Archive for Mexican Americans
In this week’s edition of Inside Higher Education, Scott Jaschik reports on a picture taken of a group of Penn State Chi Omega sorority sisters mocking Mexicans. It is offensive enough that the picture depicts the group dressed in spaghetti western attire, but even more despicable are the signs featured in the picture:
“Will mow lawn for weed and beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it.”
What does this say about the collective views this group has of Mexicans? We have expectations about where certain groups belong based on generations of ethnic and racial stereotypes and societal stratification that are illustrated in this example. These views not only shape our expectations about one another, but also impact the way we treat each another.
For example, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez writes about the experience of being mistaken as a criminal defendant in a federal courthouse. He states:
Let me mention for example attorneys of color who are sometimes in criminal cases mistaken for the defendant by the participants. How do we respond to that? Sometimes we are overly formal, by making sure that we’re dressed particularly well and that our speech is particularly professional, just to let people know who we are because we’re not always given the benefit of the doubt. I remember when I was a federal prosecutor I was traveling with my wife to Texas and we went to the federal courthouse in Laredo, Texas. I was curious, I thought I’m part of the federal family, so I’m going to go in and see what a different federal courthouse looks like. When I went into the courthouse I started getting tailed by security; they followed me through the courthouse, and when I walked into a courtroom the clerk said, “Defendants sit to the left.” That was the first thing she said to me as I walked in. And I realized that out of my suit, I looked to them like a suspicious person or a defendant in that context.
(soon available here)
Being out of his suit is only part of the story. The other part is the fact that there are negative stereotypes about Mexicans and Mexican Americans that follow us wherever we go. Latino professionals universally encounter these challenges as I highlighted in my book on Latino lawyers. The notion that we should be mowing lawns, drinking a beer (presumably under a cactus), or working as maids/custodians has certainly impacted my life both personally and professionally. The impact of the views represented by the Chi Omega sorority picture penetrate into all aspects of Latinos’ lives and certainly bring to mind many memories of my own experiences.
Some of mine include being asked for a my social security card during a routine traffic stop for speeding (it took me years to stop carrying my social security card), or being asked for a “green card and an ID” before being allowed to go into a club or being asked rather aggressively by an older woman at a health club I used to belong in, to bring her some water while I was sitting down on a bench waiting for my daughter to finish tennis lessons. (The coach teaching the lessons recognized what was going on before I did and turned to the woman after she’d asked me for water for the third time and tells her he’ll get it for her when he was done giving his lesson). These examples pale in comparison to the examples I’ve experienced as a professor. I am not alone. It has been recently documented in a book on academic women of color, Presumed Incompetent that cover topics from campus climate to tenure and promotion as experienced by female faculty of color.
At the heart of all these examples is the way Latinos continue to be stereotyped by others as so grossly illustrated in the Penn State Chi Omega sorority example.
The Pew Hispanic Center has an eye-catching headline on a May 3 press release, which I have not seen much coverage of in the mass media: “Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less.” The research account headed by a former student of mine (talented demographer Jeffrey Passel) at University of Texas begins with this:
The largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States has come to a standstill. After four decades that brought 12 million current immigrants—most of whom came illegally—the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed, according to a new analysis of government data from both countries by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. The standstill appears to be the result of many factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and broader economic conditions in Mexico.
Lots of interesting and revealing data in this report (pdf for researchers here), some of it countering much political conventional wisdom.
Do these data pose a problem for our many nativistic politicians and anti-Mexican-immigrant pundits, and their often racist arguments?
The UCLA Chicano Network has a nice summary of the holiday Cinco de Mayo, which is celebrated in Mexican American communities (one such celebration in California a couple of years ago, pictured right, photo credit) and not yet much outside those communities:
Cinco de Mayo is a date of great importance for the Mexican and Chicano communities. It marks the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla. Although the Mexican army was eventually defeated, the “Batalla de Puebla” came to represent a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. . . . Cinco de Mayo’s history has its roots in the French Occupation of Mexico. The French occupation took shape in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. With this war, Mexico entered a period of national crisis during the 1850′s. Years of not only fighting the Americans but also a Civil War, had left Mexico devastated and bankrupt. On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for a brief period of two years, with the promise that after this period, payments would resume.
