Today’s post is by contributing writer Feliciano Vera:
I was going for the Mexican Ming the Merciless look. Sporting a freshly shaved head – a minor protest against an economy in the gutter – as well as a goatee and mustache, I could easily have been mistaken for your friendly neighborhood cholo.
Ensconced as I was amid the couches at Postino Arcadia, that was the farthest thought from my mind. Drinking prosecco with a polyglot group of friends during a not-too-distant holiday season, the mood was cheerful and celebratory, despite the dire state of the economy. We had just entered the Great Recession. While the Phoenix market had already cratered, the savage global market cavitations of 2008 were not yet in our sights.
As the night wore on, the conversation meandered towards the seasonal DUI checkpoints. Despite our desperate attempts to pollute our livers, the entirety of the group gathered that night were (and remain) on the responsible end of the spectrum: there were at least a few designated drivers among us.
But my mood darkened almost immediately when my friend Omer recounted several brushes with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Turns out he had been pulled over not once, but twice by MCSO. On both occasions he left without a citation or warning, but his last interaction put me on edge. A sheriff’s deputy effectively detained Omer for several hours before he was sent on his way.
An IT consultant, Omer is one of smartest guys I know. He’s designed information security systems for central banks and major financial institutions. An avocational photographer and blogger, he speaks multiple languages, and is always on the cutting edge of music and food trends. More inclined to explore a city by foot, his car is perennially coated in dust. In short, he is a poster boy for the creative class.
He speaks with a slight accent when he drinks, betraying his country of origin. While Canadian English may be grounds for an assault by a wayward real estate developer, it usually fails to provide enough probable cause for a traffic stop. But Omer cannot help the fact that he is over six feet tall and about as brown as they come.
In Arizona that may well be enough cause for a stop.
And that terrified me. Especially given my Mexican Ming the Merciless look at the time. While that night I may have been pushing the sartorial limits of my wardrobe, I am equally comfortable wearing a white t-shirt and khakis.
With a shaved head, I could easily be profiled as a trouble maker, even without any teardrops or gothic lettering tattooed on my body.
Mind you, between the real estate development partnerships and investment banking work I was engaged in, I had already managed to attract significant capital investments to Arizona – a little over $75 million at that time. I have a degree from a second rate diploma mill that’s been operating for more than 375 years in Massachusetts. And I like prosecco.
But to a good chunk of our elected officials, none of that matters for the sole reason that I happen to have brown skin and a polysyllabic name with more vowels than they care to pronounce.
And that, my friends, is as much your problem as it is mine.
As I write this, Arizona stands squarely in the middle of the national conversation on immigration, in part because of the anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of SB1070, as well as the President’s announcement on June 15th of a new administration directive on deferred action for children and young adults brought into this country by their parents without papers. Amid the internecine sniping between talking heads, conventional wisdom seems to be that immigration and economic concerns are disparate topics, incapable of being digested at the same time by a good chunk of the electorate, Latinos in particular.
But let’s not kid ourselves: any discussion about immigration or the economy that attempts to distill policy from raw emotion is fundamentally dishonest. If there is a common emotional thread between both conversations, it is one of fear and anxiety. Regardless of whether you are in the 1% or the 99%, the last several years have done nothing to instill a sense of hope or optimism. If you’re scared or anxious, you’re less likely to make an investment decision (no decision is a good decision!) or seek out a new job (assuming you have one).
The particularly noxious stated desire of Arizona to promote immigration enforcement through attrition does little to alleviate the economic anxieties of roughly one of every three Arizonans. Anti-immigrant policies such as SB1070 aggravate those anxieties, further limiting our ability to attract talent, to say nothing of capital. After all, why would someone like my friend Omer decide to plant roots here, when he has worked in New York City, Manchester, and elsewhere? If we want to attract from a global pool of talent and capital, and compete on a global scale, then we must reconcile ourselves to the basic reality that most people in this world neither speak English nor are as light complexioned as some may like.
If we fail to do so, then we will do nothing more than sow the seeds of our own economic destruction, no matter how much we might want to create a generically “business friendly” environment.
Because talent is what fuels economic growth, and talent will always flock to where it is welcome, with capital following right behind it. And if we want to create a great desert city, then we better be damn serious about welcoming anybody crazy enough to live in 110 degree weather, regardless of skin color or country of origin.
We’ve already lost Omer to San Francisco. I’m not sure we can afford to lose many more like him.
Photo Credit: Taken at an April 2010 SB 1070 protest, courtesy of the author.Tags: arizona, economic development, Feliciano Vera, Immigration, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, SB1070, the Dream Act