By: BRIGID BRETT - For the North County Times
It's been four months since a chorus of San Diego Minutemen shouted at Olga Diaz to "go back to Mexico" at an Escondido City Council meeting, yet Diaz still hears their jeers as clearly as if they were shouted at her last night. It would have been bad enough if Diaz actually was from Mexico, but she was born and raised in the United States and is therefore as American as President Bush himself. I was at City Hall that night and I remember literally feeling my skin crawl when Diaz had those words flung at her, followed by a rowdy burst of applause that echoed through the chambers.
It crawled in much the same way when I read about the family of legal immigrants from El Salvador who moved into a house in Kentucky and received, instead of a welcome basket, a burning cross on their lawn and a note that read: "My country, maybe. My neighborhood ---- no way."
And it crawled when I heard about the migrant workers in Rancho Penasquitos who came back to their camps after work to find their clothes slashed, boots torn and blankets ripped in half.
These situations are all different, involving people who have broken the law and people who haven't, but the thread that somehow binds them is the level of damage that can be inflicted through self-righteousness, bigotry and undiluted hate.
That night at the Escondido City Council meeting, what struck me after the shouting at Diaz and the applause from the supporters of the Minutemen died down, was the deafening silence in the room. With the level of tension as high as it was, it was probably best to let the moment dissipate in its own way, but at the time I wanted somebody in a position of authority to denounce the flagrant display of racism. It didn't happen and it doesn't seem to be happening often enough. In fact, hate is on the rise. You don't have to look far to find it. It's in the comments and blogs on the Web site of this newspaper and it's in the airwaves that flow through our homes and our cars.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports a 40 percent rise in the number of hate groups since 2000 and the formation of 250 anti-illegal immigrant groups in just the last two years. The center's Mark Potok notes an increase of hateful propaganda that blames (Latino) immigrants for just about anything, even leprosy and malaria ---- although the few cases of leprosy that exist in the U.S. were brought from Asia and malaria comes from mosquitoes.
The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors the activities of hate groups, has documented a noticeable spike in activity by Ku Klux Klan chapters across the country. "If any one single issue or trend can be credited with re-energizing the Klan, it is the debate over immigration in America," said Deborah M. Lauter, the league's civil rights director.
Everything changed for Olga Diaz when she was treated with hate and contempt because of her race, just as everything changed for that family in Kentucky who watched a cross burning on their lawn. In this country, it turns out, racism is more lethal than either leprosy or mosquitoes could ever be.
Valley Center resident Brigid Brett is a freelance columnist for the North County Times. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.