When your mail is filled with hatred and vicious remarks from xenophobic native-born Americans who are inexplicably offended by your calls for compassion for illegal immigrants, somehow you get used to it. You accept the fact that intolerance is prevalent in this "nation of immigrants."
But when those remarks come from foreign-born Americans, immigrants who want to deny other immigrants the opportunities they had when they came to this country, you can't help it — you get indigestion. At least I do. They make me want to puke.
The moment they arrive here, they want to shut the door for everyone else. And if they came legally, these immigrant bigots act as if somehow they are superior to other immigrants who came without papers.
Take the two Cuban-American women who used numerous obscenities in an e-mail recently. They heard me on TV, advocating a legalization plan for illegal immigrants. And, since these "ladies" came here legally, they had to express their superiority.
On CNN, I was discussing a controversial comment by White House adviser Karl Rove, who explained the Bush administration's support for a guest-worker program by saying, "I don't want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes or to make beds in Las Vegas."
I argued that Rove was only recognizing that many immigrants — legal and illegal — do the work that many Americans don't want to do. I explained that Rove's comment struck a special chord with me, since my own relatives came here legally and my mother once made beds in Miami Beach hotels and my grandmother worked at a tomato farm in Florida.
I used that opportunity to express my gratitude for the sacrifices my deceased relatives made so that I could get an education. But these two vipers used my comments as an opportunity to release their venom.
"Until today, we believed that you were Mexican," they wrote. "You do not know the shame that we feel, to have known that your mother and grandmother were Cubans. Why don't you go to Mexico, if you like the Mexicans so much?"
So here's more shame for them: I'm Cuban, too — born and raised — except I'm not the kind of Cuban who looks down on other Latinos. Unfortunately, although these warped attitudes are rare among Cuban-Americans, those who express them give all Cubans a terrible image. They are the reason why other Latinos often see Cuban-Americans as elitists and racists.
"You are not Cuban, you are ... a liar, saying that those damned illegals do the work that the Americans do not do," they wrote. "Those damned illegals are everywhere, not picking tomatoes and lettuce, as you say."
But their problem is not only with illegal immigrants. Since they came from Cuba in the 1960s, they think they are better than other Cubans who came later.
"We Cubans, had (to go through) a very long process to leave Cuba," they wrote. "I say, the Cubans that came in the '60s. The real Cubans came here legally, we did not jump any fence, we did not swim any river."
Neither did I. I also came legally, on an airplane, in the 1960s, and it doesn't make me better than any other immigrant.
But there are many other Cubans who, since the 1960s, have been coming here on rafts, without legal papers, and have been able to stay — thanks to the compassion and generosity that has not been offered to other undocumented immigrants.
Of course these two "ladies" don't recognize that.
In fact, using language even stronger than that of the most extremist American bigots, they wish death for their fellow Cubans who are coming on rafts.
"Those are not Cubans," they wrote, "nobody is persecuting them in Cuba. And we are glad when they (U.S. authorities) intercept them and return them to Cuba, and also when they drown at sea."
Is that sick or what?
What about the children who drown on their way here — do they deserve to die too? And if these rafters are no longer persecuted in Cuba, why don't these "ladies" return to Fidel Castro's Communist paradise?
While some Cuban rafters are economic refugees, surely most of them are fleeing to escape political persecution — just like the Cubans who came in the 1960s.
The e-mail is so coarse and vicious that several sentences simply cannot be quoted. They suggest that I defend Mexicans because I must be part of a ring of smugglers bringing drugs across the Mexican border. They say that Mexicans will never get legal papers, unless it's toilet paper. They even make an unsavory remark about my dead mother.
And yet these two vulgar vipers consider themselves superior to the millions of decent illegal immigrants who humbly toil as the hardest working and most exploited people in the United States.
They say they felt shame upon discovering my Cuban heritage. I know that feeling. That's precisely how I feel about them.
To find out more about Miguel Perez, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.