The English, Spanish and French refused to allow president Juarez to do this, and instead decided to invade Mexico and get payments by whatever means necessary. The Spanish and English eventually withdrew, but the French refused to leave. Their intention was to create an Empire in Mexico under Napoleon III. Some have argued that the true French occupation was a response to growing American power and to the Monroe Doctrine (America for the Americans). Napoleon III believed that if the United States was allowed to prosper indiscriminately, it would eventually become a power in and of itself.
In 1862, the French army began its advance. Under General Ignacio Zaragoza, 5,000 ill-equipped Mestizo and Zapotec Indians defeated the French army in what came to be known as the “Batalla de Puebla” on the fifth of May.
Clearly, it was a substantially indigenous army that defeated the mighty Europeans, an early and clear counter-colonialism event. This is an event that all who support self-determination for indigenous peoples and full human rights for all peoples should remember and honor.
The UCLA network account also makes some interesting observations about how this day is differentially celebrated in Mexico and the United States:
In the United States, the “Batalla de Puebla” came to be known as simply “5 de Mayo” and unfortunately, many people wrongly equate it with Mexican Independence which was on September 16, 1810, nearly a fifty year difference. Over, the years Cinco de Mayo has become very commercialized and many people see this holiday as a time for fun and dance. Oddly enough, Cinco de Mayo has become more of Chicano holiday than a Mexican one. Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a much larger scale here in the United States than it is in Mexico. People of Mexican descent in the United States celebrate this significant day by having parades, mariachi music, folklorico dancing and other types of festive activities.
And here is a more detailed discussion of how it came to celebrated by Chicanos (Mexican Americans) over the years in the US. In my view, this is a good holiday for all those Americans who are opposed to colonialism and imperial invasions to celebrate.
San Luis, Arizona is a small border community (2009 population was 25,682) located on the southwest corner of the state. As is true in most Arizona border towns, its population is predominantly Latino (94%) and Spanish is the common language.
In an interview with the New York Times Archibaldo Gurrola, a local UPS deliveryman and former San Luis councilman, stated that
It’s strange to speak English here. Spanish is what you hear everywhere, maybe with some English thrown in.
Language and political hegemony go hand in hand, and thus it is not surprising that a 1910 act granting Arizona statehood includes a provision requiring that officeholders must perform their duties in English without the aid of a translator.
Alejandrina Cabrera was a candidate for a seat on the City Council and her English proficiency is limited. She is a U.S. citizen and a graduate from an Arizona high school. Apparently motivated by political rivalries, Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla filed a legal challenge to Mrs. Cabrera’s inclusion on the ballot on the grounds that her “lack” of full English proficiency disqualifies her from serving on the Council.
The case was brought up to the County Supreme Court. Judge John Nelson ordered a linguist to assess Mrs. Cabrera’s English proficiency. The linguist, William G. Eggington, who originates from Australia, determined that Mrs. Cabrera
does not yet have sufficient English language proficiency to function adequately as an elected City Council member.
Mrs. Cabrera noted that she was thrown off by Professor Eggington’s accent at least once. He asked her about summer, which he pronounced “summa.” That is the sobriquet for the nearby community of Somerton, causing Mrs. Cabrera to be utterly confused.
On January 25 Judge Nelson agreed with Professor Eggington’s recommendation and ruled that Mrs. Cabrera be struck from the ballot. Her lawyers said that they might appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.
