Aug 11, 2010

Immigration Madness: The (not so new) nativism in the United States

Here is a Mexican point of view on proposals by Republicans that the Fourteenth Amendment be revised or repealed. It reviews U.S. history of nativist xenophobia and persecution of immigrants. 
The original Spanish version is available at Mileno.Epicenter.

El Milenio, 08/10/2010

Leon Krauze

As the November elections in the United States approach, it is painful to accept that anti-immigrant discourse has become increasingly intense. The Republican Party seems to have taken note of the polls and decided to radicalize their position to the point of buffoonery. The latest stupidity that they have proposed in search of the nativist vote is a rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in their land, regardless of the origin or status of their parents. The amendment, adopted after the Civil War, is one of the legal clauses that ennoble the American people: "Any person born or naturalized in the United States is protected by its laws (and) no State may suspend any privileges or immunities of citizens.” The amendment, which arose from the need to rebuild a divided nation, was created to make American society more generous, to recognize who was already there and give citizenship to whomever, from then on, joined the country by choice or birth.

The idea of denying citizenship to children of illegals is a vulgar attack against not only the more virtuous side of the American legal structure, but also the soul of the country itself. It would imply adopting the prejudices of an era when slavery and segregation still existed. It is an absolute disgrace that the Republicans dare even to mention the matter. Even so, it's worth putting into perspective what is happening. And I do not mean just the possible initiative on the Fourteenth Amendment; I am also thinking about the attacks on Mexicans in Long Island, New York, and the racist insults in Arizona. 

It serves no purpose to give in to the hysterical temptation to suggests that xenophobia is unheard-of in U.S. history. The reality is very clear: American history is filled with displays of nativist passion much more severe and dangerous than what our countrymen are going through. It is enough to consider the huge wave of attacks suffered by Irish immigrants during the nineteenth century. As Peter Schrag points out in his indispensable book, Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America, the Irish suffered from discrimination almost identical to that which Hispanics endure more than 150 years later. They were accused of stealing jobs from “native” Americans. They were criticized for their customs and their apparent inability to be assimilated. It was said that "they present problems of housing, safety and education," as well as rejecting them as "drunkards, dissolute and hopelessly mired in poverty” and ignorance. Irish Catholic fervor aroused particularly intense repudiation. Groups sprang up that persecuted and abused the newcomers. There were lynchings and the publication of several books devoted to discredit not only the Irish but Catholicism in general, whose presence was seen as a real threat to the religious essence of the United States. This type of xenophobic reaction was repeated, with similar virulence, against Jews, Asians, Germans and several other groups in the following years of the country's history.

It is well worth the pain to remember these other episodes of nativism in the United States. It serves no purpose to fantasize that the assault on the rights of undocumented Latinos is a new trend or especially violent. The truth is otherwise. Moreover, this exercise in historical comparison does not imply some extenuating circumstance. It is precisely on the basis of American history that Mexican diplomacy and the organizations that defend the agenda of the "undocumented" must fight their battles. Just because this has always occurred does not mean that they don’t have to fight, with their soul, the nativism and xenophobia. History ought to serve, instead, as the best argument. Or, in the final outcome of American history, will someone be able to deny the contributions of all the communities who suffered, in their time, the attack of hysterical nativists?

Leon Krauze is a jounalist and columnist for El Milenio and El Diario. He is the host of a radio discussion show, The Second Broadcast, on W Radio. He is also on the editorial staff of the magazine, Letras Lilbres.

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