An Epiphany

Here’s an interesting interview with St. Louis mayor Francis Slay. Therein Mr. Slay identifies the number one challenge facing his city: insufficient racial strife. Of course, the mayor hasn’t just been staring out the window during the Ferguson kerfuffle. He’s proactively constructing the environment for an even more impressive conflagration. He wants many many more of The Immigrant People.

Why did you decide to make St. Louis a welcoming place for immigrants?

Well, attracting immigrants and attracting new Americans to St. Louis is something that is an economic imperative for us. Compared to other regions in America, we have a very small percentage of new Americans within our population. What we’re trying to do is attract and retain the best and brightest minds, including immigrants, to our community to help make sure that we can compete in the global economy. We know that immigrants are a big part of the new businesses. Other cities that have higher levels of immigration have grown economically, population-wise, and we want to be part of that. We want people to know that we are a welcoming community. We want to make sure we take advantage of the influx of people coming into our country as much as we possibly can.

When the tears will no longer come, there is only to laugh. New Americans. See St Louis doesn’t have enough. Too many legacy models still on the road there. How strangely atavistic it would be to hear an American leader professing allegiance to the people who actually elected him. But this is a modern mayor who understands that his responsibility is not to his constituents, but rather THE ECONOMY, which he apparently believes is a synonym for population. And it’s simply imperative that St.Louis attract as many public charges as possible. And how, you may wonder, can the THE ECONOMY possibly improve by bringing in net tax consumers? Easy…volume.

The Mosaic Project’s programs seem to target educated, affluent immigrants. Is that who you want to bring to St. Louis?

Our efforts to be a more welcoming community for immigrants don’t stop with certain programs within the Mosaic Project. Part of our effort includes the International Institute, which is an organization that serves all immigrants, of every kind. We partner with them and they are very engaged in what we are doing. Casa de Salud is a program that is targeted toward immigrants who are here, who need healthcare, and who are not connected to the system. These are generally low-income families, some of them undocumented, who come into our community. This is a regional effort that we’ve undertaken. The Mosaic Project is structured so that programs deal with people in the corporate world and people who are coming out of school, who have visas and who may have citizenship. But that is not exclusive.

Was this interviewer racist? Obviously THE ECONOMY can’t grow with only affluent Guatemalans. Just look at a Sao Paolo slum. If you want favelas on the Mississippi, then you’re going to need all kinds of immigrants. You think legacy whites are going to create that for you? I don’t think so. And neither does the mayor.

What made you decide to offer shelter in St. Louis to Central American children illegally crossing the border? Did you worry that people might not be so supportive?

First of all, we did this because it’s the right thing to do. You have thousands of young teens who have come into our country, who are now housed in government detention centers near the border. They’re scared, they’re alone, and they have no place to go. We are a caring community and we had a huge amount of support from Catholic Charities, United Way, Washington University, Casa de Salud, International Institute. All these organizations came together very, very quickly. We’re talking about 60 children in three facilities. Did I think everybody was going to support it? Absolutely not. But I’ll tell you, we got a very good response from the community. The negative reaction was very limited. I’m proud of St. Louis. We did not get some of the strong negative responses that other cities have received, even in the state of Missouri. To me, this isn’t about politics, this is about people and kids that need help. We’re going to leave the debate and the blame-game to Washington and maybe someday they will come to an agreement on immigration reform.

See it was the right thing to do, that’s all. These doe-eyed children just somehow found themselves atop a train in Mexico being shuttled across the Rio Grande on an ATV. I mean these things happen. Readers here can all recall the time each of you left home in third grade on foot with nothing but a backpack. Before you knew it, you were in Peru. And aren’t you now glad the Peruvian government gave you free food, shelter, clothing, legal counsel, school enrollment, granted you provisional citizenship, and placed you in the custody of your Uncle Bill who just happened to already be living there? Of course you are. Now it’s your turn to pay it forward.

St. Louis has a long history of segregation and racially divided neighborhoods. What are you doing to address racial disparities, especially in light of the protests in Ferguson?

What’s happening in Ferguson does a few things. First of all, it really raises the level of awareness to more people. Whatever we’re doing, it’s not good enough. And I think that these are tough issues. We spend a large portion of our time addressing economic disparities, racial disparities. That was one of the topics of our cabinet meeting this morning. What are we doing to try to help address economic disparities? We’ve made a lot of progress in improving educational opportunities for our youth. The number of performing seats in our public schools that meet state standards has doubled. We’re doing a lot of things, but that’s not good enough. What I challenged my staff and cabinet to this morning was to do more. What’s happening in Ferguson is really something that has risen to the top in a more visible way, to more people in cities across America. And how we’re viewed as a city, how we’re viewed as a region, really comes down to what we do for our most vulnerable citizens.

That’s good. It’s heartening to hear that the mayor is going to address the enormous disparities in interracial violent crimes; disparities in residential ethnic cleansing–of which his city may serve as a case study; and the disparities in racial preferences in hiring and admissions in both St. Louis and across the country. This is quite a courageous politician to take on these entrenched taboos. Hopefully he can attract a sufficient number of immigrants to feature their own disparities and grievance advocates. Because you can’t replace your business inventory until it’s all been looted. And that is how the St. Louis Economy rolls.


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