Immigration Policy in 2013: Let Our Garden Grow


by Marcela Davison Aviles

In the 1950’s a young American composer reads a story in the Los Angeles Times about tensions in the Latino and white communities. The “Great American Opera” he is working on (a musical adaptation of Voltaire’s Candide) is set aside. He renews work on another musical. Strongly influenced by Mexican composer Carlos Chavez, and the Latin jazz craze in 1950’s New York, West Side Story uses many musical Latino influences  – the score notes “tempo de seis” (Puerto Rico) and “tempo de huapango,” (Mexico) and uses Spanish guitar, claves and guiro.  One song, “I Want to Be in America,” captures the hope, exuberance and optimism of the American immigrant.

But Leonard Bernstein also had an ear for the refrain of opportunism. After the 2012 election, I remembered his “Great American Opera,” and the story of young Candide who, schooled in the philosophy of optimism and hope, endures a long, hard journey to self-reliance.

Today’s born-again immigration reformers should relate to his tale of honor lost and re-found.  After ten plus years of enduring initiatives such as Prop. 187 in California, “I Only Look Illegal” legislation in Arizona, and self-deportation nationally, the Latino voter is ascendant.  Anti-immigration leaders are suddenly looking for ways to become the new best amigo of this awakened giant.  All the New Reformers need do is go to YouTube and watch the many versions of Bernstein’s musical to learn how to achieve the best of all possible assimilated worlds. Like the singing protagonists in Candide, who land in South America after years of migratory struggle, they will encounter a new world:

“I was not born in sunny Hispania.

My father came from Rovno Gubernya

But now I’m here, I’m dancing a tango:

Di dee di!

Dee di dee di!

… I am easily assimilated!

I never learned a human language.

My father spoke a High Middle Polish.

In one half-hour I’m talking in Spanish:

Por favor! Toreador!

I am easily assimilated.

I am so easily assimilated.

It’s easy, it’s ever so easy!

I’m Spanish, I’m suddenly Spanish!

And you must be Spanish, too.

Do like the natives do.

These days you have to be

In the majority …

Me muero, me sale una hernia!

A long way from Rovno Gubernya!

I know, the New Reformers say nyet to Spanish and to html. Their new zeal for immigration reform is already at hand with the re-introduction of a GOP bill that, as pointed out by the San Jose Mercury News, limits immigration to rocket scientists. I can hear the refrains in Congress now:

“We care now – we’re sudden reformers!

A long way from across the border!”

Along with relating only to those possessing PhDs, the New Reformers might listen to the finale of Bernstein’s New American Opera. In the last scene, our hero Candide is finally reunited with his long lost love after years of war, and misunderstandings over international borders and the fee requirements of local officials. Weary, but resolute, he sings an anthem to the sense of the common man:

You’ve been a fool
And so have I,
But come and be my wife.
And let us try,
Before we die,
To make some sense of life.
We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow…
And make our garden …


Comprehensive immigration reform – that’s the new, New American Opera.

Marcela Davison Aviles is an author, lawyer and CEO of the Mexican Heritage Corporation and Executive Producer of VivaFest, a leading Latino cultural festival of Latino music, theatre, education, film, new media and the visual arts.