What's next? A resurgence of segregated swimming pools, where they only let Mexican-Americans swim Fridays because they drain the pool Saturdays? A return to segregated movie theaters, where Latinos sit in the balcony?
Of course, that would never happen. We're a better country than we used to be. These days, as far as many Latinos are concerned, America really is "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Or is it? Fifty years ago, Latinos were often punished for not speaking English, on the job and in public schools.
Today, at least 20 patrol officers of the Dallas Police Department -- ranging from a rookie to a 13-year veteran -- are in hot water after ticketing 38 motorists since 2007 for not speaking English. The problem -- this isn't even a crime in Dallas, or anywhere in the United States.
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Police officials are still digging through records and might find even more people are involved, both officers and motorists. They say that the officers mistakenly applied a federal law meant specifically for truck drivers and other holders of commercial licenses.
Apparently, the option was erroneously presented to them on a computerized menu of possible infractions. And the officers didn't have the common sense to question it? Can you imagine a police officer thinking it was a crime to not speak English? Where were the supervisors? Department policy requires that a sergeant sign off on all citations. Shouldn't red flags have gone up? Someone should lose his job over this.
Some will call this an honest mistake. But to do so, they have to overlook at least two inconvenient facts -- that the mistake occurred at least 38 times and that 20 police officers made the same mistake. That's some coincidence.
None of those who received citations were commercial drivers; nearly all of them were Latino. Meanwhile, according to The Dallas Morning News, not one of the police officers that issued the citations was Latino.
Is this racism -- maybe a new strain of that ugly virus? What should we call it? Linguistic profiling?
Not so fast, says Dallas resident Hector Flores, former national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
"It's very difficult to come to that conclusion, that it's strictly a racist act," Flores told me. "One thing is for sure ... the police knew full well that these people couldn't defend themselves, especially if they're limited English (proficient). They're going to just take the ticket and try to get out of there."
Since Flores also happens to be a former San Antonio police officer, I asked if he thought that this could be a case of public servants acting out of frustration at not being able to communicate with many of the people they come into contact with on the job. Maybe they should learn some Spanish.
Flores said he didn't want to speculate about the officers' motives. But he did acknowledge that the mood in the Dallas area has become much more tense as of late for Latinos.
"During these turbulent times, you can tell by the way that people look at you," he said. "My wife has told me: 'Have you noticed the difference in the way that they look at us these days?' And you have to admit there's something there that you just can't identify. Attitudes have definitely hardened because of the harsh debate over immigration and other things like that."
This story is more evidence that Latinos are living in the best of times and the worst of times -- all at once. Maybe this was just an attempt to generate revenue for the city by picking on people who, it was assumed, wouldn't complain. Or maybe it is tied to the immigration debate, which has become anti-Latino and which has made some people feel less inhibited about showing their prejudices. Or maybe it's about fear over changing demographics and a concern by some that they're going to be displaced by the growing Latino population.
Such emotions can make people do crazy things. And, it seems, when it comes to the Dallas Police Department, there's enough craziness to go around.
Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE