The first thing I always do on July 4th is unfold my New York Times to where the Declaration of Independence is printed on the back page, as it is every year. I’m a fairly jaded New Yorker, but seeing the original writing every year always makes my heart skip a beat. And now that I have three young children, I’m even more thrilled to show off this documentary evidence of what it means to be American. Plus, I get to impress them with how I still remember the first paragraph by heart from my junior high school days.
This year, when I flipped through the newspaper, something else caught my eye. A full-page ad from the Carnegie Corporation declared, “Immigrants, the Pride of America.” Centered among 46 photos of immigrants with impressive resumes was a picture of the venerable American capitalist with the following text below:
“Andrew Carnegie, who founded Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1911, was an immigrant from Scotland. We at Carnegie Corporation salute his legacy, along with the contributions of the millions of other immigrants who have made, and continue to make, our nation strong and vibrant. We are committed to helping immigrants become integrated into the civic fabric of our nation because enlightened citizenship is the everlasting strength of our democracy. Our national motto, E pluribus unum— “out of many, one” — continues to be an ideal we can all aspire to and a true guiding light for our nation.”
I’m not normally swayed by such unabashed patriotism, but after the steady stream of vitriol in the immigration debate, this was a welcome relief.
As our representatives once again consider how to legislate immigration reform, one of their first priorities should be to reconsider one languishing immigration program--The DREAM Act.
The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, first introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R) in 2001, aims to create educational equality. The legislation, currently on everybody's backburner, would allow certain undocumented immigrants to receive conditional residency if they either attend a university or join the U.S. military. To qualify, immigrants would have to enter the U.S. at age 15 or younger, graduate from an American high school, and have good moral character.
In the past, the bill has been promoted as a palatable form of immigration reform. It only affects people who entered the country as minors, presumably brought into the U.S. by their parents. These kids form a rapidly growing group today; about 2.4 million undocumented people aged 24 and under live in the U.S. right now.
But promoting the DREAM Act as legislation that should be passed, as a means of addressing some unfairness that exists because the alien minor didn't choose to enter the country, is wrongheaded. Not only is this sales pitch politically ineffective to most conservative politicians--after all the DREAM Act has been around, going nowhere, for a decade--but it misses a more dire predicament the U.S. faces today: we're running out of college graduates. The DREAM Act is a simple way to get more.
A hot wind swept through the Arizona desert on the first day
of July, pushing gray clouds across the sky and carrying the welcoming smell of
dampness in the air gave some small hope to this parched land. During all of
June, it rained not a single drop in southern Arizona. The temperatures spiked above
100 degrees on twenty-two days, including sixteen days in a row during the last
two weeks of the month. On one day, June 23, the mercury shot up to 109.
region’s powerful summer thunderstorms—the monsoons—haven’t started yet but everyone’s
praying for rain. Last week in Tucson, in a traditional celebration on the
feast day of San Juan Bautista—St. John the Baptist—on June 24, neighbors
carried his statue around on the banks of the dried-up Santa Cruz River, in
hopes that the saint would baptize the borderlands. So far, the saint hasn’t
answered their prayers.
Today's post is by Paul Ortiz. Ortiz is an associate professor of history at the University of Florida. He is writing a book titled Our Separate Struggles Are Really One: African American and Latino Histories, which will be published by Beacon Press.
"In the debate surrounding Arizona's laws targeting immigrants and ethnic studies, we've heard very little mention of capitalism and its place in American politics. Senate Bill 1070 is an insurance policy for capitalism, a way to ensure that the cheap labor that serves the foundation of the new economy remains cheap forever. House Bill 2281 is part of a package deal. The erasure of ethnic studies courses that show how poor people have changed history - when they have organized - will allow the invention of a historical narrative as one sided as the old myths of the European Conquest. These bills are a gift from a steadily shrinking, white, ruling class to its own posterity and to any white workers and ethnic minorities willing to accept second-class citizenship in order to avoid something far worse. Unless we mobilize to defeat these measures, worse things are on the horizon. Our history proves it."
