WAITING LIST WAR, ILLEGAL, THE IMMIGRANT'S ODE

This collection of "lore" takes the form of xenophobic or prejudiced verse which has been circulating for at least 10 years with a commentary on those verses and the social references they contain. In particular, I've looked at the way "boilerplate" odes have spread from one country to another and been adapted to accommodate the prejudices of different countries. In general, and in common with many forms of prejudice, there is little attempt at accuracy within the verses. Please note that these verses do not represent my personal views, but are reproduced here for analysis along with a critique of the content and notes on the environment(s) that originally generated them.

BRITISH HOSPITAL PROTEST SONG - WAITING LIST WAR

This is a piece of anonymous notice board poetry picked up when I worked for a hospital during 1995. Nurses were underpaid and leaving the profession. Waiting lists were getting ever longer. Mercy flights brought in more and more injured from overseas [good PR]. I don't know who Tommy Lucas is or was, or even whether there is a real Tommy Lucas at all. The author obviously believed the system to be an injustice to Britons whose operations were delayed again and again and who had to watch news items about foreigners apparently taking their place.

At the time of writing, the situation has changed somewhat - a number of doctors have refused to treat immigrants or refugees, citing reasons of both economics and injustice to their regular clientele.

WAITING LIST WAR

Tommy Lucas is lucky, this land is at peace,
No snipers in windows, no guerrillas in trees,
There's no war in Worcestershire, Wiltshire or Hants,
But Tommy's a victim of pay-cuts and grants -
The unit he needs was closed down last year,
If he can't get his treatment, the end will be near.

Poor Tommy Lucas - there is nowt he can do,
Pushed once again to the back of the queue.

The children of far distant battle-torn lands,
Peer from our TV screen, we wring our hands,
So we send jet planes and say "come to the UK -
We'll se you get treatment, we'll make you okay."
So poor Tommy Lucas, his future looks bleak,
While yet more foreign children were treated this week.

Poor Tommy Lucas - there is nowt he can do,
Pushed once again to the back of the queue.

Tommy Lucas is lucky, this land's not at war,
But he still can't get treatment he's waited long for,
The children from far lands get treatment instead,
While Britons like Tommy still wait for a bed -
The injured of Britain has waiting list places,
While imported injuries take all the bed-spaces.

People of Britain - there seems nowt we can do,
Pushed once again to the back of the queue.

This is just one example of the "poetic injustice" and so far I have only seen this one variation on the theme. The "Immigrant's Ode" below is a more venerable piece and far more widespread with variants set in Britain, America, Canada and Australia and the racial details are merely changed about each time the basic ode is recycled. More than anything, it reflects the fact that people fear and ridicule what they don't understand - and most of all, they seem to fear other people; people whose culture they don't understand and which they therefore ridicule because it is different.

POETIC INJUSTICE: ILLEGAL or the IMMIGRANT'S ODE

Please note that the verse does not represent my own views; it is a study into the way such items spread and are recycled and the social comments to be found in them.

"Illegal" of "Immigrant's Ode" is, on the face of it, a nasty racist poem which has been in circulation for at least a decade. The first version I saw was Xerox-lore i.e. photocopied and passed on. I can't recall the date, but it was many years ago and targeted Asian immigrants (Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals) entering Britain. The 1980s were full of anti-Asian "jokes" and Xerox-lore such as this spread quickly. In the 1980s I worked in an Estate Agent's office (in "real estate" in American parlance) and worked with some extreme xenophobes who collected and circulated such items; this was possibly when I first saw the "Immigrant's Ode". According to older friends, its pedigree history goes back even further, with a version aimed at West Indian immigrants into Britain and possibly sung to the "Banana Boat Song".

The most common version on the Internet these days, seems to be this American version dated 1993. This is probably because the USA dominates the Internet and because the poem landed an aide of Colorado governor Bill Owens in a lot of trouble when he circulated it as a "joke". Owens was not the only one either; WR "Bud" Harper resigned from his post as the state's top emergency official after forwarding the verse by email. It was reproduced in part or in full in a number of reports - thus ensuring it spread even further. The target in the American case was Mexico, reflecting the problem of illegal immigrants crossing the border in the USA. The verse is written in a stereotyped pidgin English style.

ILLEGAL
(American version)

I come for visit, get treated regal,
So I stay, who care I illegal?
I cross border, poor and broke,
Take bus, see employment folk.
Nice man treat me good in there.
Say I need to see welfare.

Welfare say "You come no more,
We send cash right to your door."
Welfare checks, they make you wealthy,
Medicaid it keep you healthy!
By and by, I got plenty money,
Thanks to you, American dummy.

Write to friends in motherland,
Tell them come as fast as you can,
They come in rags and Chebby trucks,
I buy big house with welfare bucks.
They come here, we live together.
More welfare checks, it gets better!

Fourteen families they moving in,
But neighbor's patience wearing thin.
Finally, white guy moves away,
Now I buy his house, and then I say,
"Find more aliens for house to rent"
And in the yard I put a tent.

