Columbia, SC — Some initially thought there might be a tongue-in-cheek message when the owner of Taco Cid in West Columbia outfitted her employees with offensive T-shirts about undocumented immigrants. Well, there wasn’t. If anything, she seemed to believe that gimmicks will grow her business, noting that the T-shirts are “witty” and for sale.
By giving her exposure, the media provided a platform for her xenophobia, or fear of foreigners and strangers, and gave her an opportunity to reinforce a tired and inaccurate stereotype.
The expression of xenophobia as humor has been a part of our cultural and political landscape from the beginning. We use ethnic humor to diminish people we fear by depicting them as inferior, despicable or ridiculous, negatively impacting their ability to assimilate into American society and obtain jobs that match their training and skills.
For example, in the 19th century the Irish, depicted as stupid, were almost always employed in low-paying, unskilled positions, regardless of their trade. Scots, on the other hand, with a reputation for “prudence,” often were able to secure more lucrative jobs as skilled masons or gardeners, regardless of their ability to do those jobs.
If this T-shirt offends you, use that energy to promote the respect of all human beings. Work to ensure that South Carolina has just economic opportunities for all businesses and all workers. The underlying tensions that led to this incident will only end when our legislators stop pandering to a small group of extremists and instead give priority to our nation’s needs.
Immigrants contribute economically and culturally to South Carolina and should be welcomed. The Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center project that comprehensive immigration reform would lead to $1.5 trillion in increased GDP over 10 years and contribute to the creation of as many as 900,000 jobs. We must fulfill the nation’s longstanding constitutional promise of equality for all by enacting policies that build our economy and unite the people of our great state.
I thank Taco Cid for forcing me to think about immigrant values: family, hard work, education and fairness. I invite the restaurant to work with us to promote federal immigration reform and learn about how South Carolina contributes to the problem of illegal immigration.
Who knows? Perhaps one day the restaurant will be able to legally hire skilled cooks who know how to make really delicious tacos — growing the business the old-fashioned way.