On May 5, the Phoenix Suns wore jerseys with a Spanish word on them and everybody got excited because the team was making a political statement, as seen here, and here, and here, and even here.
But wait, didn't those jerseys exist because of an NBA marketing scheme called Noche Latina? Didn't the Suns wear them on March 21 and 26? Yes and yes.
Noche Latina, which this year lasted a couple of semanas, is an outreach program to Hispanic fans, and features Spanglish uniforms (more on that later) and other Latino-themed entertainment, as well as basketball analysts breaking out their high school Spanish phrasebooks. It was a token gesture to the 15% of NBA fans who have Hispanic heritage, and nobody took it seriously.
Which is why the Suns' decision to use the uniforms a second time, in protest of Arizona's new immigration enforcement law, is even more interesting than most columnists have given it credit for. The uniforms were a marketing gimmick—in fact, the NBA didn't even fully translate the team names. Los Suns? That's about as Hispanic as Taco Bell.
Beginning around 1980, the World Bank and the IMF began imposing a one-size-fits-all formula for development, called structural adjustment programs. These required borrowing countries to adopt a package of economic reforms, such as privatization, ending subsidies and price controls, trade liberalization, and reduced worker protections. After more than two decades, there is no strong evidence that this approach has achieved its stated goal of stimulating growth, while the toll on working people has been staggering. The IRCA commission report acknowledged the potential for harm by noting that "efforts should be made to ease transitional costs in human suffering."
The North American Free Trade Agreement, however, was not intended to relieve human suffering.
In early March I spoke about immigration rights in a colleague's class at Salem State. "We can't be expected to take care of all the world's needy people," one student protested. "If we let in everybody who wanted to come, we couldn't maintain our standard of living here."
A week later I was on the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, collecting testimonies from migrants who had been captured in the Arizona desert and deported back across the border. Dazed, exhausted and dehydrated, they hobbled on raw, blistered feet and clutched small plastic bags stamped "Homeland Security" that held all of their worldly possessions. Although my supposed task was to document abuses by the U.S. border patrol, most migrants had more pressing hopes when I approached them. "Can you help me get in? Could you adopt me?"
The student's words haunted me just as the mass of dispossessed humanity haunted me, just as the barbed-wire-topped wall that slices in half the city of Nogales haunted me, during the week I spent there.
Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham announced Thursday their plan for immigration reform. Unfortunately, it is a retread, recycling the same bad ideas that led to the defeat of reform efforts over the last five years. In some ways, their proposal is even worse.
Schumer and Graham dramatize the lack of new ideas among Washington powerbrokers. Real immigration reform requires a real alternative. We need a different framework that embodies the goals of immigrants and working people, not the political calculations of a reluctant Congress.
Homeschooling's phenomenal growth in the United States has attracted the attention of policymakers and politicians in recent years. Now homeschooling threatens to cause an international scene—or at least some uncomfortable moments—between the U.S. and Germany. The news that a Tennessee immigration court granted political asylum to a homeschool family from Germany had been making the rounds in homeschool circles for several weeks, but immigration officials' decision to appeal the ruling earned it notice in this week's New York Times.
German parents Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, concerned about the public school environment and wanting to provide religiously-based instruction (the two most common reasons for American homeschoolers as well), decided to homeschool their five children—despite the fact that such a practice is illegal in their native land. What followed were over $11,000 in fines and threats that the Romeikes would lose custody of their children.
The Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the largest and most influential homeschool advocacy organization in the world, saw the opportunity to push back against the German system by helping the Romeikes apply for political asylum. The family moved to rural Tennessee in 2008, and this January they were granted asylum because of persecution for their homeschooling beliefs—an apparent first in U.S. immigration history. According to HSLDA, immigration judge Lawrence O. Burman offered a blistering critique, asserting that Germany violated "basic human rights that no country has a right to violate" and describing German policy as "repellent to everything we believe as Americans."
