The “Border Beat” (January 1, 2010)

2010 will likely be a year filled with immigration news as the US Congress begins debate on some form of immigration-related legislation. Passage of some form of legislation is not assured; although something (at the very minimum) is likely. As with most pressing issues in the present configuration of domestic politics, ideological absolutism and obstructionism will be major forces of contention. So, if something does pass, we can all be confident it will be less than ideal.

So let’s start off the new year right, shall we? The “Border Beat” is back with all the Chicano/Latino/Hispanic news you might have missed the previous week.

• “Eight Things President Obama Can Do To Reform Our Immigration System Without Waiting For Congressional Action ” (Immigration Daily)

Immigration lawyer Harry DeMill breaks it down and reminds us that 2009 could have been an important year in immigration history if Mr. Obama had so willed it.

• “Town Divides Over Law Aimed at Day Laborers” (NY Times)
Oyster Bay, NY, has passed a law meant to be a restrictive measure against “day laborers.” Included in the statute are a host of now-forbidden tactics these hopeful workers employ to get the attention of a possible employer, such as “waving arms or signs.” This article is a powerful glimpse into the divergent ways people see immigrant workers in the US, as well as the sticky result: the prospect of getting arrested for “waving while Latino.”

• “Sotomayor keeps community bonds tight” (USA Today)
Ah! Say what you want about our newest Supreme Court Justice but she is defining the modern-day meaning of what it means to keep it real. If all Latina and Latino officials who won position and influence remained this grounded, then we wouldn’t be doing this blog, now would we?

• “Rose parade float to celebrate Mexico’s bicentennial” (Orange County Register, Calif.)
What would the annual Rose Parade be without controversy? Well, it would be like most years. But this year, because Mexicans and Girl Scouts (and likely Girl Scout Mexicans) are decorating a float to honor Mexico, people in the OC are freaking out. As a historian, let me warn you, when they freak out, we all suffer (Reagan anyone?).

• “White House prepares for immigration overhaul battle” (LA Times)
Rep. Luis Gutierrez introduced immigration legislation to the House last month (H.R. 4321) but the real movement on this legislation will come from the White House and the Senate. This overview is as good as any providing the strategic leaks the White House is making about what the legislation will entail and presenting the subtext beneath everything: how to get Republican votes. Without key Republicans, this whole thing will languish like carrion for the mid-year elections.

• “Outgoing mayor enrolls Morristown into immigration program to deputize officers” (, New Jersey)
Immigration (and Latino profiling) have become issues in nearly every part of this country. Much of the “legitimate” debate at the local level is similar to this: whether or not a town’s law enforcement should participate in the 287(g) program. In case you’re wondering, they should not. Unless you think immigration detention and deportation is more important than actual serious crimes, there is not a local law agency anywhere that can afford to swap out like this. But we’re not talking law enforcement; we’re talking politics.

• “U.S. government moving to deport longtime legal residents with criminal convictions” (San Jose Mercury News)
Things never are as simple and clear as they might seem to the “liberal” mind. Law and order and right and wrong get a little fuzzy in the world of immigration politics. Check it out.

• “The semantic debate over ‘illegal’ immigrants is a waste of time” (Mercury News)
I hate to always pick on Ruben Navarrette Jr. because I always love to see a brown kid get a job. But brother! In his latest opinion piece he spends time using language to defend the use of the term “illegal immigrant” by saying we shouldn’t be wasting our time with the debate over language. Excuse me–???? Well, this little brown beaner should know that words do matter, especially when they are given context and power by usage.

Debates over language are merely avenues into understanding the underlying power dynamics of the “real” issue. In the case of immigration, the wholesale ascription of the term “illegal immigrant” to ANY immigrant who is not a LPR (“legal permanent resident”) is useless legally and politically. It acts as if each case is the same, when the problem at hand is exactly the way the law acts as if each case is the same. And, yes, it borders on racist when it acts as a barrier to any debate and discussion and becomes used as a substitute for “Mexican” or “Latin American.”

But that’s just the humble opinion of a person who works with words for a living.

Chicano History Month #1

It’s that time of year again, “Hispanic (Latino) Heritage Month.”  What better way to celebrate than to learn a little something?

So here it goes: for the next month, I’ll be going out of my way to post some historical primary sources relating to the Chicano experience in the United States.

Of course, it deserves mentioning that the historical experience of Chicanos (Mexican Americans) and “ethnic Mexicans” (which includes both immigrants and US-born people of Mexican descent) should not be seen as the exact equivalent of the historical experience of all “Hispanics” or all “Latinos.”  They represent about 70% of the Latin American-descent population of the United States, one that also includes a large number of people with ties to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and, increasingly, Central American nations like El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.  Each “group” not only has a unique historical experience in the US, but they also have a diverse past internal to their own ethnicity.

