THE FUTURE FACE OF AMERICA AS REFLECTED IN LOS NIÑOS CENTRO-AMERICANOS AND AMERICAN IMMIGRATION POLICY.
There’s no doubt that the face of America has been changing—more dramatically since the latter part of the 20th century, made more visible in the early years of the new millennium. But the face of America has been a changing face from its inception. In his Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John De Crevecoeur described the face of America at its founding:
“they are [a] mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes. From this promiscuous breed, that race now called Americans have [sic] arisen.”
In that “promiscuous breed” he left out the Sephardic (Spanish) Jews who were among the first settlers in New York when it was New Amsterdam founded by the Dutch; and he left out the black slaves. Other than that, he pretty much nailed “the American character” at the beginning of the nation.
Subtextually, that template held sway for American immigration during the 19th century on up to the end of World War II in 1946. What was little noticed, however, was the increased “browning” of America starting in 1848 with the 500 million acres of land it severed and appropriated from Mexico (and the people thereon) as booty from the U.S. war with Mexico (1846-1848); followed up by the appropriation of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and sundry islands in the Pacific (with the people thereon) as a result of the U.S. war with Spain (1898).
The consequence was that the United States began the 20th century with a much browner face than it started with in 1776. But that “browning” was abetted by a Mexican exodus of a million and a half Mexicans migrating “north from Mexico” (McWilliams) between 1910 and 1930, an exodus that could be characterized as “chickens coming home to roost”—they were, after all, “returning”, so to speak, to a space of land that was once their homeland, browning the face of America even more.
So here we are in 2014 facing a perplex of immigration engendered by a rash of children from Central America seeking asylum from conditions in their countries, the kinds of conditions that have surely spurred human migrations globally since time immemorial. But this migration of Central American children seeking socorro (help) or asilo (asylum) in the United States is colored by the perceived color of their skin—not the content of their plight. Therein lies the rub.
The most profound act of asylum or the granting of refugee status by the United States occurred with the plight of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s overture with communism in Cuba between 1960 and 1980 following the success of the Castro insurgency in 1959, which continues
to this day. Cubans fleeing the Castro regime are granted refugee status just by planting one foot on American soil. Most of the more than one million Cubans who left the island between 1960 and 1980 made their way to the United States. By any measure, the Cuban exodus to the United States has proven to be a boon for the country. Cuban exiles in the United States have transformed their localities into thriving areas and their political sway now boasts three Cuban American senators in the U.S. Congress. Currently, there are no Mexican American senators in the U.S. Congress.
Lastima (pity) that that boon has not devolved on Mexicans migrating to the United States. Or the Central American children on the doorsteps of the nation. This is the nexual dilemma facing the United States vis-à-vis these children. Pero no hay mal que por bien no venga (Even an ill wind blows some good). The plight of these Central American children focuses a spotlight on the American immigration issue.
It’s a harsh indictment to characterize American immigration policy as a broken system. Admittedly it’s a system in need of repair, perhaps in need of replacement. But it’s not the system that is at fault. At fault is the characterization of that system as faulty by those who see the system as an obstacle to their respective agendas about immigration, agendas that mask unwarranted criticism of American immigration policy perceived to be so loose that it allows the “unwanted and unwashed” into the United States. Ergo xenophobia and immigration quotas.
American xenophobia came to a head with Arizona’s passage of SB 1070 cited as “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” although it can best be described as “Round ‘em up (meaning Mexicans), Brand ‘em, then Kick ‘em Out” signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. For Mexicans in the United States this Act is a wake-up call to the holocaust that this Act presages; for Mexicans in Arizona SB 1070 heralded concerted harassment presaging ethnic cleansing of Mexicans of any stripe (including Mexican Americans) and Latinos.
SB 1070 was as a number of critics have correctly pointed out an emboldened manifestation by the state to target perceived undocumented immigrants. Apologists for the state’s apocalyptic actions retort that the growing wave of criticism and resistance to the state’s actions anent immigration are simply politicalizations of the issues by misguided liberals who have missed the point of Arizona’s actions.