The Romeike case—and Judge Berman's critical comments—highlight a fundamental difference between how the United States and Germany view the relationship between families and the state, and the role the government should play in educating citizens. From its founding, America has sought to limit the reach of government, and suspicion of government intrusion is obviously alive and well today. While Germans (and other Europeans) certainly argue about the ways in which the state should regulate and serve the public, there exists a far greater acceptance of the idea as a whole.
Two weeks ago five young Americans were hiking the trails in the Tumacacori Wilderness in southern Arizona, a few miles north of the Mexican border.
The terrain here is rugged, with rocky pathways snaking through up-and-down canyons in the mountains, and desert cacti ready to pierce a walker’s skin. But the volunteers had a reason to be out trekking this forbidding turf on a winter’s day. They were members of the Tucson activist group No More Deaths, and they were leaving food and water out for the migrants who throng these trails when they slip over the border into the U.S.
Not all of the migrants make it through.
On February 9, the young volunteers, members of the Tucson activist group No More Deaths, were about two miles east of Ruby, a remote ghost town long since abandoned by the miners who once dug their claims here. Loaded down with gallons of water -- each one weighing more than eight pounds -- and boxes of food, they decided to walk down a narrow canyon they had never passed through before.
Suddenly, in the path ahead of them, they saw a shallow grave.
OAKLAND, CA -- Cesar Cota was the first in his family to attend college. "Now it's hard to achieve my dream," he says, "because the state put higher fees on us, and cut services and classes." Cota, a student at LA City College, was encouraged by the internship program of the LA College Faculty Guild to describe the human cost of budget cuts in he community college system.
David Robinson, who's worked since he was 14, hoped he'd get automotive mechanic training, and a good job at the end of it. "But by cutting these programs and raising fees," he says, "you're cutting opportunity for a lot of people who need it."
Another endangered student is Tina Vinaja, a mother of three teenagers whose husband took a weekend job to help pay her tuition hikes. Monica Mejia, a single mom, wants to get out of the low-wage trap. "Without community college," she says, "I'll end up getting paid minimum wage. I can't afford the fee hikes. I can barely make ends meet now."
LA City College even suspended its sports programs for a year. The school had a legendary basketball program that gave low-income students a pathway out of poverty. JaQay Carlyle says City College basketball sent him to UC Davis and on to law school.
Most impressively, the authors keyed into what concerns rural youths about their adult lives and how these quandaries fuel the exodus of young people from rural places. Their dilemma, in short, is between remaining as adults in rural communities where they sacrifice educational or economic opportunities or leaving beloved rural places for expanded options in urban areas. Rural kids find that they must negotiate between their commitment to place and their commitment to the American ideal of individualist achievement, an ideal increasingly difficult to reach as the economic foundations of many rural communities continue to crumble. “When moving up implies moving out,” what should young people do?
We sweltered through customs at the hands of men in gray Mao suits and women in neutral “Mad-Men”-era outfits, every heart topped by a pin of Kim Il-sung. Then over the next few days we were shown carefully presented slices of Pyongyang: the subway, for example, which we rode for a single stop, where elaborate murals of a workers’ paradise were lighted by chandeliers. We went to endless museums and parks but were sternly instructed not to speak to any locals. We took meals at restaurants where we were the only customers, and the food seemed to come from the same Western-facsimile kitchen: bread with swirls, bland fried flounder, mayonnaise-based salad served in a martini glass. Finally my mother, weary of the utter weirdness of the place, told our tour guide in Korean that we needed to try some real North Korean food.
Yet for decades, in spite of the terrible numbers, the military has managed with astonishing success to get away with responding to grievances like Krause's with silence, or denial, or by blaming "a few bad apples." But when individual soldiers take the blame, the system gets off the hook.
And it can be shown that the patterns of military sex crimes are old and widespread -- for generations, military service has transformed large numbers of American boys into sexual predators.
