Rhonda Cagle

Posts Tagged ‘Arizona Immigration Law’

In the Presence of Mixed Company

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2012 at 11:18 am

I wrote this a few nights ago following a dinner date with my husband. Well, it was supposed to be a quiet dinner date. It turned into something very different and very unexpected. The dinner and resulting conversation wasn’t what we had envisioned – but it’s one that needed to take place.

The first rule of blogging is this: Never blog while drinking. The second is similar: Never blog while angry. That’s a pity. I’m breaking both rules.

After a lot of life washing under the proverbial bridge during the past few months, my husband, Lorenzo, and I decided to go out for a quiet dinner before our home is inundated with kids and relatives and all things Thanksgiving-ish as I cook over the next two days for a dozen people who are coming to our house for football and the Turkey Day festivities. Tonight was not a fancy dinner. Just a much-appreciated Groupon and a chance to try a local Italian restaurant on a Tuesday evening.  But it was our one night to relax, reconnect, and enjoy some precious time together.

The evening started off well. Lorenzo ordered me a glass of wine and told me I look pretty. This, after weeks of me not sleeping consistently, being stressed out, and spending the day wrangling client deadlines and fighting the crowds at the pre-Thanksgiving grocery store. He’s a politician. He’s good at placating people. On nights like this, I appreciate this skill.

As our server brought us our salads, a dozen tables turned to listen to a woman who stood up to speak. The rest of us – a handful of tables – looked over with confusion and annoyance as this woman interrupted our dinner dates. She thanked folks for being in attendance and introduced their guest speaker, Andrew Thomas.

For those of you not acquainted with Arizona politics, let me help you with perspective. Andrew Thomas is the former Maricopa County Attorney. He, along with Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Governor Jan Brewer, are responsible for putting the “south” in Southwest by championing the infamous SB 1070; most of which has been ruled unconstitutional. He was ultimately disbarred and discredited by the non-partisan Arizona Bar Association for abusing the power of his office. Despite losing his law license and being publically disgraced, he’s now eyeing a run for governor in 2014, which brings us back to tonight’s dinner.

Mr. Thomas stood up and began addressing the group, which included the entire restaurant as there was no private room for this “meeting.” This meant Lorenzo and I were subjected to his comments. These comments included correlations between New Testament scripture and SB 1070. They included his assertion that Sheriff Joe was exonerated of wrongdoing by the federal Department of Justice. His comments included his version of his disbarment; namely, that he was “jacked by liberal Democrats who went after his law license for simply upholding the law.”

Mr. Thomas had a lot of blame to go around – for everyone but himself. He blamed the Arizona Republic for being part of a liberal media conspiracy determined to push him out of office. He blamed the “illegals.” He blamed the Feds. He blamed the Democrats. He blamed Arizona, our country, and the President of the United States for abandoning all that is holy, patriotic, and true. People clapped. I lost my appetite. And my temper.

Let’s be clear. Until this last election, when my husband ran for office, I was a registered Independent. I’ve voted for Republicans and Democrats. More than once. Including this most recent election. I’m not a Constitution-wielding, Bible-thumping Tea Partier and I’m not a godless, baby-aborting liberal. I’m an American. And tonight, I’m simply a wife who wanted a quiet dinner date with my husband. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that dinner.

After listening to Andrew Thomas revise history, insult God and Holy Scripture, and rescript the founding fathers, the hostess of this “meeting” in a public restaurant stood up and said, “Thank you for your time. I realize we’re in mixed company and I appreciate your attention.”

She said this while looking directly at my husband. The only Hispanic in the room, besides our server. The man that several people were now staring at. This man who serves on three statewide boards and holds a Governor-appointed role as commissioner. This man, who works with our state’s largest corporations and not-for-profits to strategically allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars in philanthropic investments into our community. This man, who was named one of the “most influential business leaders” by the Phoenix Business Journal.

This woman and her associates didn’t see this man. They simply saw a Mexican.

We asked for our food to be packaged up in “to go” boxes. We tipped our server well; she was clearly embarrassed and apologized for the “meeting.” I honestly felt the need to apologize to her, as she was, by mere ethnicity, lumped in the same heap as Lorenzo.

We walked out of the restaurant and Lorenzo was patient as I embarked on a tirade. I railed against Thomas’ arrogance and the ignorance of those who had clapped for him. I shouted that of all people, I – whose forefathers had owned other humans in the pre-Civil war South – should have a right to speak against overt racism and discrimination. And then he said this:

“I ran for office so I could defend their right to speak their opinion.
I would do it again and be proud to be their representative.
That is what this country is built upon.”

I’ve been quiet ever since. The truth is, I don’t know what to say in the face of such grace and humility. This man, who was publically embarrassed tonight, defended the rights of those who embarrassed him. He stood up for those who would have suggested “self-deportation” to him; despite the fact that he and his ancestors have been living here since before it was the United States of America.