But there are commonalities, too.  And maybe this can be a way for us to explore some of those.  So here we go…

Source 1: New York Daily News, October 13, 1845.

This excerpt from an editorial printed in the New York Daily News opines on the recent annexation of Texas by the US, an act agreed to by the “citizens” of the “Republic of Texas” just that month.  Texas, which had been part of the Mexican Republic, was seized by a group of US Americans and, in 1836 controlled by them after they defeated the Mexican army.   For the better part of the next decade, most of them sought annexation by the US, with the full support of expansionist allies in the Congress and White House.  With the election of the expansionist Polk in 1844, their efforts finally came to fruition.  Outgoing President Tyler helped assure the passage of a resolution annexing Texas in the spring of 1845.

The author’s perspective here is reflective of the kinds of interpretations common among elites of his day, in particular those who were in favor of expansion.  Notice how the “acquisition” of Texas is contrasted with European imperialism.  Also notice how the writer views the land into which the US is moving, and by his mind, to which it intends to move.  The idea that their spread was destined to be is a powerful feature of expansionist thought, as is the contention that it is conquest for the betterment of mankind.

It is looked upon as aggression, and all the bad and odious features which the habits of thought of Europeans associate with aggressive deeds, are attributed to it. . . But what has Belgium, Silesia, Poland or Bengal in common with Texas? It is surely not necessary to insist that acquisitions of territory in America, even if accomplished by force of arms, are not to be viewed in the same light as the invasions and conquests of the States of the old world. . . our way lies, not over trampled nations, but through desert wastes, to be brought by our industry and energy within the domain of art and civilization. We are contiguous to a vast portion of the globe, untrodden save by the savage and the beast, and we are conscious of our power to render it tributary to man. This is a position which must give existence to a public law, the axioms of which a Pufendorf [Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694), German political philosopher] or Vattel [Emer de Vattel (1714-1767, Swiss political philosopher and diplomat] had no occasion to discuss. . .

It has been laid down and acted upon, that the solitudes of America are the property of the immigrant children of Europe and their offspring. Not only has this been said and reiterated, but it is actually, although perhaps, not heretofore dwelt upon with sufficient distinctness, the basis of public law in America. Public sentiment with us repudiates possession without use, and this sentiment is gradually acquiring the force of established public law. It has sent our adventurous pioneers to the plains of Texas, will carry them to the Rio del Norte, and even that boundary, purely nominal and conventional as it is, will not stay them on their march to the Pacific, the limit which nature has provided. In like manner it will come to pass that the confederate democracies of the Anglo American race will give this great continent as an inheritance to man. . . We take from no man; the reverse rather—we give to man.

Cinco de Mayo and Latino Visibility

One of the most pressing issues facing Latinos in the United States is representation. The experiences, histories, and present-day struggles of Latinos simply do not find their way into the U.S. line of sight in any meaningful way. To somebody on the “outside” this might seems strange. After all, doesn’t everybody know about J-Lo and Salma Hayek? Aren’t we obsessed with the political issue of immigration? Isn’t salsa the number 1 condiment in the nation? And isn’t everybody aware that today is Cinco de Mayo?

The skewed way our Latino experiences in the U.S. are incorporated into the mainstream are troubling. Cinco de Mayo is a case in point. Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla (1862), when Mexico successfully battled against the French imperialist army within its own national borders. This historic day in the life of the Mexican nation–a nation which had been severely compromised by the loss of almost half its territory to the equally imperialist United States in 1848–is a day of celebration of independence and freedom from foreign control. But on this side of the border, it is a day to get drunk at during happy hour at your local Mexican restaurant.

Cinco de Mayo is an advertising bonaza, when corporations use Mexican/Latin themes to sell beer, food, and other items, most of which are geared toward some kind of festive debauchery. Other images you will see today commemorate the day with some trite representation of Mexican culture, only to de-politicize and de-historicize the day in general.

In most cases, these images and representations aren’t the problem in and of themselves. I’ve got nothing against a cold beer, just as I have nothing against George Lopez and Carlos Mencia. The problem is when these precious few become fully representative of Latino life and history. The problem is when these few representations define an entire people for the mainstream, white U.S. populace because, simply, they have no other images to deepen their understanding.

Cinco de Mayo is a day of celebration in Mexico. For Latinos in the U.S., it should be a day of careful thought.