Friday, February 22, 2008

Immigration Is Also Emigration

We are fed stark images of brown men in running or jumping positions; brown pregnant women clutching the hands of their several little brown children; gardeners in pickup trucks; and Spanish-speaking cleaning ladies and nannies who now fill the shoes that were once worn bitterly by black women.

From Fidel Castro's recent retirement to the genocide of indigenous Guatemalans by the CIA-funded military during the eighties, undocumented immigration has more to do with what's going on beyond our borders than within them.

Undocumented immigrants are depicted as two-dimensional creatures who overrun our country, never as humans leaving their own countries. Sure they are specified as Mexicans, Hondurans, or Haitians, but always in a way that neglects their personal histories back home. A Guatemalan man who enters the country without documents seems to suddenly pop into existence upon crossing our southern border. The fact that he is an indigenous Mayan fleeing military persecution--which the U.S. has historically funded--disappears in the eyes of Americans who accuse him of unlawfully invading their territory.

Beyond our borders are all those countries where “illegal” immigrants aren't yet immigrants, but citizens in their native lands. The same people who come here as unwanted strangers are only perceived of as invading homes, never as leaving behind their own homes, families and friends.

Through our conversations of undocumented immigration, we always frame them as the assaulters of our national sovereignty. What conveniently fails to come into our discussions, however, is the United States’ own assaults against the national sovereignty of the countries from which they are coming. After the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994, hundreds of thousands of Mexican farm workers were thrown off their lands by a corrupt Mexican government working in league with greedy American developers. Even those that kept their land had a difficult time competing with heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural goods. As a result, they fled, and continue to flee, here by the hundreds of thousands seeking work to sustain their families.

The Cuban “wet-foot dry-foot policy” grants automatic admission to any Cuban who sets foot upon our soil, thanks to our animosity towards Fidel Castro’s government. Yet many people from poor Caribbean nations experiencing diasporas are continually rejected, especially Haitians who are continually denied recognition of amnesty status because of our diplomatic relations with the government of Haiti.

It’s important to see that there are many factors pushing immigrants out of their countries and pulling them into ours, many of which are greatly influenced by U.S. foreign relations. Once we expand the depth of our understanding of the processes of undocumented immigration into our country, we will come to understand that our popular policy approaches to the issue are far from solutions. From building walls to guest-worker programs, undocumented immigration is going to remain strong as long as we continue to tackle it as a mere occurrence within our borders.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Struggle

Blatant or subtle,
What's better for the struggle?
A nameless mass of faces,
or Angela Davis?

What's easier to target?
Thousands who sing,
or Martin Luther King?

Maybe both.

Maybe by getting to Malcolm X,
you can impoverish and imprison the rest.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nothing Like An Annoying Headline

It's amazing what a ridiculous headline can do.

"Whites to become minority in U.S by 2050" -from Reuters

Is this supposed to scare white people? Does it even? And would that change anything? Yes, I don't know, and no.

Before reading the article, I'm pretty sure that Latinos and their gosh-darned high fertility rates have something to do with it. Blacks and Asians are probably in there too, and then there are the whites. The whites, with their low-fertility rates and so-on. And I'm pretty sure that people of color--especially Latinos--are going to be sexualized. This is not gender-neutral. It implicitly sexualizes women of color...though to me, it's pretty explicit.

So of course, after reading the article, the headline was on target.

The headlines that hurt the most are ones such as this one. They say everything without saying anything at all. "Whites to become minority..." Whereas for other races or ethnicities, it wouldn't mean much to know they'll still be 'minorities,' it's a big deal for whites because they will no longer be the majority. Hmm...

If this were a movie, it would merit a "Whaaat?" As if white people are somehow going to be the shockingly new marginalized group of our time.

It might as well say "whites to become the new 'coloreds' by 2050." That darn 'm' word. Minority is not a race-neutral word. It's a tool of oppression.

These eight words are pure racism and pure sexism. This headline makes a lot of noise about race/ethnicity, gender, and even class--since lower classes of color have higher fertility rates--but I scoff at the tactlessness of this 'whites' over 'non-whites' language.

That's hypocritical of me to say because I am doing the same thing when I use the words "people of color," which creates the same white/non-white binary I am so passionately against.



