I became interested in FAIR when I saw a disturbing documentary, Farmingville. The film focuses on a suburban Long Island town to which 1,500 Mexican workers had immigrated. The locals do their best imitation of Southern rednecks, attempting to run the immigrants off. Helping them was FAIR.
At the Cow Palace, FAIR has arranged to have a booth where it can solicit signatures for a petition that would put Proposition 187 on the ballot. Prop. 187 would Save Our Licenses. I'd learned about the measure in an earlier telephone conversation with Carol, a kindly sounding grandmother type.
"Since it's a gun show, there shouldn't be a problem getting people to sign," Carol had said, noting that there'd been a protest about the proposition. "Some people said it was racist."
"It's not racist," I gleefully injected. "It's just American!"
"The main issues are," Carol continued, "we're against driver's licenses for illegal aliens, no public benefits for illegal aliens, no welfare. And no college tuition."
I responded by uttering my new, soon-to-be-overused catchphrase: "What part of 'illegal' don't they understand?"
Inside the Cow Palace, big bellies abound. I maneuver around them and find the FAIR table next to a row of assault weapons, rifles, and samurai swords, a few rows down from a booth selling Nazi flags and pictures of Hitler. The table's easy to find: It's marked with a huge sign reading "NO DRIVERS LICENSES FOR ILLEGAL ALIENS!"
FAIR's crew is composed entirely of retirees. It's a ragamuffin bunch, kind of a retarded crime-fighting team from another dimension, set upon this Earth to rid America of those pesky illegal aliens with their funny music and crazy hats. Approaching Carol, Roy, Tom, and Kay, I try to make a good first impression by announcing, immediately, "What part of 'illegal' don't they understand?"
Roy is clearly the leader. Taking me under his wing, he explains, "We need 600,000 signatures to get Proposition 187 on the ballot." Roy then turns suddenly intense to make the point as to why illegal aliens shouldn't have driver's licenses. "It sends a message," Roy says. "It says, 'You got to go home, I don't want you here.'"
Kay is wearing an American flag pendant and seems, at first glance, like someone you'd see baking pies and setting them out to cool on a windowsill. "I can hardly pay for health care, now I have to pay for theirs, too?!" she says with seething bitterness.
"You now have to be bilingual to work at RadioShack," Tom comments as I pick at my elbow. "My son can only speak one language, and he can't even get hired there."
"What part of 'illegal' don't they understand!" I say again for effect.
"What do you do for a living?" Tom asks.
"I'm a puppeteer!" I answer with pride, moving my hand like I'm operating a marionette.
The other members of our little group nod their heads in agreement until Roy interrupts, spewing disgust, enraged that Prop. 187 has not already qualified for the ballot. "Ever since the feminist movement," he says, "the legislation has been all wrapped up in women's issues!"
My task today is to approach some of the scariest people known to humanity and ask them to sign our petition. With clipboard in hand, Roy shows me the ropes.
"Just say to people, 'If this is an issue that concerns you, please sign our petition.'"
With that, Roy swarms down on a man in a black wife-beater T-shirt; he looks like he runs his own country in the woods.
"Come on! Let's get you signed up!"
"Hell ya! Hell ya!" exclaims the scary man, who signs. As an aside he adds, "I wish they'd tighten up the borders!"
It's my turn, so I ask a sweaty paranoid man with shifting eyes, "Will you sign our petition to prevent illegal aliens from getting driver's licenses?"
"I don't put my signature on ANYTHING!" he barks, then disappears into the crowd of gun lovers.
Roy is immediately critical. "You're letting them get away!" he moans.
For the most part, though, the gun crowd loves our cause.
"It's fucking bullshit. Those liberal bastards," rants a crusty old man, shaking his head in disgust.
"Wake up, America!" I contribute.
"Tell me about it. I worked for the INS for 20 years. Big dummies," he says. "I'm going to get my friend to sign this."
"If I were in charge," a guy with a big belly and a bulbous nose and a rifle strapped to his back fantasizes, "nobody would be getting through. NOBODY!"
He hands me back my clipboard.
"Save our jobs!" I proclaim.
"Save our country!" he adds.
"Enough is enough!" I top him.
"It's a fight for America!" he says, topping me.
"If Mexico wants a fight, all I can say is, 'COME AND GET IT!'"
I am back on top.
Until he adds, "Yeah, we'll bomb them back to the Stone Age!"
I approach a Hispanic guy to see if he will sign my petition.
"I don't speak English," he says with difficulty.
