Immigration


Something I always love about discussing regionalism: trying to dissuade people from seeing unique places and peoples, whose histories can be tangential or contrary to the national narrative, as something other than special cases.

Take the current controversy over Larry Whitten, the hotelier who has come under fire for requiring employees in Taos, NM to Anglicize their names and speak only English in his presence.   Certainly, it’s not difficult to see how his actions were insulting and impracticable, not to mention detrimental to the charms of tourism in the Southwest United States.

But the AP article, which has served as the basis for discussion about Whitten, makes Taos (as well as New Mexico) a special case where the normal expectations of assimilation do not apply:

His rules and his firing of several Hispanic employees angered his employees and many in this liberal enclave of 5,000 residents at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where the most alternative of lifestyles can find a home and where Spanish language, culture and traditions have a long and revered history.

Taos is not originally Hispanic, and to its credit, the author (Melanie Dabovich) mentions that it has been “an American Indian dwelling inhabited for over 1,000 years”.  The author’s language, which were reproduced or mimicked in most articles about this affair, plays into perceptions that Spanish speakers are tolerated in Taos, not native to Taos (if not properly indigenous).  Yet they are not there because Taos is “liberal” or accepting of  “alternative lifestyles.”

This presentation is moreover troubling because it plays into the equating of Hispanic and immigrant that is at the heart of the immigration debate.  Rick Sanchez, who can be a visible advocate for Hispanic issues from the anchor desk at CNN, made this very point:

“My real name is Ricardo Leon Sanchez de Reinaldo. I don’t use it because I want to be respectful of this wonderful country that allowed us as Hispanics to come here, and I think it’s easier if someone’s able to understand me by Anglicizing my name.”

Yet there is no reason to believe that the Taosenos were “allowed” to come to American.  Even if there were immigrants (or their descendants) among those working for Whitten, Hispanic culture had already taken root in New Mexico before the arrival of the United States.  Sanchez, born in Cuban, rather arrogantly has made his story that of all Spanish speakers.

Ultimately, the nationalization of Mexicans that occurred with the annexation of the Southwest in the 1840s ought to be sufficient for tolerating all Spanish speakers anywhere in the United States.  Making New Mexico a special case, even its  unique history is acknowledged, has the effect of territorializing and containing Hispanic heritage.

The more I consider Pat Buchanan’s comments–calling on snipers to shoot “coyotes”–the more I believe he would turn the border into a front.  The notion that snipers would distinguish between the coyote and the illegal immigrant is absurd.  Every person crossing would be a legitimate target.  Moreover, their killing could not be described as an execution of the law (illegal immigration is illegal, not criminal).  Unfortunately, so-called opponents of immigration reform will exploit the war between the drug cartels and the Mexican government to radicalize their agenda.

Definitely the most exciting network on H-Net is H-Borderlands, almost entirely thanks to TU-El Paso’s Jeff Shepherd.   Among his recent finds, the Border Film Project, which allows Minutemen and immigrants crossing from Mexico to tell their own stories.  Among the videos, “55 MPH Speed Limit” actually shows some valuable insight from a member of the Minutemen, of all people, in which certain local transnational processes are being interrupted by national processes on both sides of the border as well as a harrowing tale of banditry at the border.

An article in Le Monde reveals a bit of cross-pollination: The German, neo-Nazi NPD adapted a poster by the Swiss party, UDC, for state elections in Hesse.  The UDC message, “For more security,” promotes policy to expel immigrants who have “abused our hospitality.” The NPD message, “Social only for the National[s]”, promotes restricting social services only to those who are nationally (as well as ethnically) German.

UDC officials claim that they had no contact or coordination with the NPD, but there have been other occasions in which UDC images and slogans have been used by extremists in Europe.  The easy instrumentalization of its poster reveals, nonetheless, how its own polemic on immigration policy rest on racist appeal, if its own positions are not outrightly racist.  Indeed, many anti-immigration or immigration reform movements cannot dissociate the image of the immigrant, whether real or in caricature, from their message.

Normally, I regard Rick Sanchez, like most contemporary reports, as useless. Why let the facts get in the way of an erroneous, but loud, opinion.  His reporting on immigration this week is no exception.  His debate between Tom Tancredo and Miguel Perez produced a really funny moment, where the latter truly got the better of the former:

SANCHEZ: What about you, Miguel Perez, when you look at something like [English-only legislation]?
PEREZ: We would have to change the name of the congressman’s state. It would have — he’s from Colorado. We would have to call it red.
(LAUGHTER)
SANCHEZ: Interesting point.
TANCREDO: It’s English. English is Colorado.

Tancredo was befuddled by the obvious.  (If he became president, would he outlaw Latin, like E pluribus unum, or Greek, like δημοκρατία?)

Ben Johnson sent this down the pipe at H-Borderlands:

The Mexico-US border has been all over the news recently, what with the proposed border fence and US congressional debate over immigration. Yet H-Borderlands remains muy, muy tranquilo.

I’m wondering if we can jump-start a discussion so that those of us subscribed can take advantage of our collective wisdom. And contemporary debates actually prompt my question: what role could the “new” borderlands history play in informing contemporary debates in North America about borders and border enforcement? I see economists, political scientists, scholars of immigration, and sometimes legal experts interviewed extensively in recent news coverage, but can’t think of a single borderlands historian who’s been a talking head in major news coverage. What does that say about our field?

Good question, but it could also be generalized. Why have historians, as a group, remained silent? Why have generic arguments been made about the immigrant experience rather than zeroing in on the place of Latinos/Latinas (especially Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans) *** in American history? Why are those specific groups boxed into the immigrant experience? And why has so little effort to put current immigration to the US, legal and illegal, in global context?

*** If Scots suddenly clamored to come to America, we’d hear some arguments about cultural compatibility or pre-adaptation.  Yet these three communities, by their historical presence, offer a portal to the assimilation of groups coming from Latin America.

 [Crossposted to Cliopatria.]

I tend to lose track of time. It’s a bad quality for an historian, but confronting the same boring file for hours speeds the passage of time even though one perceives it grinding to a halt. I had been picking away at the same document today (in between bouts of looking after my son) before I gave up, turned on the TV, and surrendered to the pablum of cable news.

Only I didn’t realize what time it was. Suddenly, the dreaded words, “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” appeared in the bottom corner of the screen. Yes, it was that hour when CNN imitates Radio Rwanda, only tonight the Grand Wizard surrendered his stool for his underling (according to the rumor mill, Dobbs wants to import remnants of the Berlin Wall to southern Texas).

As with any other night, another story about Mexico or Mexican immigrants was being broadcasted. This one carried the title, “Mexico’s Chutzpah.” Unfortunately, it carried the subtitle, “What’s Spanish for Chutzpah?” Some clever tech or intern must have thought that one up on the fly. Did they really mean to destroy the credibility of the news shows raison d’être? Did they know it is a loan word from Yiddish, assimilated by English? (more…)

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