The shadow of an angry god is roaming the American landscape, a shadow engendered more by malice than mischief, made stronger by frightened hordes of Xenophobes. There is a growing movement of Catonists in the American Republic who fear immigrants and what they augur for America’s future. Cato was a Roman Senator during the Punic Wars (264-146 BC) who fed Roman fears of encroachment by decadent foreigners whose alien values, he contended, would disrupt the Roman political tradition and organization of the nation. Cato believed that Rome was for the Romans.
What is most distressing in this immigration brouhaha is the dark force of anarchy in American democracy (cloaked as American exceptionalism or providentialism as Frederick Jackson Turner called it), something Alexis de Tocqueville missed in his whirlwind tour of the country in 1831-32, but noted almost 50 years earlier by the Spanish soldier Francisco de Miranda (The New Democracy in America)—precursor to Latin American independence—when he visited the United States (1783-1784), meeting (unlike de Tocqueville) George Washington, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox, and Thomas Jefferson.
The United States is a nation of nations. It was so in the beginning as Jean de Crevecoeur informed us. It’s a “rainbow nation” as the Reverend Jesse Jackson proclaims, waiting for the storm to subside so it can sparkle in its multi-colored radiance (see Felipe de Ortego y Gasca and Alexandra Neves, “Swimming Upstream in Multicultural America,” in Twenty-First Century Dynamics of Multiculturalism: Beyond Post-Racial America, Edited by Martin Guevara Urbina, Charles C Thomas Publisher Ltd, 2014).
It was not multiculturalism that destroyed Rome, which (the now deceased) Samuel Huntingdon believed will destroy the United States; it was the excesses of its leaders who believed that because of the power they wielded they had become supreme. Lord Acton’s warning should be heeded at this point in time: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Make no mistake about it—this dark force of American providentialism, this dark force of American anarchy is crafting the “Final Solution” to rid the country of Mexicans and Latinos. What makes this augury so foreboding is that the list of cities and states taking up Arizona’s lead is growing. The moral dilemma is: how to confront this dark force?
“They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
Silence is not the answer. The answer is courage! For “courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier” as Eleanor Roosevelt put it. That courage on behalf of the children from Central America, the dreamers from Latin America, and all others seeking the promise of America reflect the future face of America just as the present face of America reflects the 19th century influx of Germans, Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, and the rest of the teeming masses yearning to be free as Emma Lazarus characterized them in her famous sonnet The New Colossus (1883) enshrined in the Statue of Liberty.
Apples, Oranges and Political Betrayal
There’s no doubt that the American immigration issue is fraught with potholes for both major parties and vulnerable candidates. However it seems to me that at the moment there are two intertwining aspects of the immigrant issue that have been conflated (like apples and oranges) thus muddling the conversation. The issue of “fixing” the immigration system is about how to handle the alleged 11 million undocumented workers in the United States; the second issue is what to do with the host of Central American children on the doorstep of America seeking ingress into the nation on grounds of political turmoil in their countries. While the two are related the two are not the same.
In the group of undocumented workers in the United States there are children of varying ages who were brought to the United States when they were infants by their parents. These are the dreamers who regard themselves as Americans. There seems to be a general public sentiment to give these “dreamers” special consideration toward citizenship. The consideration has been on the top burner for some time now. American Hispanics are wondering why the President has not moved via an Executive Order on this consideration. The delay has exacerbated the situation hardening Janet Murguia’s sobriquet of President Obama as “Deporter-in-Chief.” Murguia is President of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights organization.
Americans fear that the millions of undocumented Hispanic workers in the United States and the thousands of Central-American children at our doorstep begging for help will only make the already brown face of America browner.
WORKS CITED AND/OR CONSULTED:
J. Hector St. John De Crevecoeur (Author), Albert E. Stone (Author), Letters from an American Farmer and Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 17, 1981,
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca and Alexandra Neves, “Swimming Upstream in Multicultural America,” in Twenty-First Century Dynamics of Multiculturalism: Beyond Post-Racial America Edited by Martin Guevara Urbina, Charles C Thomas Publisher Ltd, 2014).