I'm the second oldest daughter of Chue Moua and Bee Yang, two Hmong refugees, surviving victims of the Secret War in Laos, 1960 to 1975. The war and its ramifications killed two thirds of the Hmong population in Laos. I was born in a refugee camp called Ban Vinai after my family crossed the Mekong River in 1980. When I wrote my memoir, The Latehomecomer, it was my best effort at making my history and our lives meaningful. I have been taught that by documenting our deaths we are documenting our lives, that the two cannot be separated.
When the book was first published in April of this year, my father said, "If Hmong tears can reincarnate then the world would rain in our sorrow. But they cannot, so they can only green the mountains of Phou Bia, but if your words on the page, carried by the winds of humanity, blow in the right direction: then the lives were not lost."
I've always believed in my father's words. If I cannot believe in the man who has tried, from the moment my ears can remember hearing, to teach me of a better, bigger world, a world worth belonging to, then I would not know where to turn or who to trust. So much of the book is dedicated to the people who have taught me faith and understanding, one of whom is my grandmother, Youa Lee.
For some, these events may mean that those weekly strolls down the tastefully lit aisles of Whole Foods now become monthly. For those who have naturally spurned such discount pariahs as Wal-Mart, second thoughts may be in order.
But for another class of American shoppers, rising food prices, whether organic or conventional, is just another bump in the road on an already trying journey. I’m speaking of low-income families, and increasingly low-to-middle income families who now find themselves treading closer to the lower end of the income spectrum.
“I believe the only way for Dark Horse to ensure compliance under the
statute would be to refrain from publishing this material entirely,” He
said. “Attempting to determine, book by book, what may fall under the
purview of the satute, including whether there are any ‘sexually
explicit’ portions and if so whether such portions ‘serve some purpose
other than titillation’ (even if I knew what that meant) is totally
impractical, unduly burdensome and surely would result in our
Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
In 2006, Mexico experienced profound social turmoil. Dramatic political and economic conflicts uprooted and displaced thousands of families, forcing many to consider leaving home. Teachers struck in Oaxaca, and after their demonstrations were tear-gassed, a virtual insurrection paralyzed the state capitol for months. Economic desperation lies at the root of these political and social movements — one major basis of the pressure on people to migrate north. But repression brought to bear on those movements also leads to migration. It's no accident that Oaxaca is one of the main starting points for the current stream of Mexican migrants coming to the U.S.
About 30 million Mexicans survive on less than 30 pesos a day — not quite $3. The minimum wage is 53 pesos a day. The federal government estimates that 37.7% of Mexico’s 106 million citizens — 40 million people — live in poverty. Some 25 million, or 23.6%, live in extreme poverty. In rural Mexico, over ten million people have a daily income of less than 12 pesos — a little over a dollar. In the southern state of Oaxaca that category of extreme poverty encompasses 75% of its 3.4 million residents, according to EDUCA, an education and development organization. That makes Oaxaca the second-poorest state in Mexico, after Chiapas.
The majority of Oaxacans are indigenous people — that is, they belong to communities and ethnic groups that existed long before Columbus landed in the Caribbean. Oaxacans speak 23 different languages, and among Mexican states, Oaxaca has the second-highest concentration of indigenous residents. Thousands of indigenous people leave Oaxaca's hillside villages for the United States every year. They leave, not only for economic reasons, but also because a repressive political system thwarts the kind of economic development that could lift income in the poorest rural areas. Lack of development pushes people off the land. And as they find their way to other parts of Mexico or the United States, the money they send home becomes crucial to the survival of the towns they leave behind.
"Migration is a necessity, not a choice," explained Romualdo Juan Gutierrez Cortez, a teacher in Santiago Juxtlahuaca, in Oaxaca's rural Mixteca region. "There is no work here. It is a very daunting task for a Mexican teacher to convince students to get an education and stay in the country. It is disheartening to see a student go through many hardships to get an education here in Mexico and become a professional, and then later in the United States do manual labor. Sometimes those with an education are working side by side with others who do not even know how to read."
