Greetings from Arizona,
As you may know, last Friday the Arizona State legislature passed an extreme anti-immigrant law. The law, promptly signed by Governor Jan Brewer, allows for drastic measures to be taken against suspected illegal immigrants. This law will lead to racial profiling and is racist, intolerant, and stridently anti-humanitarian. Many in the state, in the west, and indeed in the nation are shocked by what the Arizona governor calls a “tough” attitude toward “border security.”
There has been some talk among WLA members about the ethical implications of our 2010 conference in Prescott. As WLA president, I believe that there is no more urgent moment for us to come together to counter the oppressive politics of Arizona and other like-minded states who legislate the denial of human and civil rights. I am in this business because I believe in the transformative power of literature; I am certain many of you do, too. In addition to the topics suggested in this year’s call for papers, and the usual rich diversity of topics our members inevitably present on, there is certainly room for papers and panels on the literature of immigration, the globalization of the American West, the contemporary or historical literature of racial discord, of labor, of land and territory. And what better year to honor our Distinguished Achievement Award recipient Luis Valdez, who began his career writing and producing agitprop theater to demonstrate the humanity of Mexican American farm workers? His work on behalf of civil rights in the face of those who seek to deny these rights should be a reminder to us: artistic expression is a powerful force against oppression.
In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist (click on highlight section for link to the whole column) Linda Greenhouse presents a good alternative to boycotting, which may actually hurt innocent small business owners and divest us of our political voice: “Here’s a modest proposal. Everyone remembers the wartime Danish king who drove through Copenhagen wearing a Star of David in support of his Jewish subjects. It’s an apocryphal story, actually, but an inspiring one. Let the good people of Arizona — and anyone passing through — walk the streets of Tucson and Phoenix wearing buttons that say: I Could Be Illegal.”
I look forward, more than ever, to seeing you in Prescott in October.
President, Western Literature Association