I just got a Constitution for an organization called the Mexican American Democrats of Texas, dated June 1 of this year. It clearly reflects the growing demographic and political strength of Mexican Americans in Texas, a state where all statewide elected officials are currently Republicans. Since Mexican American voters tend to vote for the Democratic Party (about 67 percent voted for Obama in 2008), will this mean that Texas may soon move back into the “blue column,” especially given the new attacks on immigrants just this week mounted by the mostly white Republicans in the special session of the Texas legislature. The dramatic growth of the Mexican American (and larger Latino) population in Texas has led to reasonable forecasts that Texas will be more than half Latino in just a few decades. It has also led to forecasts that the Latino growth in numerous states will likely be to the benefit of Democratic Party candidates.
Even the usually savvy on immigration issues Texas governor, Republican Rick Perry, has joined in the rather nativistic support for severe limitations on the rights of the many undocumented Texans with their roots in Mexico. These Texans do much of the hardest and toughest work in Texas.
(That anti-immigrant political position is a bit ironic given that “Texas” history started as an invasion of US citizens mostly of European origin [and usually without documents] flooding what became Texas. Eventually the US invaders decided to secede from Mexico by force, in part so these whites could protect the enslavement of black Americans they enforced in the Texas area. That immigration story is often told in a substantially mythological form some distance from the historical truth.)
Here is the first part of the new constitution for the Mexican American Democrats. (Here is their email address: email@example.com)
CONSTITUTION AND BYLAWS
We, the Mexican American Democrats of Texas, seeking to ensure the benefits of a free society for ourselves, our families, our communities, counties, state and nation, and seeking to achieve full representation at all levels of the Democratic Party, do hereby adopt the Constitution and Bylaws of the Mexican American Democrats of Texas.
ARTICLE I – NAME
The name of this organization shall be the Mexican American Democrats of Texas, hereinafter referred to as “MAD” or as “Texas MAD”.
ARTICLE II – PURPOSE
The purpose of this organization shall be to seek full representation of Mexican Americans at all levels and in all activities of the Democratic Party. This shall include, but not be limited to, participating in the delegate selection and committee processes at all levels of the Democratic Party conventions and organizations; selecting, screening, supporting, and endorsing Democratic candidates; taking appropriate public stands on issues relevant to our communities; and proposing, supporting, and, when necessary, opposing legislation relevant to the Mexican American community.
ARTICLE III – GENERAL MEMBERSHIP
Section 1. Qualifications: The General Membership of Texas MAD shall be open to any member of the Mexican American community, but will not be limited to the Spanish surnamed.
Section 2. Application Procedures: The Credentials Committee of Texas MAD shall adopt a mandatory application form which shall at a minimum include the applicant’s name, address, voter registration number, effective date of state membership, and a mandatory signature line. The Credentials Committee of Texas MAD shall also adopt verification procedures of membership.
[and it continues at some length]
Undocumented students across the country are torn between achieving their dreams of an education, and knowing full well that once they complete their college degree they may not have many options to pursue their careers. This is because the political rhetoric surrounding immigration is punitive and it is time for it to stop. The costs to us all are too great.
One cost is to children raised in the U.S. but brought here illegally by their parents. Rather than giving them the opportunity to attend university by allowing them to pay in-state tuition and passing the Dream Act, so that upon completion of their degrees they can become contributing members of society, we currently leave them in a state of limbo. Those that do make it to university live in constant fear for their futures once they complete their degrees, but even while they attend college they are not able to fully participate in the college experience because they cannot participate in work-study programs on campus or participate in the many study abroad programs. Our current attitude towards immigrants, especially towards Latinos must change. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education argues that undocumented students who pay in-state tuition at universities not only attend university at higher rates, but they have lower dropout rates, and bring financial benefits to the states who allow in-state tuition as well.
However, there are three fundamental challenges in changing this punitive focus on immigration policy:
First, a because of the white racial frame Latinos encounter discrimination, whether immigrant or citizen, even among Latino professionals. We must become aware and challenge the white racial frame. Feagin demonstrates that the current rhetoric of America as a post-racial society is wrong. He states, “this new colorblind rhetoric has just papered over what are still blatantly racist views of Americans of color that have continued in most whites’ framing of this society” (p. 97). This important awareness of racism in America is the first challenge that must be overcome before immigration policy can turn away from its punitive direction.