This is an era of indigenous migration, when the numbers of migrants from communities and cultures which long predated Columbus, have now swelled to become the majority of people working in the fields. While dispersed inside Mexico and the U.S. as a result of migration, the movement of people has created, in a sense, one larger community, located in many places simultaneously. Settlements of Triquis, Mixtecs, Chatinos and other indigenous groups are bound together by shared culture and language, and the social organizations people bring with them from place to place.
At first glance, they seem to be living in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. But these communities have strong cultural bonds holding people together, creating a support network that provides food and companionship for migrants just arriving from the south, with no work and no money.
Near Sebastopol, a community of Chatinos takes shelter under blue tarps, strung from tree to tree, setting mattresses on shipping pallets, to keep blankets and clothing out of the dirt. In the nearby town of Graton they stand on the sidewalk in front of little bookstores and cafes, hoping a labor contractor will pick them up for a day’s work on a neighboring farm.
Purepecha migrants from the Mexican state of Michoacan make up the majority of the hundreds of families living in two enormous trailer parks, on a US Indian reservation in the remote desert near the Salton Sea. The Coachella Valley's rich citrus, grape and date crops all depend on their work. Migrants living near Del Mar, one of San Diego's most affluent suburbs, harvest tomatoes, strawberries, oranges and avocados, the county's principal crops. Formerly they camped under the trees on hillsides within sight of new housing developments. Last year their settlement was forcibly removed after the Minutemen destroyed an altar built by the workers for the Catholic mass. County authorities then evicted the community.
Just as this San Diego community was moved out of sight and out of mind, so the communities of indigenous migrant farm workers all over California have been banished from sight. Sometimes invisibility has been forced on them. But often it has been by choice or caution on the part of migrants themselves, anxious to avoid hostile neighbors, the authorities, or other threatening outsiders. Living Under the Trees seeks to document the experiences and conditions of indigenous farm worker communities, including: housing problems, especially for migrants and new arrivals and families struggling with lack of space, and difficult working conditions. The project's purpose is to win public support for policies supporting those communities by: putting a human face on conditions, and providing a forum in which people speak for themselves. It focuses on the social movements in indigenous communities, and the way indigenous culture helps communities survive and enjoy life.
The communities documented are locacted in San Diego, Coachella, Arvin, Oxnard and Santa Paula, Santa Maria, Fresno and Selma, Salinas and Greenfield, and Santa Rosa. They include Mixtecos, Triquis, Zapotecos, Chatinos, and Purepechas. They also include farmworkers who don’t self-identify as members of indigenous communities, but who live and work in similar conditions.
The photographs focus on the relationship between community residents and their surroundings, and their relations with each other. They document many aspects of community life, including cooking and eating, housing, working conditions, social and cultural activities. They present situations of extreme poverty, but they also present people as actors, capable of changing conditions, organizing themselves, and making critical decisions. The images seek to convey a sense of intimacy, and emotional connection.
The project is a partnership between David Bacon, documentary photographer and journalist (The Children of NAFTA, UC Press, 2004, and Communities Without Border, Cornell/ILR Press, 2006), California Rural Legal Assistance, especially its Indigenous Farm Worker Project, and the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB).
As I’ve been doing interviews and talks over the past several months about my book, "They Take Our Jobs!" And 20 Other Myths About Immigration, I've become more and more convinced that a key, central issue that's hampering those of us who support immigrant rights is the absence of a basic, fundamental ability to say “immigrant rights are human rights.” No politician or talk-show commentator is going to risk saying this—but we have to.
Although I stand by my arguments about the myths I try to deconstruct in the book (Immigrants DON’T take American jobs! Immigrants DO pay taxes! Immigrants ARE learning English!) I also, deep down, think these arguments miss the point. Immigrants are human beings who have arbitrarily been classified as having a different legal status from the rest of the country’s inhabitants. The only thing that makes immigrants different from anybody else is the fact that they are denied the basic rights that the rest of us have. There is simply no humanly acceptable reason to define a group of people as different and deny them rights.