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, “Rhetoric of Hate Fans Lynch Law in Arizona,” Hispanicvista.com, July 25, 2009.
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, “La Leyenda Negra / The Black Legend: Historical Distortion, Defamation, Slander, Libel, and Stereotyping of Hispanics—a monthly series. Somos Primos: A Website Dedicated to Hispanic Heritage and Diversity Issues.
July 2008 Number 1: “Overview and Introduction.”
September 2008 Number 2: “The Columbian Exchange.”
October 2008 Number 3: “Cultures in Conflict.”
November 2008 Number 4: “The Bad Seed”
December 2008 Number 5: “Hic et Ubique”
January 2009 Number 6: “The Lamp and the Golden Door”
February 2009 Number 7: “In America’s Defense”
March 2009 Number 8: “Searching for America”
April 2009 Number 9: “The Historian and the Lion”
May 2009 Number 10: “The Towers and the Wall”
June 2009 Number 11: “From Real to Reel”
August 2009 Number 12: “Full Circle”
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, “Bridges not Walls” The Great Wall of China in the United States,” National Hispanic Forum, July 14, 2007. Reprinted in the Rio Grande Observer, September 20, 2007. Reprinted by the El Paso Times, April 27, 2008.
Hispanic Link version of “Bridges not Walls” distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, March 7, 2008. New York Media Alliance, published as “The United States and its Great Wall” (El Diario / La Prensa), March 6, 2008; in Spanish by Diáspora y Migraciones, March 6, 2008; by Capital Blue, March 10, 2008; in Spanish by La Opinion de Los Angeles, in Spanish as “Frontera: El Gran Muro,” March 11, 2008; by the Korea Times, March 11, 2008; by La Opinion de Mexico, DF as “Frontera: El Gran Muro,” March 11, 2008; in Spanish by El Periodico USA, March 11, 2008; by El Reportero of San Francisco, March 12, 2008; Freelance Star of Fredericksburg, Texas, March 15, 2008; by Bahia de Banderas News, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, March 26, 2008; by Newspaper Tree of El Paso [Texas], March 28, 2008
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, “CNN and Lou Dobbs: Journalism or Jingoism,” National Hispanic Forum,
July 7, 2007. Posted on the Latino American Experience: Greenwood Press, January 18, 2008.
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, “Mexican Americans and the Insurgency Politics of Resistance: An Overview of American Immigration and English Only Initiatives,” Hispanicvista.com, April 25, 2005.
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, “Barbarians at the Gates: Neo-Conservatives and American Hispanics—The Incident at North Texas State University,” Hispanic Vista Weekly Digest, March 7, 2005.
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, “Tyrannus Lex: Common Ground and the English Only Movement,” Hispanicvista.com, February 21, 2005.
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca and Gilda Baeza Ortego, “Mexican American Writers on Violence Against la Raza in the U.S.—Mexico Borderlands: the Pursuit for Social Justice,” in Gente de Frontera: The Mexico-U.S. Border in Hispanic Literature, Jeffrey Oxford, Editor, Casa de los Poetas, Collección Canta Gallo, San Juan de Puerto Rico, 2012.
First published in The National Hispanic Forum, January 28, 2005. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Rio Bravo Association in Monterrey, Mexico, February 28-March 1, 2003 in association with la Universidad de Monterrey, la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo Leon , Monterrey, Mexico, and Texas A&M University–Kingsville.
Samuel P. Huntington, “The Hispanic Challenge,” Foreign Policy, March/April 2004.
Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn By Living (1960), 41.
Carey McWilliams, North From Mexico: The Spanish-speaking People of the United States,” Greenwood Press, 1990.
Francisco de Miranda, The New Democracy in America: Travels Of Francisco De Miranda In The United States, 1783 – 1784 [Francisco D. Miranda, John S. Ezell Editor, Judson P. Wood Translator], University of Oklahoma press, 1963.
Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (1920) chapter 1.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, trans., ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)
Copyright 2014 by Philip de Ortego y Gasca.