Secondly, until we can see immigrants as human beings who come here because of crippling poverty, poverty that is so great and unimaginable to most Americans that they resort to doing unthinkable acts just to be here. I recently heard a story of a mother and father who got caught trying to cross into the U.S. illegally and left their four year old daughter with a hotel front desk worker until they could safely get her. Imagine the conditions in Mexico to make parents risk this kind of behavior with their most precious children. A recent report from La Opinion reports that immigrants are also increasingly willing to cut the ends of their fingers off for thousands of dollars in order to not be fingerprinted.
Finally, until we see immigrants as a contribution rather than a cost to America the punitive focus of the immigration debate will not change. There are too many studies which demonstrate that the millions of illegal immigrants who are working in the US are actually providing great services and wealth for small businesses and large corporations. They are contributing not costing America. This economic debate should have been over a long time ago.
Until immigration political rhetoric and policy change from its current punitive position, not only will be continue a racist immigration agenda, endure many humanitarian costs from leaving one’s children vulnerable to cutting ones fingers off to avoid detection, but we will continue on a path bad economic policy as well.
Most sadly, there are too many victims of punitive and misguided immigration policy. And this will not change until we all fight against the white racial frame for immigrants allowing them to express some dignity and humanity while they try to provide for their families in the face of our racialized society today.
A recent article published in the New York Times by Kirk Semple reports that federal officials have had to send a memo to various states and school districts informing them that asking for citizenship status before enrolling children is illegal. It seems not only are many school districts (139 in New York State alone) are asking for documentation of students, but certain states such as Oklahoma are considering state bills requiring it. This should not surprise us considering the fact that Congress could not pass the Dream Act, that we have witnessed record number of deportations in recent years which have separated families and placed children in the foster-care maze, and that states have passed discriminatory laws like Arizona’s SB1070. These examples all point to a dark shadow side of America, this land of immigrants.
Xenophobia is nothing new in America, especially during economic hard times. Politicians and other civic leaders historically have succeeded in redirecting the public’s attention to symbolic policy issues that target the most vulnerable, the voiceless, and those who are marginalized. To an American of Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Jewish, Irish, or Southern or Eastern European ancestry, this isn’t news. Immigrants from these groups know all too well what it is like to be needed for one’s labor, but despised for one’s presence. We’ve been down this road before. Recall the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, halting new Japanese immigration in exchange for non-discrimination against those of Japanese descent already in the U.S., as examples of racist immigration practices in America’s past. Arizona’s SB1070 is not unique in our history. What is different now is that this treatment is now being directed to children too.
The current immigration debate focusing on Latinos is no different from our past. Whether one is a proponent of earned citizenship through some time of amnesty, tougher border enforcement either by building fences or militarizing the border, a proponent of another guest worker program, or is engaged in the on-going debate about whether immigrants cost or benefit society, Latinos in America are experiencing prejudice, discrimination, cruelty and mistreatment from this latest round of scapegoating. The bottom line is that the 50 million Latinos in this country—16.3 percent of the population according to a new Pew Hispanic Report, are not accepted or seen as real Americans, regardless of our legal or professional status as discussed in a forthcoming book on Latino professionals. The current debate on immigration underscores this fact.
People need to remember some fundamental American values, such as the Golden Rule and what it means to walk in the footsteps of another. If we can honestly put ourselves in immigrants shoes, we may see that most of us would make the same decisions that undocumented workers have made. Regardless of the law, we would make the sacrifices necessary to do the best we can for our families. For example, try to sincerely imagine living in an agricultural community that, since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has suffered tremendous financial hardship. Local corn, grown there for generations, can no longer compete against the corn imports from the United States, which are heavily subsidized by the U.S. government. To clothe your children, your wife has taken to sewing their underwear out of old flour sacks. Your children lack shoes. Your family eats little protein, maybe once a week. Meals mostly consist of “chicken” soup, without the chicken — a watery broth of tortillas or rice and beans. The only hope seems to be to go work in the U.S. While it breaks your heart to leave your children behind, knowing your youngest may not even remember who you are upon your return and knowing your older ones need you to learn life’s lessons, you make the only rational decision a family-centered person can. You give up everything and join the countless numbers of people who have left their communities empty of working-aged men.