Friday, February 8, 2008

February's Black History Box

Black History Month is a beautiful thing when it's put on by those who are genuinely conscious of the profound role that blacks have had in this country. I respect that. But in light of the manner in which it has been celebrated throughout my twenty years of life in this country...well, from my experience, it's framed all wrong.

We definitely need to teach what contributions blacks have made, but before we teach about that we need to first talk about what it means for those contributions to be absent when it comes to the teachings of History itself. The problem is that our Anglo-centric educational system boxes "Black History" into a month, separating it from "U.S. History."

Everything, I guess, is easier to handle when its in some form of a box. Gender? Check a box. Race? Check a box. Juvenile delinquents go in this 'box,' adult criminals go in that one. And here, let's just draw a nice line around "US" to box them out.

This boxing happens in an infinite number of ways, and everything we box is something that we ultimately have no control over. You can label and incarcerate as many criminals as you want, but you'll never capture Evil itself.

Same with history lessons: all the class worksheets in the world wouldn't capture History. You'd have to have some kind of insane sheet of 'multicultural' paper that is infinite on all sides--where would I begin? And how? So I like my 8.5 by 11 sheet of white paper to study a historical timeline. Hey, why not? It's a way to get History under a false sense of control.

So here we are, in February's Black History Box. It's too overwhelming for the majority of our white educators to even consider history as a multifaceted subject. It's nicer to put it on that 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper where we can treat history as a linear progression of whiteness studded with black and brown featurettes here and there. So we box it up in a book, ship it to schools, and perpetuate history within a false sense of Anglo normativity.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Perfectly Undefineable Identity of Barack Obama

So close. My heart races at the thought of voting today. As there are two democratic candidates with strong momentum, it makes it all the more exciting for me to participate on a side.

I choose Obama. Without delving into platforms, I largely base my support upon his character and his identity--or the identity I perceive him to have, I should say.

As to which candidate connects to me the most, I gotta go for the least defined. Hillary Clinton is a white woman. Her being white is not necessarily what distances me from her as I am a woman of color. It is more that her identity is not complexified enough, multiple enough. My own identity as a woman is of color is not solely that: I have a mixture of identities in which I am a Latina but not indigenous; I am the daughter of immigrants, but a U.S. citizen. It goes on.

Personally, Hillary's white-woman identity is is outweighed by Barack Obama's mixed identity and complexified status as a person of color.

As a fan of Gloria Anzaldua, I embrace the multiplicity of Obama's character. He has experienced the United States from inside and from outside its nation-state. He is the son of a mixed couple--a white mother and a Kenyan father--yet raised with an Indonesian stepfather. He cannot be boxed into a racial category--his ancestry apparently does not trace into United States slavery, yet he is referred to as a black man and United States citizen.

I recognize that one's experiences and physical characteristics should not solely merit judgment--Hillary can't control that she's a white woman just as Barack cannot control his mixed identity.

But what I truly appreciate in Barack Obama is that he applies his mixed characteristics towards his consciousness. His conscious experience consists of plurality--he does not have the luxury of boxing himself into categories: he is not just a man, nor is he just a black man. Because he cannot singularize his identity, I feel that he has the strongest sense of identity of all.

Barack Obama's identity is extracted from people. From family, to friends, to anyone that he comes into some form of contact with. His identity is not grounded onto something, but rather assembled by a mixture of interactions.

To run as a white woman for president, Hillary is not at a disadvantage. However, to run as a white woman who has cemented herself in that identity, Hillary is distanced from the various aspects of her platform. She might defend important issues concerning people of color, for example, but always as a white woman.

Barack cannot select an identity, he cannot fit himself into a conceptual structure. The issues he faces continue to provide him insight into his identity, whereas the issues Hillary faces are channeled into her accumulated sense of "professional experience."

What this means for me is that Barack is a leader who continues to learn--from the very core of his being--from those he encounters and from those experiences he lives on a day to day basis. I strongly believe that he connects to a wide range of people--he will not know everyone's experiences, but he recognizes that the United States is a complex structure of infinite lived experiences.

To avoid definition is to reject confinement. Barack Obama, through his strong sense of identity as a member of the people of this country but not as a specific type of people, recognizes the core multiplicity of our physical and conceptual nation-state.

I passionately support Barack Obama. For his platform, sure, but so much for his rhetorical meaning to our nation.