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November 30, 2005


I had an interesting conversation today with the owner of Cafe Brazil
and one of his buddies.  I learned two important things:  1) gauchos, the traditional cowboys of southern Brazil, are the butt of a lot of Brazilian jokes; in fact, gaucho seems to be a synonym for “gay” in central Brazil, due, I gathered, to the wide, baggy pants and sashes rural gauchos wear.  Boy did the mineiros get a kick out of the stereotypical, homophobic jokes they were cracking!  [A mineiro is
someone from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, which is where a
majority of Philadelphia’s Brazilians are from.]  I have only
myself to thank for initiating the round of revelry, for I made the
mistake of saying that I was going to turn Celso, my boss, into a gaucho by bringing chimarrao to the office every day (chimarrao
is the traditional herbal drink of the south; if you’ve ever heard of
yerba mate, then you know what it is).  As you can imagine, they
took full advantage of my blunder.

The second thing I learned is that even when immigrants assume the
responsibility of contributing to our system by paying their dues to
our society (that is, their taxes), they are subject to
penalization.  The amigo of
the restaurant owner told me that he wanted to do right by our system,
so he’s paid his income taxes for the past several years, not wanting
to fall into the category of blood-sucking immigrants who come here to
take advantage of America’s generousity (that’s not my categorization,
but plenty of Americans describe immigrants in that way).  Alas,
all of his working papers aren’t in order and our government has
finally caught up with him.  Doesn’t it have bigger fish to
fry?  For example, the Fortune 500 companies that wriggle their
way out of paying taxes?  For goodness’ sake, don’t go after the
little guy who’s so afraid of going to a medical facility for fear of
being deported that he’s hardly cost our government a penny since his

Our government wants to reform the immigration system by pumping
millions more dollars into border security and law enforcement, but
what for?  Immigrants are a boon to our economy.  They put
their blood, sweat, and tears into work that most Americans–excuse me,
U.S. citizens (most of the immigrants are American, too)–wouldn’t do
for a CEO’s salary.  And a reminder to those whose selective
amnesia causes them to forget:  the United States was a country
built for immigrants, by immigrants.  Very few of us are
indigenous Americans (thanks to the U.S. Army).  What we are is
nervous, overprotective people, many of whom have lost faith in


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