Friday, May 19, 2006

American Dream

Wrapped up in the current immigration debate has been a lot of rhetoric about the American Dream, the idea that immigrants just want access to the same rights enjoyed by "everyone else", etc. In that light, I was interested to read this post by Andre Banks, a useful corrective reminding us that black people have very real reasons to be wary of the movement and the attendant debate (link via Jeff Chang):
Immigrants and their advocates have gained attention by evoking the narrative of hard-working immigrants making good in the land of opportunity - the American Dream redux - with its attendant contradictions and contrivances. With cries that "immigrants built this country," a favorite calling card, this burgeoning movement at once revoked the history of slaves and their descendants and obscured important truths about power, migration and social mobility in this country. For my great-grandmother, and generations of Black people in this country before and after her, this lie is worse than silence. It is a critical and strategic omission that adds Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans to the annals of American history while relegating Black people to its shadows.

The narrative of the immigrant as the symbol of hard work that leads to opportunity can mean nothing but alienation for Black people precisely because we know this myth is false. Without our labor - not immigrant labor, but slave labor - in the fields and on the march there would be no market brimming with wealth and economic opportunity, nor a tradition of civil and political rights readily available for appropriation and exploitation.
Also, in a related, appalling turn of events, apparently the Bush Administration and Congress are seriously considering building a fence on the border with Mexico. Surely the Republicans know how much the precarious US economy depends on cheap labor provided by illegal immigrants, right? Perhaps they know that a fence will not really keep people out, but they can score some political points (and award some contracts at the same time). And, hey, who better to look to as an example for such a thing but Israel? (Speaking of Israel, Jonathan Cook writes in CounterPunch about the recent case in which Israel's Supreme Court upheld the effective ban on marriages between Palestianians and Israelis, echoing American Jim Crow laws and further highlighting the explicitly racist nature of the state.)

Following the immigration theme, there is an excellent post over at Bitch PhD discussing an article in the latest issue of Ms. magazine (excerpted here) about guest workers and sweatshop conditions in the Mariana Islands (which are US territories). As she puts it:
...this "guest worker" bullshit is totally not about helping immigrants who want to come to this country and make a decent wage to support families back home. It's about protecting employers from being prosecuted for hiring undocumented workers, while also protecting them from giving up the exploitative power they have over undocumented workers.
Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay have been major political opponents of improving the conditions there, which conditions often result in women being forced to have abortions or else lose their jobs and be deported. Bitch PhD's post continues:
Immigration, legal or not, is going to happen. Because if you are faced with a choice between feeding your child, teaching it to read, or breaking the law, you're going to break the law. Any decent parent would. The Abramoffs and the DeLays and the Bushes know this perfectly well. They bank on it to put money in their own pockets. That's what this "guest worker" program is all about, what the Marianas sweatshops are all about: figuring out ways to make desperately poor people into profitable commodities--which means keeping them desperately poor.

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