Since my husband lost his election, I’ve been telling him his only priority is to get back into the Fortune 500 world to help support our family. I was wrong. I’m hoping he runs again. Of all people, he is qualified to help move our state – and its people – into a mindset that embodies these words… “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”

It’s not the dinner I envisioned. It’s certainly not romantic. But it’s the dinner conversation that needed to take place. And not just at my table.

So… in the midst of passing the penne and pouring another glass of wine, I’m going to propose something radical – something that Andrew Thomas and Friends would not approve of nor likely understand. I’m proposing we stop referring to human beings – neighbors – as “mixed company.” I’m proposing we celebrate the diversity that makes our nation the greatest democratic experiment the world has ever known. And I’m suggesting we remember that, at the end of the day, we are fathers, husbands, public servants, friends, and neighbors; “one nation, under God, indivisible; with liberty and justice for all.”

Tonight at dinner, Andrew Thomas and his cronies gave lip service to those words, lamenting the fact that our country no longer stands on the principles of our founding fathers. I believe Mr. Thomas is mistaken. Tonight at dinner, the man sitting across the table from me lived and exemplified them.  Too bad I’m the only one in the room who saw it.


In Uncategorized on April 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I hate confrontation. In my past life, confrontation often left me battered and bruised – literally and figuratively. My mental health care professional and I have spent a lot of time on this issue, which has contributed greatly to her retirement account and, to a lesser extent, my sanity. But I still hate it and would rather endure a root canal sans anesthesia than willingly engage in confrontation.

So it makes complete sense that last Sunday found me gathered at the State Capitol with thousands of people protesting the passage of SB 1070. For those who have been living under a rock, this new law puts the “south” in Southwest, resurrecting Jim Crow laws and making “reasonable suspicion” code speak for racial profiling.  Think I’m overreacting? Read on.

Under this new law, my daughter will no longer be able to give her friends and schoolmates a ride home after school without being subject to arrest for transporting illegal immigrants. Many of Megan’s classmates came to this country as babies or toddlers. They are illegal in spite of the fact that this is the only country they know. Many have never been to Mexico; some don’t even speak Spanish. In this great land of opportunity, they cannot legally get a driver’s license, a job, or attend college as an in-state student. They are subject to deportation at any time. And now, they can’t even get a ride to and from school, thanks to this new law.

Neither can many of the children and families served by Kitchen on the Street. This agency that I volunteer with serves more than 300 Valley students each week, providing weekend meals to kids who would otherwise go hungry. From time to time, we also partner with a local food bank, distributing fresh food to their families. For families trying to carry small children and bags of groceries, we provide a lift home. Doing so will now get me arrested. I guess when Jesus said to feed the hungry, tend the sick, and clothe the naked, He forgot to add, “Be sure to check their papers first.”

And don’t forget the day laborers standing out in front of the local Home Depot. God forbid we would give someone the dignity of doing an honest day’s work. Under this new law it’s now illegal to hire them. Oh, and by the way, it’s also now illegal to give an undocumented resident a ride to the hospital; or, for that matter, church.

For several weeks, I’ve listened to the rhetoric on both sides. I’ve remained silent while the “experts” battled it out in the Statehouse. But I could not forget the faces of those affected by this new law – children who receive food from me each week, parents who now live in terror of being deported, young adults my daughter calls friends. I swallowed some Pepto-Bismol to calm the churning in my stomach and decided to stand up and confront this injustice.

Armed with our homemade protest signs, Megan and I arrived at the State Capitol ready to stand side-by-side with our wronged brothers and sisters. But after arriving, I quickly began praying that we wouldn’t be lynched. The mistrust was palpable. Everywhere I looked, brown eyes met my green eyes with a mixture of fear, anger, and questioning. I met their stares with a warm smile – and I held my sign where it could easily be seen.

As soon as people saw my sign, they relaxed. I had several women come to my side, give me a hug, and ask if they could have their picture taken with me. I happily agreed and put my arm around them while a husband or son snapped a photo. One woman stood and talked with me for a moment. The corners of her mouth began to tremble and her eyes pooled with tears as she thanked me for coming to support her and her family. “We are more than the color of our skin,” she said. “We just want to be treated like you are treated.” The poignancy of her words pierced my heart.

I heard her voice echoing in my head when I was asked to write a letter on behalf of one of my clients. This week the schools I represent needed me to write a letter to their parents, assuring them that schools are still a safe place for students. Many of the children are terrified that school officials will turn them or their families into the police. Families are afraid of being torn apart. Principals told me that students are afraid they will go home to find their parents gone, leaving them with nowhere to go and no one to care for them.

Confrontation makes me afraid, discrimination, more so. There are times when taking a stand is more than the right thing to do – it is the only thing to do. So, I’m standing. For my daughter’s friends who call America their home. For children who are now afraid of our police and our school officials. For parents who want nothing more than to give their children a better life. For families who wave our flag and, in spite of injustice, smile when they speak of liberty and justice for all.

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