Asked in a recent poll to cite the most pressing problems facing the state, Okla-homans named the state’s economy and unemployment as their greatest concerns.
At 23 percent and 22 percent, respectively, the state’s economic and unemployment woes weigh heaviest on the minds of Oklahomans struggling to make their way through the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
Rounding out the top five responses in the survey conducted by SoonerPoll.com, 12 percent cited education and 9 percent noted the cuts to the state budget and, finally, 5 percent mentioned immigration.
With only 5 percent of Oklahomans citing immigration as their greatest concern, one might imagine Oklahoma’s local and state politicians would respond accordingly, focusing efforts on the state’s jobless rate and ensuring that Oklahoma City’s surge in economic growth in recent years continues.
Such has not been the case, however, as too many Oklahoma politicians insist on demagoguery in regards to immigration.
A history of scaring voters with tales of immigrant boogeymen runs deep in America and, unfortunately, Oklahoma has often found itself at the center of contentious debates over immigration.
From the state’s controversial House Bill 1804 legislation to Oklahoma’s recent decision to fashion legislation similar to Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, immigration remains front and center.
Still, one wonders what the long-term political and economic implications are for the state, particularly in Oklahoma City.
OKC’s an amazingly diverse city, and its many different neighborhoods define it similar to the way one thinks of the East Village, Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Chinatown defining Manhattan and its 1.6 million citizens.
Here, it is as impossible to separate OKC from The Paseo, Midtown, the Plaza District, Stockyards City, Heritage Hills or the Asian District as it is possible to disappear into any number of these neighborhoods to escape the bustle and noise of the city.
A drive from Jefferson Park to South OKC is to enter the center of Hispanic culture and commerce.
A bike ride from Mesta Park to Midtown is to ride from the quiet streets of neighborhood tranquility to a nice cold beer on a Tuesday evening.
These neighborhoods ” and the neighbors in them ” make OKC’s economy move just as we move from neighborhood to neighborhood, buying a litany of commerce and goods.
Can Oklahoma City really afford its conservative politicians’ rhetoric and time spent on demagoguery over immigration, especially when its unemployment rate inched up to 6.7 percent in June?
Those unemployed live in these neighborhoods, and foreclosure signs have yet to prove their ability to stimulate economic growth.
On a recent episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” the comedian found quotes from Sen. Edgar Cowan (R-PA, who served from 1861-1867) warning on the passage of the 14th Amendment that California would be “overrun by a flood “¦ of the Mongol race” and “immigrated out of house and home by the Chinese.”
“It is utterly and totally impossible to mingle all the various families of men, from the lowest form of the Hottentot up to the highest Caucasian, in the same society,” Cowan said.
Maybe, but that’s the funny thing about history ” when it proves you wrong.
Cooper is a graduate student in screen studies and English at Oklahoma State University. He lives in OKC.