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el gran debate

GKB and the raucous persons who frequent his site are in a throw down. However, it should be stated that JRB preempted GKB on the immigrant question. And our very own Greg, at some point, but I am too lazy to find it, wondered about this blog’s silence re the immigrant question. My original contribution was linking to this insightful Atlantic Monthly article.

I assume that he was asking me, the resident Spanish person, to put forth my views on the matter. And, frankly, I don’t have any.

I mean, there are those who are soooo passionate about these damn Mexican criminals that come and mooch off our (crappy) healthcare system and put a strain on our upstanding and honorable criminal justice system; and they get biblical on the matter… and scripture spews forth from their mouths; they imprecate the bastard liberal element that wants love for all; heap abuse upon the heads of the Mexican (which really means any person of brown skin that speaks Spanish); insist that these people come here legally and wonder why these people aren’t able to navigate our byzantine immigration laws that only allows the über-educated millionares of the world to come to this, God’s Country; yet then, though not all, they drive down to the seedy sides of town and pick up a few of “them Spanish speakers” to cut the grass, tend the pool, move the coffee table… or, more to the point, when at the antiseptically-shiny grocery store, they buy the chicken that’s 99 cents a pound rather than the 5.99 a pound poultry; refuse to purchase strawberries that cost more than 2.99 a pint; insist that they have the luxury of cheap tomatoes year-round; even proudly buy the American made carpet that rolls out of Dalton, GA… etc, etc, etc,.

This foreign element keeps wages artificially low and don’t give anything back to the community, they say. But aren’t we the ones buying produce at artificially low prices? Indeed, if you do feel this way go and buy no more... oh wait, I miss read that. Go and buy, buy, buy? Yet, who’s at the bottom of the chain? Even Walmart no longer proudly proclaims the Made in America tagline. Yes, go buy, buy, buy… it seems that consumption is the Unitedstatsian solution to every problem.

It surprises me, especially, when the religious right gets their panties in a wad over this… like when Pat Buchanan goes on and on and on about losing our nation and selling our national heritage down the river. If, indeed, we are, or were, a Christian nation, Latino immigrants will only make it more so. A large contingent of “these people” are evangelical protestants… the rest are Catholic. This is the case for those that come with papers or without papers.

In regards to the label “criminal,” last week NPR did a story entitled do illegal immigrants burden the criminal justice system? and the answer is no. that, they aren’t, in fact, criminals… that is, that they don’t end up in jail for criminal acts, that the only “criminal” act is that of “illegally” crossing the border.

I could go on… but a tirade was not my point. I am not, you can tell, one of those who feels strongly about this.

Instead I wanted to propose this: it seems to me that at the heart of the debate is a clash between an extinct and dying concept of the nation state and the global market system. The market wants the cheap labor; the laborer wants the labor, regardless of the potential abuse of his or her rights: because it’s a safer place to work; because, indeed, you can work and get ahead in life. The nation state, alarmed, wants to protect its created/invented/fictional “culture”—the Christian nation thing, the lies about the Cherry tree truthfulness of GW, the “we are a melting pot” (but, we only take whites please. If you are brown, stick around, but only on the fringes. Make my life easier, but don’t make any noise.) The nation state anachronistically wants to protect the white element that is in power (but that’s because they are the ones setting the agenda). However, the market will win out. The brown people will continue to come and continue to get ahead in life.

Curiously, their children are going on to get educations, to pull down big-bucks, to pay big taxes, to feed the system that allowed them an opportunity. And, they too love the USA, because the USA allowed them to escape poverty, tyrrany, and civil war.

I really don’t see how “these people” are diluting the system… is it because they don’t grow up knowing who George Washington is? Guess what, the white students who sit in my classroom don’t know their own history… and it’s not because of Latino immigrants.

But, none of this proposes any solution to the matter.



