Sunday, August 08, 2010

Jose's history lesson

Jose’ Ballester changes the frame of the "immigration crisis” and offers some U.S. history--and some book and movie suggestions:

Following some of George Lakoff’s suggestion might we not reframe the issues? Is there an immigration crisis in Arizona and New Mexico? Depends on who is defining the crisis. The white non-Hispanic population of Arizona is only 58.4% of the population while the Hispanics of all races are 31% and growing. In addition there is a sizable population of Navajo and Apache so there is a crises that the white non-Hispanic population will soon no longer be a majority.

In New Mexico the Hispanic population is 45%; of these 83% are native born and 17% are born in another country. Clearly the crisis of the white non-Hispanics in New Mexico is more immediate than in Arizona.

Change the frame to the early 1800's. Much of the Southwest is still part of Mexico. Arizona has roughly 1,000 Mexicans but the largest populations are the indigenous tribes. The United States under president Polk invades Mexico under the pretense of defending Texas that Mexico still considered a rebellious Mexican state. In reality the war was a result of territorial expansion fervor. To end the war Mexico cedes the Southwest territory and California to the United States. So we see the United States as occupying territory that was taken by force and the locals who were guaranteed their rights, Hispanic and Native, have lost those rights through violations of treaties and agreements by the United States. Looking further back we see that in a letter dated June 30, 1828 General Manuel Mier Y Teran warns Mexican president Guadalupe Victoria that the growing numbers of immigrants from the United States of America would soon disrupt the territory of Tejas (Texas), “It would cause you the same chagrin that it has caused me to see the opinion that is held of our nation by these foreign colonists, since, with the exception of some few who have journeyed to our capital, they know no other Mexicans than the inhabitants here. . . Thus, I tell myself that it could not be otherwise than that from such a state of affairs should arise an antagonism between the Mexicans and foreigners, which is not the least of the smoldering fires which I have discovered. Therefore, I am warning you to take timely measures.” Of particular concern was the immigrant’s ignoring the Mexican law prohibiting slavery.

Looking further back we see that when Spain ceded the Louisiana territory to Napoleon it was with the restriction that France would not sell or surrender the land to the United States. Further back we see General Andrew Jackson invading the Spanish colony of La Florida and claiming it for the United States of America. So there is a crisis in that the United States of America is occupying lands it took through aggression or illegal purchase. (Not to start another thread but is that not the reason some people have condemned Israel for the occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights?)

Change the frame. There are complaints that immigrants are flooding into the United States and they should be returned to where they came from. Why are they coming to the United States? Could it be that the United States is responsible for destroying the economic means of the immigrants? Did diverting the waters of the Colorado River for irrigation; green lawns and providing potable water to the growing populations in the Southwest and Southern California destroy the farmland in Mexico? Did the importation of surplus US corn to be sold in Mexico ruin the agriculture economy of Mexico? Did NAFTA permit US Corporations to set-up factories in Mexico that are filled with cheap labor and do those same factories turn the surrounding areas into toxic wastes? Are there drug cartels in Mexico that threaten the government, commit unspeakable crimes and cross the USA/Mexico boarder to commit crimes? Who is buying the drugs that fuel these cartels? There is a crisis in that one nation is being slowly killed by another nation.

Change the frame. Immigration quotas have traditionally favored immigration from northern Europe and have been temporarily altered when industry has needed cheap labor and restrictions have been imposed when that cheap labor has demanded reforms. Throughout the history of the United States laws have been adopted that subjugated individuals from groups not part of the dominant ethnic groups or that unduly favor one ethnic group over another. I always wondered why during World War II Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps but not German Americans? There is a crisis in ethnic prejudice that might turn into apartheid or ethnic cleansing.

If there is an immigrant crisis it is not just in Arizona or New Mexico, it is in the entire United States of America. The immigrants from northern Europe and their allies that have been transformed in the American “smelting” pot are behaving like barbarians in their treatment of all others. The crisis is that the American public is gullible enough to accept a false frame and delusional enough that they think reason and righteousness will win in the end.

While I commend the UUA and the UU activists who have finally taken-up the cause of human rights for immigrants and other minority groups; I am fearful that we might go the route of the Social Gospel and depend on our own actions, experiences and thoughts to inform us. And then when that fails we would turn to scholarly texts written by those not part of the impacted groups. And finally when all that fails we would turn to a select few supposedly from the impacted who fit our definition of “scholar” or “expert.” I am fearful that we will forget the words of the Bishops from the 1968 conference in Medellín that concluded that the oppressed people by themselves cannot enact effective reform nor can effective reform be enacted without them.

So as a suggestion, I would recommend that congregations obtain and view the film Letters From the Other Side and I would recommend the book Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez; and Crossing With the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail by Ferguson, Price and Parks. And lastly familiarize yourself with the work of our Tucson UU Congregation.

And just for the record, both of my parents were born in Puerto Rico after the Jones–Shafroth Act (1917), which means they were natural born American citizens (since Puerto Rico was and still is a part of the United States of America.) I was born in New York City in1951; all of my grandparents moved to Puerto Rico when it was still a colony of Spain. So that means that none of us were ever immigrants.

Jose Ballester


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