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ESSAY

The Immigration Debate: Where are the Eggheads?

An essay by Fred Beauford


What surprised me most when I decided to write this essay was after I queried publishers across the country if they had any recent books on the Immigration debate, most of them had little to offer. Apparently, as far as they were concerned, there was no real debate worth the resources necessary to publish a book on the subject.

Maybe this has something to do with location.  Most publishing is located in New York, or in large educational institutions. In New York City, for example, I rarely hear the subject of immigration discussed.  However, all I have to do is take a train or plane out west, where I have spent so much of my life, and immigration is a subject that quickly touches raw nerves, and drives people into a frenzy of deeply felt frustration, and often total despair, both pro and con.

I would like to raise some of the hidden issues I have discovered in this non-debate that drives so many of my friends in California -- and often, people I don’t even know, but who just want to give me their opinion -- into such agitated states.

Issue one: the demise of the nation-state as we know it.

This is clearly the big one, and, interestingly enough, the least written about. After sending out countless emails to my list of publishers, Harvard University Press finally sent me The Birthright Lottery: Citizenship and Global Inequality, by Ayelet Shachar, a book published in 2009, which at least addressed the subject.

Written in the dense language that many professors love to use, Professor Shachar is perfectly clear, however, when it comes to the major point in his book. He writes, “Membership boundaries that extend across generational lines can now be viewed in a more complex light: not only are these boundaries sustained for cultivating bonds of identity and belonging (as the conventional argument holds), they also serve a crucial role in preserving restricted access to the community’s prosperity and power. The latter is jealously guarded at the juncture of transfer of “ownership” from the present generation of citizens to its progeny. In other words, birthright citizen mechanisms provide cover through their presumed naturalness for what is essentially a major (and currently untaxed) transmission of wealth and enabling resources from one generation to another. Ours is a world of scarcity; when an affluent community systemically delimits access to membership and its derivative benefits on the basis of a strict heredity system that effectively resembles an entail structure of preserving privilege and advantage in the hands of the few, those who are excluded have reason to complain.”

This is geography as destiny. History abounds, however, with examples that “scarce resources “ are not necessarily the final determinate if a society languishes or thrives.

When I read Professor Shachar’s words, I immediately thought of Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and his example of the doomed medieval Viking settlement on Greenland; and thought, instead of geography as the major player, why not geography and culture?

The invading Vikings brought their livestock with them, but the land ultimately could not support such close grazing. Because of deep-rooted cultural reasons, they refused to proceed like the successful Inuits that shared Greenland with them, and mine the sea for food. So they slowly starved to death with food all around them.

The example of modern day Israel also came to mind. However, if we follow the logic of Professor Shachar’s idea that nation-states that prosper should really be ashamed of themselves, then a nation-state like a highly prosperous Israel, has no right to exist as a Jewish state, but should open its borders to its impoverished Muslim neighbors.   

***

There’s this joke: In 1704, two Africans were sitting on a high bluff overlooking the ocean when a huge ship appeared.

“Oh, look at the interesting color of their skin,” one said, pointing to a young, white, pimpled-faced crewmember.

“I have heard of strange looking people like that,” his friend answered, excitedly. “Let’s go down and see what they want. Maybe we can show them around.”

***

In the end, many societies may just be demonstrating the height of wisdom by not allowing a strange culture inside their boundaries, no matter how dire their condition, or how friendly they may seem. Just ask the Romans.

Issue two: Ethnic Cleansing.

    I have a personal connection to this issue. As I explained recently to a short, brown-skinned Mexican man serving me drinks behind a bar in Manhattan, “I may not be your brother, but I am certainly your second cousin.”

It wasn’t just the strong cocktails encouraging me to say this. My ex-wife is half Mexican and half Irish (the Mexican being the side that gave me the most grief, and which side contributed most to her gorgeous looks, I will never know).

My deceased father-in-law was a dark skinned man, while my mother-in-law, from old photos, was a flaming, fair-skinned redhead.

I learned from Pete, my children’s grandfather, and some of my other my in-laws, the truth of that t-shirt I once wrote about which had printed on it: No Hispanics, No Latinos, No Mexicans. We are indigenous people. 

Pete, and almost all of his twelve children, including my ex, became indignant if I called them white. This surprised me because most could have passed for anything they wanted, including, in some cases, being a fair skinned African American.

***

“Where do you think we came from before ‘you guys’ showed up?” my wife once asked, shaking her head in total disbelief at such a Dumbo.

***

So for the first time in my young life, I was one of “you guys.”

***

With that insight in mind, I couldn’t help but start noticing that most of the illegal immigrants I encountered were indeed not Spanish. Some didn’t even speak Spanish, but had retained the native language that they had had centuries before the Spanish arrived.

So far, the only intellectual response that I know of to this now obvious fact has come from the brainy essayist Richard Rodriguez, when he wrote, more than ten years ago,  “How interesting that indigenous people are now starting to re-colonize the west.”

There are other, darker voices, however, that have lately raised a disturbing question: Are the ancestors of the Europeans, the  “Grandees” that still run things in Mexico, engaging in one of the largest ethnic cleansing operations in modern history?

Here is what the Encyclopedia Britannica says about the racial make-up of the population: “About three-fifths of Mexico’s population is Mestizo (part indigenous, part European, with a touch of African), one-third American Indian and the rest are of European ancestry. The official language is Spanish. More than 50 Indian languages are spoken.”

***

Again, I looked to books for answers. However, as with the articles I read in magazines and newspapers about Illegal immigration from Mexico, almost nothing is written about why the powers that be in Mexico, including the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, are in effect, telling so many of their hard working brown-skinned citizens to scram.

Lynnaire M. Sheridan’s “I Know it’s Dangerous:” Why Mexicans Risk Their Lives to Cross the Border (The University of Arizona Press) gives a through account of what has led Mexico and America to such an impasse. In addition, she interviewed many of the immigrants about what motivated them to take what is now a highly dangerous journey.

She rightly cites the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed February 2, 1848, which ended the United States-Mexican War, from 1846 to 1848. “With U.S. forces occupying Mexico City,” Sheridan writes, “General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Mexico’s commanding officer, sold one-third of Mexican territory to the United States, thus establishing a new international boundary. Together with land sold under the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, Mexico ceded, in all, one-half of its territory to the United States. For their part, the Mexican people accepted neither the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo nor the “loss” of their national territory.”

In other words, like the families of my Mexican in-laws, who have been in Southern Texas for centuries, they have been moving back and forth over this land we now call Mexico and the United States for as long as anyone can remember; and certainly longer than “you guys.”

However, as with most books and articles on the subject, Sheridan says nothing about racial issues in Mexico, but only focuses on what she sees as racist attitudes in America toward immigrants; not even hinting that racist attitudes may have been what lead the immigrants to take what has now, as she so aptly points out in her book, an increasingly perilous journey to El Norte.

I would love to hear what La Raza has to say on the subject.


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