’d think we’d learn.

One thing that we are really good at in this country is making money, especially in California. My humble solution for immigration, illegal or otherwise, is to follow the example of Disneyland. Build a big parking lot in the middle of nowhere, preferably someplace south of Tucson on the boarder, put in a ticket booth and turn styles and charge admission.

As I understand, it costs somewhere over $5,000 to get a coyote to smuggle one across the boarder with no guarantee that they’ll either survive the experience or be successful at getting in. At America-the-theme-park, immigrants would be treated with respect, given a full medical exam and back ground check before entering, receive a green E-ticket card that gets them a social security number, medical card, guest worker ID and a free trip back across the boarder after the job is over or say three years, which ever comes first. And you can always come back again if you behave yourself. Now this isn’t particularly fair since none of our ancestors went through all of this but it would quell the objections of those on both the right and the left providing for a budget to offset the costs to society while providing a pathway to jobs that doesn’t leave them dying in our deserts.

One more thing: if Latin America is going to export its labor to us, we should return the favor and export our labor unions to them. Perhaps if they could raise wages and working conditions south of the boarder, more immigrants would simply stay home and build more stability there. Now there’s a concept for you. What if we used our economic and political clout to make conditions less oppressive in Mexico and Central America rather than starting another war? Certainly beats building a 1,951-mile long “Berlin Wall” between us and them.

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Founded in 1979 as a counterbalance to the conservative, corporate- owned daily paper, Random Lengths News draws on the rich history of the Los Angeles Harbor Area. The name harkens back to a description of the lumber that used to...
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