I’ve wondered how much it would change the tone of the debate if Mexicans were native English speakers. I’ve always found it curious how pissed off some people get when someone’s speaking a language they can’t understand. One elder’s wife at a church I once worked at told me how angry she is at this elderly Japanese lady who lived in their neighborhood because she hadn’t learned English (she had moved to America several years back to be taken care of by her extended family). It’s not only an American phenomenon, sadly. The lower class Brits I work with regularly piss and moan about how they had to listen to foreigners speaking some weird language amongst each other on the bus that morning. Honestly, I don’t get it.

i think language is a part, a major part, but only a part of the equation…

as for the u.s., if this grandmother were a geriatic teuton or gaul, it would’ve been cute. ohh, the old german lady… or boy, those french really never do pick up english do they? and the pigmentation and the aqualine nose makes us more generous towards them than those of darker pigmentation and different features. as for the u.k., it’s rivalry with france and the memory of wwii might make them less forgiving. but a frenchperson speaking french is not percieved as threatening… whereas any oriental or septentrional is.

i’ve never heard anyone say of europeans: why don’t they learn the gosh dern language.

just like we think that hillbilly speak is a sign of redneck stupidity… new york slang is the way those damn yanks speak and southern drawlers might mock them, but it’s understood that theirs is a valid dialectical difference. whereas urban black speech is because they haven’t learned to speak the language properly… and they better if they want to make it somewhere.

I spent a year as a research assistant reading about fifteen years’ worth of a weekly Boston Catholic newspaper (approx 1874 to 1890, all on microfilm), looking for anti-immigrant rhetoric. (I couldn’t tell you what the point of it all was; my prof was obtuse on that. Still, he gave me better instruction than a colleague of mine who was instructed, “Find out everything you can about cheese.”) I’d be a fool to try to recall much of what I found, since much of my work went like so: scan, print, focus, scan, print, focus, scan, print. It seems, though, “Mexicans” are the new “Irish,” except there’s no more Great Plains to ship them to, and the Homestead Act is no longer law.

My questioning of silence was here. although it wasn’t really a questioning of silence so much as a request for more talk—or ranting, as the case may be.

so, you are proposing that it has less to do with race and language and more to do with immigration and poverty?

essentially, that the other doesn’t necessarily always have to be of darker skin…

i will grant you this, but only begrudingly… only because you too blog here. :)

the only difference is, still if you are white you can move and start over again… if you are brown you can’t. if you are white you can become a good ole american mutt much easier… and you can forget who your grandparents were… and become fully american…

No, I’m saying that a good 19th-century bigot didn’t collapse all white skin into a single white sheet. To be Irish or to be Polish or to be Czech or to be German was to have a genuine national-political, ethnic, and even racial identity separate and apart from “whiteness.” Jacobson, for example, argues something similar in Whiteness of a Different Color (a book I just sold and now wish I hadn’t so I could refer to it now).

No argument from me, however, re: generations.

not to push the whiteness thing too far, but episode 10, among others, of The Sopranos’ first season makes the point that Italian is still not really considered “white” by other whites. My assorted observations in western MA, working-class Belgium, and Sicily (esp the last) bear this out. although in this country, clearly, It-Am immigrants get a better all-around deal than Latin-Am ones.

Indeed, I didn’t intend to make a big deal out of other whitenesses. What I think ethno-racial historians tease out of history, though, is that race—which for years was virtually synonymous with nationality and which is still tied intrinsically to ethnicity—has long been a shorthand for othering, and that racial bigotry will be applied in the interest of that shorthand. There’s a character in Charles Brockden Brown’s novel Edgar Huntly (1789), Clithero Edny, an Irishman, whose story is one that takes him from almost being taken into the English middle class, but his natural violence takes over, and he escapes to America where he becomes akin to the aboriginal savages whose violence is never in question. It’s no mistake that Edny is Irish, nor that he’s associated so closely to the Indians: the Irish in 1789 were bad immigrants, the kind the new Republic didn’t want to have roaming its streets. Brown was a smart man, an astute reader and writer whose hands, however, were in too many pies (he was also editing—read: writing—2 magazines at the same time as he was writing and publishing 4 novels in the space of a year) for him to make his characters much more than stereotypes and caricatures. He does complicate Edny somewhat, but ultimately drowns him in a river: like the Indians, he’s not good enough to stay on the continent, not even in the wilderness.

i never assumed you did…

however, it’s nice that your comments brought mary out of her end of semester fog… or is it productiveness?