Wednesday, April 20, 2011

IMMIGRATING NORTH: A Glimpse into the Opression of Latin America

Border Wars

The discussion of Mexican immigrants in America is often truncated by political debate, leaving the humanitarian crisis affecting millions largely unaddressed. But the region is a historic hotbed for conflict that ought to be examined at the institutional level-- as well as the personal level-- in order to gain insight into the bigger picture of immigration.

It begins around 150 years ago, as the political and economic borders that we so passionately defend today were first drawn. Indeed, the entire southwest portion region of the US was owned by Mexico until the Mexican-American War. Mexico invited American settlers to homestead in the fertile soils of the Texas territory, and the number of white settlers soon exceeded that of the native Mexicans. Mexico’s condition that they not bring slaves was unfavorable to the American settlers, and they revolted, successfully. The new Republic of Texas was annexed to the US a decade later however, just in time to become a committed pro-slavery state in the American Civil War. California, Nevada, Utah, and the rest of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico were ceded later for 15 million (~300 billion adjusted), only after the US invaded central Mexico and forced them to sign the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. West of the Rio Grande, an additional 29,600 sq miles was purchased for 10 million in the Gadsden Purchase in hopes of establishing a trans-continental railroad through the deep south. This land makes up the infamous desert border of Arizona, where so many have perished by nature or by man. Besides being geographically significant, these “acquisitions” made by the US immediately located hundreds of thousands of indigenous Mexicans and mestizos North of the border, setting the precedent for the xenophobic and territorial altercations that continue today.

Mexico was weakened greatly by the war, and after a brief occupation by a French Habsburg emperor, then a re-institution of the Republic, in 1876 a dictator Porfirio Diaz established a relatively stable 30 year totalitarian regime which was very friendly to foreign investors. American capitalists and wealthy Mexican landowners established factories, or maquiladoras, which exploited the cheap labor of women and children in impoverished areas. Mostly located on the border, they are distinguished for the practice of importing raw materials duty-free and re-exporting them, sometimes back to the original country at large profits.

Today, the NAFTA agreement and agricultural subsidies in the US allow American farmers to under-price their southern counterparts in staple crops and meats, causing Mexican farmers to have to sell a significant portion (around 20%) of their goods below production cost. Global competition has also hurt the Mexican economy. Indeed in a simple glance at North American history, it is painfully obvious how corruption and profiteering in both countries have caused a condition of serious economic disadvantage to the citizens of Mexico.

Occupational Hazard

However, undocumented US immigrants are from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and from around the world. They come to the US for a variety of reasons, but typically a provider immigrates first for economic reasons, then relatives come to join the family, legally or otherwise. The difficulty of gaining legitimate citizenship status begins with obtaining permanent residency (the green card). In order to do this, you must already have a job lined up or family members in the States (there are some exceptions-- mostly business or academic related). Once you are a permanent resident, you must live here for five years before being eligible for citizenship. Often the immigrants’ situation is too dire to wait half a decade or more. This is all also very difficult, especially nowadays that US citizens themselves are having massive unemployment issues. In fact, evidence shows that the illegal immigrant population has fallen by as much as 13.7% (Camarota) between the summers of 2007 and 2009. This indicates that America’s own unemployment problems have been a serious deterrent for impoverished asylum-seekers.

Once an undocumented immigrant has made it to the US, he or she must face an entirely new series of tribulations in their quest for economic prosperity. They must find an “under-the-table” gig, or a furnish false documentation just to land a minimum-wage job. Many work in the fields as migrant laborers following the seasons throughout the United States. Others find jobs in the city as janitors, construction workers, maids, or waiters. No matter where they work, without documentation, these folks are highly susceptible to exploitation and almost always work for less than minimum wage. Although some do not pay taxes while utilizing social services, their cheap labor essentially balances out any effect on the US economy. They also must risk the constant fear of deportation, the equivalent of a dirty secret they must keep just so they may feed themselves and their family. Civil rights are human rights, and undocumented immigrants are not afforded them.

A Culture of Clash

What they do encounter is a climate of intense discrimination—and violent racism—in border states and around the nation. Groups like the Minutemen and the American Neo-Nazi movement represent the worst of their oppression on the personal level. These organizations are noted for being highly irrational and sometimes militant, the Minutemen ‘volunteer border monitors’ often murder immigrants crossing the Arizona border. They receive no mercy from the government either, with an additional 6 billion dollars in the 2011 budget to help hire more border agents and complete a ‘virtual wall’ along the desert border. Public officials often run along the platform of anti-immigration to reach the wide range of moderates and conservatives who see immigration as a threat to the country’s way of life (which is ironic to those who realize that Anglo-Americans took the land by force from the millions of darker skinned indigenous peoples who lived here before us). These and other forms of cultural imperialism mark the intense Eurocentricism that plagues American discourse.

Although the US was indeed founded with European-Christian ideals, this cultural paradigm has come to be regarded by many as outdated and problematic. While traditional Americans look to the Bible for a spiritual guide, others recognize a wider pool of available texts, from the teachings of the Dalai Llama to the metaphysical systems of Indigenous Americans. What I am suggesting is that our sense of entitlement to the land and ‘way of life’ is based off a self-perpetuating belief system which ignores the homogenizing effect of globalization upon world cultures. This is based on the observation that throughout history, cultural exchanges between two distinct groups can happen cooperatively and beneficially. When Europeans first began to interact with the indigenous Americans, just as many if not more whites were quite willing to convert to the indigenous culture than vise versa. When some indigenous Americans chose not to adapt European-Christian culture, the domineering aspect of it got the better of them.

The point is, people will move to wherever there is opportunity. When cultures clash, one can integrate with another to adapt to new social and technological conditions, or ignore those new social conditions and stubbornly impose one’s own beliefs. In the future of America, some will continue their pointless discrimination and cultural imperialism even as whites become the minority. Others however, will welcome the natural shift towards a pan-American national identity. By not regarding different cultures as contradictory to ones own, we can be free to facilitate the growth of the most natural and relevant culture possible.

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