JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Mexicans and Mahopac

I come from an interesting place.

It’s a town named Mahopac. I used to tell people I was from “upstate” New York, which isn’t actually true. Mahopac is upstate from New York City—roughly 70 miles away. But it’s not even close to being upstate.

I think I used the word to explain the mentality. Even Mahopac’s longtime residents will agree it’s not the most progressive place in the world. There’s a certain bottled-in feel the the place—Mahopac is a lake town with a bunch of pizza joints, several barber shops, a couple of supermarkets and a diner. Though it’s changed much since I left in 1990, it hasn’t really changed at all. If that makes any sense. Mahopac also happens to be v-e-r-y conservative—politically, socially, behaviorally. There’s a way to be, there’s a way not to be. Sometimes this works—Mahopac boasts safe streets, an undeniable warmth, tons of places for kids to roam. Sometimes this doesn’t work—I don’t believe a Jew, Asian or African-American would feel entirely embraced growing up there (I know I certainly didn’t).

Anyhow, today on Facebook a friend of mine noted how Mexican day laborers line the downtown streets every morning, hoping to be picked up and given temporary employment. She wrote that it’s a “little intimidating” walking down the street, which I can fully understand. Not because they’re Mexican, but because she’s a woman, and these are a bunch of guys. Probably sorta mangy looking; certainly not in suits and ties. Again, I get it.

The follow-up comments, however, well, not so much …

• It will always be Mahopac…not Mexipac!!!

• Paintball gun drive-by every morning.

There were a bunch. Again, nothing overly xenophobic. But what gets me—what always gets me in instances like this—is the lack of empathy. And, more than that, the lack of perspective. The people ripping/damning the Mexican workers believe (I’m guessing) that they don’t belong in this country; that illegals should be prosecuted and sent back home. Which I can understand. But what always baffles me is—Who the fuck are you? In other words, why do you deserve this blissful citizenship? Answer: Because you emerged from a womb on American soil. That’s it. That’s all. It has nothing to do with patriotism or righteous deeds, and everything to do with blind, dumb luck. Jose, the guy standing on the street, makes $1.50/hour at home for the same job he can make $10/hour here. So what is he supposed to do? And how can you really damn his desire to be here? And, most important, why do you have the right, but he doesn’t? What have you done to earn your vocal patriotism? What price have you paid? What test have you passed?

The other irony, which I absolutely love, is the jarring unintelligibility with which these arguments are often made. If you’re going to shout “Speak English!” or something along those lines, you probably should be able to spell and use proper grammar. I don’t mean that to sound as snide as it surely does—but there’s a real truth to it. If you demand accountability of those desiring to call America home, shouldn’t there be accountability for those who do (loudly) call American home? Personally, I don’t care about a person’s grammatical abilities. But if you’re going all anti-Mexican, and you believe a people to be bringing down the quality of your nation, well, you better be of high stock.