In Georgia, strong opinions don't necessarily relate to reality. We prefer that prejudice and preconception fill any void created by the incuriously ignorant.
Take the vocal opponents of illegal immigration. They're convinced our state is being overrun by Mexicans. To win the argument, they point to every bad thing that involves foreigners as proof that citizens have been victimized.
If one in thousands of hit-and-run accidents involves an undocumented Mexican, we all risk being run down by "illegals." If a Mexican child born to undocumented parents in DeKalb County qualifies for a HOPE scholarship (normally a sign that she'll make a great citizen), she's a poster child for unfair taxpayers' burdens. And if businesses communicate with customers in a language other than English -- just as we've always communicated with new immigrants -- they're just short of traitors.
We need a reality check. Atlanta -- and the whole country, for that matter -- has changed. Yes, illegal immigration creates problems. We have a whole class of invisible people who often live outside the law. They probably drive down wages at the bottom end of the pay scale. And high rates of immigration -- legal and illegal -- do generate social problems and cultural tensions.
But Alyssa Abkowitz's cover story on the Plaza Fiesta shopping center (p. 34) brings things down to Earth a bit: Latino and Asian cultures have taken firm root in metro Atlanta. We're not talking a Mexican restaurant here or a day-labor pool there. We're talking about real communities with major, major economic activity. We're talking about an inexhaustible supply of new shops, new restaurants, imported traditions and inspirational, real-life stories. They are part of us. And, all in all, that is a good thing.
Good news from Little Rock, Ark.: Two former CL staffers -- food critic Bill Addison and photographer Jim Stawniak -- captured first-place awards last week from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies for their work in 2005. Plus, David Lee Simmons, our new arts and entertainment editor, won first place in arts feature writing for work he did at the Gambit Weekly in New Orleans.
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