"The petition's against illegal aliens getting driver's licenses."
"I don't speak English," he repeats.
I try to explain using mime techniques. He yells something in Spanish to a group of friends, who yell back and then shoot me a look like they want to kill me.
"They probably have illegal driver's licenses," Carol says as they walk away.
After the initial rush, my group is stuck at the Save Our Licenses table without much to do. Tom starts rattling on about tinkering with Model T Fords in his spare time. Trying to bring the focus back to the matter at hand, I shake my head and abruptly blurt, "What part of 'illegal' don't they understand?!"
This seems to wake Tom up.
"Eisenhower got it right with Operation Wetback. The police lined the borders and removed illegal aliens," he says with a hint of nostalgia.
Tom tells me he voted for the Constitutional Party candidate for president because he had the toughest policy on illegal aliens.
"This is the big issue for me," Tom says, and suddenly it hits me: George W. Bush is not conservative enough on immigration for this group. "I'd like to give Bush a big kick in the behind!"
"You mean you're mad at Bush for letting them come across the border?" Roy asks.
"What about the northern border? What about the influx of Canadians?" I ask. "You know, they come over here with their funny accents, taking our jobs."
"I don't think there's too much of a problem of that," Kay replies, looking like she's never really pondered that notion before.
My goal now is to have no one sign the petitions; I decide to subtly make my sales pitch more and more racist, to see if I can get to the point that will creep any of these people out.
Part of the change in approach involves acting indignant when someone doesn't sign.
"Fine!" I shriek to a man from Contra Costa County as I roll my eyes. "See what I care when they are running rampant in your neighborhood, spreading diseases and playing that cucaracha music."
"I agree with you in principle but not in legislation," a man with glasses responds. "I have to think about it."
"You can't argue successfully against the facts!" I say, leaning close to whisper, "Come on, do you really want them dating your sister?"
"I came here 20 years ago," comments a large Russian man signing Carol's petition, who, for some reason, is wearing Army fatigues. "We're a country of immigrants."
"Yes, but the other immigrants came here legally!" Carol responds.
"Yeah, especially the good ones. You know, the white ones from Europe," I add with a wink and a nudge. "You know what I mean?"
I decide to lighten the mood and roam to other tables, returning with a few "funny" bumper stickers.
"Look what I got," I smirk to Kay, laying one on the table that reads "Welcome to America -- Either Learn the Language or LEAVE!"
"Isn't that great?" I ask.
Kay laughs. I laugh. We're really getting along. I lay another bumper sticker on the table.
"Look what else I got!" I say proudly, showing Kay a sticker depicting the Confederate flag. The sticker says, "The South Was Right!"
I nudge Kay, letting out a high-pitched laugh.
Carol and Kay are recounting when they picketed outside large Silicon Valley companies to protest the use of temporary visas for foreign nationals who work at technical jobs. Then Kay says she closed her Wells Fargo bank account to protest that company's support of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
"I actually went undercover and infiltrated their meeting. I wore a wig, so they wouldn't recognize me, and tape-recorded the meeting," she shares with a devilish smile.
"Let me get this straight," I inquire. "You put on a disguise and went undercover in order to infiltrate their group?"
"That is so clever," I say, adjusting my American flag bandanna and fidgeting with my tape recorder. "I could never do anything like that."
A large man wearing a baseball cap doesn't sign Roy's petition. "Well, if you made all the illegal aliens in the country legal," the man offers, "then they would be documented and have to pay taxes."
This stumps Tom and Roy; they really don't know how to respond. They grow quiet, staring at their shoes.
I break the silence: "What part of 'illegal' don't they understand?"
The man in the baseball cap leaves, and Roy whispers with a smug smile, "Something tells me he hires illegal aliens."
Gun dealers start covering their assault weapons and rifles for the day. Roy begins counting the number of signed petitions.
Carol suggests we leave our petitions here until tomorrow, noting with a warmhearted chuckle, "This is the safest place in the world, because everyone here knows how to use a gun!"
Roy vetoes the idea.
"You don't know who's around," he remarks.
"Some people don't like what we stand for," Kay comments.
I shake my head in disbelief, then add, "What part of 'illegal' don't they understand?"
"We got 360 signatures today," Roy proudly proclaims. "I'm going to look these over tonight to make sure everything is in order."
"You know, if you want, I could take some of those home and look them over for you and bring them back tomorrow," I suggest.
Roy smiles and hands me, the new go-getter, the entire stack of petitions. I smile back, madly.