In Texas, a man burned the Mexican flag in front of the Alamo. He tried to get a permit to do it, but the city said no. They didn't issue permits for burning nylon or polyester or rayon in public, even if it was somebody else's national flag.
He did it anyway. Burned the red, white, and green. This was in 2007. He was a white man, and he needed Congress to know that no one should get amnesty. No one should be let in, forgiven, overlooked.
What scares me about the people who hate us is not that they hate us, but that I might understand them. And to explain that I need to tell you how it was before.
Before the Salvadoreños and the Hondurans arrived. Before the Mexicans and the Dominicans y los Nicaragüenses. Before the Pakistanis across the street and the Indian family down the street and the Brasileños around the corner and the Koreans and the Japanese two towns over. Before us. Before my Cuban-Colombian family. Before one small town in New Jersey turned white, then brown.
The streets in Fairview are empty. The bus stops, too.
People here have cars and houses whose front doors stay closed year round. In 1982, I am old enough to march from the A&P with a two-liter of orange soda swaddled in my arms like a newborn. I am seven. Behind me, my mother carries the eggs and Trix cereal, the frozen steaks and Betty Crocker cake mix, and my sister toddles next to her.
In Union city, we had buses and live chickens. But that was before Papi took a bus twenty minutes north and found factory work in Fairview and a house, as well. Here we are then: the soda in my arms and block after block of silent air and skinny trees.
A Republican Congressman from California thinks children born to undocumented immigrant women should be deported. It takes a lot to be an American citizen, he tells a crowd of Tea Party members in 2010.
It takes the stuff from before.
But what exactly?
It's what's in our souls, he declares.
In the 1600s, New Jersey belongs to women. Brown-faced women with thick, black hair, children at their feet, and corn in their hands. The Lenape Indians.
Citizenship is based on the mother. The child belongs to the clan of the mother, and in the 1600s, Fairview is not yet a town but only hills and grass and trees, a place where citizenship is bound not to the earth but to the one who gives birth.
It is the color of wheat. It's the back wall of the fire house in Fairview, and we live in the house right behind, so the wall is a yellow sheet lining our front yard. Nothing is sweeter in summer than a smooth wall.
Someone brings the red handballs. The girl from across the street maybe. And pistachio green tennis balls. A carton of them. We slam the balls with open palms and jump in the air to hit them and race around each other to not miss. We bruise ourselves, the joy is so much to bear.
Over coffee once, a white man asked me if I had been born in this country. He was from Arizona and we were talking about his home state and the show-your-paper laws. He wasn't a racist, he told me. His ex-wife is Mexican.
Yes, I told him. I was born here.
The Dutch arrive in New Jersey, boats bulging with pale-faced men who descend to the land, march with their feet, their language, their governments. More foreign faces slip across the ocean, thrusting themselves at the horizon. The English, the French. They seep into these wooded ares.
Change requires time, insists upon it. It takes another three hundred years, until by the late 1800s, the Lenape have been forced to leave Fairview, shoved West to a patch of earth named Indian Territory.
The white man at the Alamo was a former police chief.
His town, the streets he watched over, has less than two thousand people. I imagine him in San Antonio, pulling out a box of matches, the Mexican flag dangling from his hands.
To read the rest of "The Bus Stop," purchase issue 27.1 here.