Not many of us could sit back and watch our children or elderly parents suffer hunger and destitution without doing something to ease their suffering and improve their lives. Missing from so much of the immigration debate is the humanity of the undocumented immigrants who are making sacrifices such as being separated from their children often for years, or being away and unable to return if a parent dies. These are sacrifices most of us cannot even imagine.
It is only through an understanding of the complex circumstances that lead people to migrate that we can create a much-needed constructive, humane, realistic, and just immigration policy. Blaming undocumented immigrants is not the answer. As Michele Wucker states in her book Lockout, “The population of immigrants who are in this country without legal papers did not grow to more than 10 million people without America’s full participation in the legal charade.”
Instead of focusing on the unjust immigration laws, politicians, political pundits, and anti-immigrant advocates have hypocritically taken the stance that undocumented workers are “lawbreakers” who need to learn to “follow the rules” and “do it the right way.”
They should take note that laws can be, and are often, wrong. When half the American population could not vote until 1920, were women wrong to demand the law changed?
Instead of hiding behind the façade of law, we should remember the humanity of undocumented immigrants. We all lose when we discriminate against one another. We are a better country than to require children to prove residency status in order for them to go to school. Targeting children is not the answer.
The Pew Hispanic Center has a new (pdf) report that makes use of US census sources to estimate the huge role that Latino population growth played in the overall US population growth over the last decade, growth that the final Census figures will show and that will be used for congressional seat reapportionment:
Using 2009 population estimates from the American Community Survey, Hispanics accounted for 51% of the nation’s population growth since the 2000 Census, which counted 281 million U.S. residents. From 2000 to 2010, the nation’s population grew 9.7%. From 2000 to 2009 (the last year available), the Hispanic population grew 37%.
Since southwestern states with fast growing and ever larger Latino populations will get numerous new congressional seats from this census, it is likely that some of them will be substantially composed of Latino voters. Given that Republicans have regularly alienated Latinos with their anti-immigrant and nativistic rhetoric, these will eventually be very blue political areas — even red areas like Texas right now.
The official US population count for 2010 is 308.7 million people.
The hosts (h/t Carson) on the very popular and often rowdy BBC show “The Gear” let loose with one of the more racist-stereotyped contemporary tirades against Mexicans that I have ever seen. See here from youtube.
(Source: Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VH5omPNwlc&feature=player_embedded)
Notice that these whites cover many of the standard racist images constructed in the old white racial frame over the long history of the oppression and domination of Mexicans by whites in North America. Mexicans are stereotyped and mocked as lazy, feckless, liking certain “odd” foods like refried stuff (and the British should talk about odd foods?), somehow favoring blankets and sleeping, being linked somehow to cactuses, being incompetent in regard to making good products. Somehow waking up Mexican is also thought to be bad, and funny. Presumably their defense, the standard one these days among whites, is that they were “just joking.” Joking or not, repeating these racist frames, with emotions and host and audience laughter (Loud laughter, notice), only reinforces it in the brains of all those in earshot.
Notice too here the other side of the white racist framing, the great virtue of whites and whiteness, and white made (German, Italian) stuff. Once again, whites are the norm, but remain unstated and the unreflective standard.
I guess they have not gotten the message that all people are due respect and that the old extremist racism is not only “bad form,” but bad for a little island of whites in economic trouble now set in a rising political-economic world that is overwhelmingly not white–and not fond of whites’ historical and contemporary racial oppression in any of its nefarious forms.
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