Send for family quick like bunny,
Then they too draw the welfare money!
Everything is mucho good,
And soon we own the neighborhood.
We have hobby----it's called breeding,
Welfare pay for baby feeding.

Kids need dentist? Wife needs pills?
We get free! We got no bills!
American crazy! He pay all year,
To keep welfare running here.
We think America darn good place!
Too darn good for the white man race.

If they no like us, they can go.
Got lots of room in Mexico!

According to some American friends, it is far from accurate since America lacks a welfare state akin to that in Britain. Even more tragically, railroad cars containing dead stowaways have been found in the USA - some having been parked up and left unopened for weeks or months. Far from being a land of ease, the USA proves to be a tough place - immigrants (legal and illegal) may find themselves exploited as manual labourers. Those present illegally can find themselves abused, but may be afraid to (or unable) to seek help.

There are many ways the poem could have moved from Britain to America: in a magazine, as a photocopy, on usenet (which has existed in some form or another for over a decade) or in an email. According to a contributor to the Stormfront White Nationalist Community, he edited the verse into an American form and sent it through cyberspace for the enjoyment of other white supremacists. Some versions have the term "white race" changed to "American race" since America is already a multi-ethnic society. The pervasiveness of computer technology means this claim, though plausible, cannot be substantiated. It could have been edited and disseminated by almost anyone on either side of the Atlantic.

More recently a version has cropped up in the USA referring to Pakistan (see the Australian version below) and the same version also appears with Canada being the country receiving the immigrants. The line "... and Chebby trucks" is often rendered "They come in rags on backs of trucks". This has closer ties to the versions that have long circulated in Britain where there are large, and extremely hard-working, Asian communities in major cities. An American reader might imagine references to Asian or traditionally Muslim countries to be linked to the "War on Terror" raging in the Middle East during 2003/4. In fact those references hark back to the British roots of this racist and odious ode.

The verse also reflects how immigrant families often retained their traditional "extended family" where several generations, or two or more inter-related families, lived under one roof. Extended families had long since become unusual in white British culture. Quite naturally they wanted to (and still want to) live alongside others from the same culture - people with similar cultural backgrounds and values, similar values, spoke the same language and who could form a support community including schools, community centres, religious centres etc. This was often resented by many white Britons who regarded it as a takeover of their neighbourhood. The extended family and the need to settle among people with similar cultural values also became targets in all versions of this verse.

Though there are "economic migrants" looking for a welfare state to support them, many immigrants (many with excellent qualifications) take on jobs that a country's residents sneer at - jobs involving menial tasks or jobs which are simply low paid. In particular, these have included jobs which involve serving others in some capacity e.g. as domestic staff. Discrimination and prejudice closed other avenues of work. The willingness of many immigrants to work hard is not depicted as being due to pride and a strong work ethic, it was used to reinforce an image of worthlessness. Many supported no only themselves, but also sent money home to relatives. It is not surprising that they would want their relatives to join them and enjoy a better standard of living, not through scrounging (as the verse suggests) but through joining the family business. In Britain, the open-all-hours convenience store is an essential part of many communities and such stores are generally run by extremely hard-working Asian families. And British food has certainly been improved thanks to diverse ethnic restaurants introducing us to spices other than salt and pepper. I am grateful for both the open-all-hours and for the respite from previously unimaginative British food!

As well as having racist overtones, the Immigration poem also pokes fun at the British welfare state (the DSS is the Dept of Social Security) which was perceived as handing out money willy-nilly. These immigrants were legal, hence the poem's title is "Immigrant's tale" or similar. Even today, many people feel that the British welfare state bends over backwards to help those new to the country, while failing "indigenous" people. This is what keeps the poem alive and in circulation as it is updated and revised to depict each new ethnic group entering the country.

The next example comes from Australia and this version is very similar to the one I saw in Britain. It refers to Pakistani immigrants. The major differences are to crossing the ocean (not border), the medical aid package, cultural dress (turbans reflecting ethnicity, rather than rags reflecting poverty) and of course the rhyme for the final stanza is different to accommodate a different ethnic group.

ILLEGAL
(Australian version)

I come for visit, get treated regal,
So I stay, who care I illegal?
I cross ocean, poor and broke,
Take bus, see employment folk.
Nice man treat me good in there,
Say I need to see welfare.

Welfare say, "You come no more,
We send cash right to your door."
Welfare checks, they make you wealthy,
Medicare it keep you healthy!
By and by, I got plenty money,
Thanks to you, Australian dummy.

Write to friends in motherland,
Tell them come as fast as you can.
They come in turbans and Ford trucks,
I buy big house with welfare bucks.
They come here, we live together,
More welfare checks, it gets better!

Fourteen families they moving in,
But neighbor's patience wearing thin.
Finally, white guy moves away,
Now I buy his house, and then I say,
"Find more aliens for house to rent."
And in the yard I put a tent.

Send for family (they just trash),
But they, too, draw the welfare cash!
Everything is very good,
And soon we own the neighborhood.
We have hobby-it's called breeding,
Welfare pay for baby feeding.

