8/2/08

Sgt. Alex Jiménez' Final Gift?

Sgt. Alex Jiménez was finally laid to rest today at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale. A funeral mass was held earlier at Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Corona, Queens.

Sgt. Alex Jiménez was one of three U.S. soldiers that went missing in Iraq a year and half ago. Listed as a POW/MIA, his remains were finally found a few weeks ago in a village south of Baghdad.

Make no mistake about it, Sgt. Alex Jiménez' is an American story with a timely lesson for us.

Alex was an immigrant to the U.S. -- and like so many other immigrants, a gift to this nation. He was born in the Dominican Republic and was brought to the U.S. as a child. His parents, Maria Duran and Ramon Jiménez, lived and labored in the immigrant communities of Corona, Queens and Lawrence, Massachusetts. By all accounts, Alex was a good guy.

It's been said that Alex knew early on he wanted to serve his country as a member of the U.S. military. He enlisted, made the U.S. Army's elite 10th Mountain Division, and was sent off to war -- to the Iraq. And as has happened to so many other immigrant parents, Maria and Ramon lost their son.

However, Jiménez' story has a contemporary twist -- and I don't just mean that he fought and died in an unpopular war whose true purpose has been veiled. It's about the domestic and popular war against immigrants. Specifically, while Jiménez was missing in action in Iraq, his young wife, Yaderlin, was being threatened by ICE blackboots with deportation.

Yes, the very government Alex was serving was rushing to boot his new wife from the country. Imagine the fear and sense of helplessness they must have felt. It was only when Alex went missing in action that Yaderline's terrible plight became known. If it hadn't been for the ensuing public outcry, she surely would have been booted.

So, it's only fitting that Jiménez be buried in Long Island; after all, it's a place heavily shaped by the contributions and sacrifices of immigrants and their children. And it's an island that is being transformed and renewed by newer waves of immigrants settling in Long Island City, Montauk and everywhere in between.

Sadly though, Long Island has its unique brand of nativism -- an anti-newest and poorest immigrant intolerance percolating just beneath its leafy surface. It's a bias that operates subtly (and not-so-subtly) through local codes, profiling, racial steering and the like; and during times of strive--such as the present--flows into acts of intimidation, vandalism, assault and even murder.

Unfortunately, it's a dark side too many Long Islanders deny -- even though it's evident to even the casual observer.

So when "Latinos Go Home" was splashed for all to see, authorities just weren't sure the message was anti-Hispanic hate. Or when a motorist jumped the curb and plowed into a groups of Latino day workers, authorities didn't see it as a bias crime--or any crime at all. Or when a restaurant was harrassed by the local police only during "Hispanic Nights", yet authorities claimed they were just enforcing the law. Or when a village seizes rental property under the guise that it's an eyesore, evicts the immigrant/Latino residents, and trustees wonder why their motives are suspect. Or when county legislature push laws targeting Latino immigrant workers claiming they're only levelling the playing field for their largely white, middle class and heavily protected, nonimmigrants constituents. Or when a local cable station exams the rise of hate groups, ignores local anti-immigrant incidents, and then proclaims Long Island to be hate-free.

(BTW: The above incidents--and countless others--are all real and have occured on Long Island in just the last few months.)

Perhaps Sgt. Alex Jiménez' burial in Long Island soil will help sow a new resolve among concerned residents--oldtimers and newcomers, native-born and foreign-born, whites and people of color--that stopping nativism and hate is vital to preserving all that is good and right about Long Island.

Might it be Sgt. Alex Jiménez' final gift to us?

Links:
WCBS-Channel 2 -- Fallen Hero
The Body of Alex Jiménez Found
Sgt. Alex Jiménez (POW/MIA): R.I.P.

Prayers And Hope
Alex Jimenez' Wife Might Be Deported
Iraq: Missing soldiers' bodies recovered

May 2007 abduction of US soldiers in Iraq
Jimenez Family Waits
Alex Jimenez's MySpace page
Kerry Tells Homeland Security Not to Deport Wife of Missing Soldier
Woman's husband missing in Iraq since May; DHS halts her deportation
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