Kids need dentist? Wife need pills?
We get free! We got no bills!
Australian crazy! He pay all year,
To keep welfare running here.
We think Australia darn good place!
Too darn good for the white man race.

If they no like us, they can scram,
Got lots of room in Pakistan.

The immigration ode seems to have been recycled in 2000 to reflect refugees from Kosovo. The high number of refugees has caused dissent in the British tax-paying public. The mode of entry reflects the problem of smuggled immigrants in container trucks and the Channel Tunnel. A number of lorry drivers (or their employers) have been sued for smuggling immigrants. In some cases the immigrants were stowaways, in others they were deliberately hidden such as in a tragic case where a large number of Chinese illegal immigrants suffocated in an unventilated cargo container.

Immigrant's Ode
(Britain)

I come for visit, get treated regal
So I stay who care if illegal
Cross the border poor and broke
Take a lorry see custom bloke
Nice man treat me good in there
Say I need to see welfare

Welfare say "come down no more
We send the cash right to your door
Welfare cheque, they make you wealthy
National Health they keep you healthy
By and by I got plenty money
Thank you English working dummy

Write to friends in motherland
Tell them to come as fast as they can
They come in trains and great big trucks
I buy big house with Social bucks
They all come we live together
To live off England and make life better

Fourteen families all move in
Neighbours' patience growing thin
Finally, White man moves away
I buy his house and then I say
Find more aliens, house I rent
In the garden I put a tent

Sent for family, they all trash
But they all draw more DSS cash
Everything is so very good
Soon we own the whole neighbourhood
We have a hobby, it's called breeding
DSS pays for baby feeding

Kids need dentist, wife needs pills
National Health pay, we got no bills
Englishman crazy, he pay all year
To keep the DSS running here
We think England damn good place
Much too good for White man race

If they don't like us they can go
Got lots of room in Kosovo

This variant also makes a dig at the taxation needed to keep the DSS running and benefits paid out to the unemployed, disabled and others. Another common British variant has the stanzas:

"Welfare checks, they make you wealthy,
NHS, it keep you healthy!"

NHS is the acronym of the National Health Service.

"Englishman crazy! He pay all year,
To keep us immigrants in comfort here.
We think UK is very good place!
Much too good for the white man race.

If they not like us, they can go,
There's lots of room elsewhere you know...."

In fact those last two lines are familiar to me from the first version I ever saw. "... room elsewhere ..." echoes the jibe with which immigrants were often met - why had they come here? Plenty of room elsewhere so if you don't like our taunts, you can go elsewhere. Except it is turned on its head in the rhyme and used to answer back at the people who mistreated the newcomers.

I haven't yet seen a variant about Chinese illegal immigrants, though this is known to be a major problem with people paying hundred of pounds for the chance to stow away in a lorry container. In doing so, they not only risk being sent home and losing their money, they also risk death by suffocation, hypothermia or hyperthermia. 

In any community - immigrant or otherwise - there are inevitably a number who simply don't want to work, including those who consider begging a legitimate career (sadly giving a bad name to their countrymen). In Britain, Eastern European women with babies have become familiar sights in big cities. Some are genuine hardship cases: widowed, adrift in a foreign country and trying to supplement their state aid by begging. Britons have even been advised that "begging is a legitimate lifestyle for these people" i.e. that this is how they survived in their homeland. There are a few who abuse the system - professional beggars e.g. women who take it in turns to patrol the street, carrying the same baby.

Another favourite tactic is to walk the length of a tube train showing passengers a hand-written begging note. Again, some are genuine and some are con artists. As the British Rail station announcement reminds passengers "police have advised us that there are professional beggars at work on this station ... if you are approached, remember that looks can be deceptive." These appear in the next verse (received by email).

Sit in doorways, beg for dosh,
From commuters, pinstriped, posh,
Woman wearing raggy dress,
Parts them from their money best,
Baby carried in torn shawl,
Gets the best response of all.

Change of shift at half-past ten,
Hand raggy baby to my friend,
Friend goes work on streets and trains,
At noon, gives baby back again,
Make sure children look all snotty,
More money in looking grotty.

Along the tube train carriage walk,
Pretend their language "No can talk",
Older child shows tatty note,
Begging letter that we wrote,
Says "My mother refugee,
Gets no welfare aid money."

Professional beggar, who needs work?
Plenty handouts, tax-free perk,
Money scrounged at railway station
Not declared on Welfare Application -
Spend the weekdays wearing rags,
At the weekend, drive my Jag.

Possibly the most original begging scam I came across was a white New Zealander working the train platforms in London's main line platforms. Let's face it - who would suspect a Kiwi of being a professional beggar? Kiwis speak English as a native language - they aren't economic or political refugees. Plus he was white (prejudice works both ways).

He claimed to be a backpacker who had run out of money and who needed 12 (the amount changed) for a night in a youth hostel. Quite a few people gave him 50p or 1, thinking his story genuine. He was very plausible and I noted that other backpackers were most generous. Except this "down on his luck Kiwi" later turned up in another rail station pulling the same scam.

DRAGONQUEEN'S LAIR

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