Apr 10, 2006

A10 Mobilization and Taking a Stand.

I've been reading some of the reactions and thoughts from desi and other Asian lists about the rallies and protests tomorrow. The papers are also covering this mobilization after the beautiful people came out in full force in L.A. I'm excited, but I'm also thinking that we have a lot of questions and uncertainty about where desis should or do stand on immigration. In the sea of brown faces, why, people wonder, are there so few desis? We all know that there are a lot of undocumented folks in our communities too.

First, remember that this legislation is about more than just undocumented immigrants and legalization. It's quite broad, and could have profound effects on more sectors of our community than even the horrible roll-backs that came under Clinton's watch in 1996.

Second, and I see this mistake made over and over by the mainstream press and the anti-free speech (unless it's pro-Administration) people: the vast, overwhelming majority of people who march and protest are not undocumented. It is not safe for someone who is undocumented to attend a rally or a protest, because if anything happens with the police because of some bonehead, disgruntled white dude who cares more about blowing up a Starbucks than marching peacefully, someone who is undocumented is at serious risk of deportation if they are caught in the aftermath.

So responsible organizers don't push undocumented members to go out to protests. That's what we, who have status privilege, should be doing. Many desis are lucky to have approved immigration status in this country, through the professional visas that were granted in the 60s and 70s, or derivatives for families thereafter. However, though some of us recognize that privilege, and don't take it as an entitlement (and remember that what the government giveth, the government surely can taketh back), there are many who actually believe that their status is through merit distinct from anything possessed by folks who aren't so lucky. Well, I'm not going to convince anyone otherwise, but we're just lucky. Nothing much more, especially if its our parents who actually did the migrating.

But when we finally realize that, and we remember that while growing up in suburban America, our faces represented perpetual foreignness to mainstream America, no matter where we were born or what papers we had stowed away in deposit boxes and safes. And so what do I think?

I think that now we have a chance to take that perceived foreignness that was stamped upon us just for looking different, for having different names, for not fitting into Smallsville and disappearing into the majority and do something with it. We can use that privilege and that perceived foreignness, gifted to us by the hard work of our parents and our forebears and we can stand in - not for their voices or their unique stories - not as saviors or martyrs or saints. But as brothers and sisters of those who are not as lucky as we.

We can take this to the streets and we can make a stand with all the other folks who understand, in one way or another, in our myriad paths and speaking in our many tongues. We can stand in to represent with our bodies and the chorus of our voices those who can't be in the streets and at the podium, speaking about their lives, and making the poignant case for recognizing human rights through a humane immigration policy in this country.

***

I'll be in the streets tomorrow. I hope many others will be too. Because this is our fight as much as it is anyone else's, and because though this country goes through waves of hateful xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, it rights itself when it wakes up. And I have faith that we can make it wake up before it makes that mistake again this time.

[previous post]

14 comments:

Kingsley said...

I think the the opposite (that granting amnesty to illegals is xenophobic) for these reasons.

someone else said...

regardless of whether it's responsible or not, there were a bunch of undocumented people I spoke to at the new york demo. I think at this point it's better to fully inform people of their risks and let them make their own choices. This is a historic moment.

Rage said...

s.e.: Okay - I overstated. I think you're right - there are folks out who aren't documented, but I don't believe that it's to the degree that the conservative talking heads keep making it out to be. But of course, it's a mixed crowd out there.

kingsley: I don't know your story, but I don't agree with your perspective. The restrictive immigration policies of the United States are inherently xenophobic, and have always been. But I would say that doctors and engineers from South Asia and China have gotten quite a few express visas to come here to work, and that doesn't seem particularly fair to other communities. The policies play one group off of another - but one of the problems is that it is incredibly complicated, and that some of the policies turn documented immigrants to undocumented, just because of the backlog in processing. That's a problem too. Not to mention that with the curtailing of basic services and options for undocumented residents, the options have become either some path towards legalization, or a much more dangerous situation with more people living in the shadows of the prosperity that lures people here to begin with.

someone else said...

In New York, I'd say that at least every other person I talked to was undocumented. At least. It was probably higher.

I don't care what conservative talking heads say. This is a movement, damnit! :)

Rage said...

In New York, I'd say that at least every other person I talked to was undocumented. At least. It was probably higher.

Not going to argue about numbers, and it's good that folks felt safe enough to come out in that way. But my point is still important.

Also - I agree, this is a movement. Especially when mainstream media doesn't anything negative to spin about the events because they were peaceful mass actions without much incident. All I could see on CNN that was negative were a number of people burning a Mexican flag and singing God Bless America. Go figure.

someone else said...

Not going to argue about numbers, and it's good that folks felt safe enough to come out in that way. But my point is still important

Agreed that people should be informed of the risks. And also know that if you're say, a Mexican immigrant, you may be able to rely on a broader base of support than a Bangladeshi immigrant if you are fired from your job.

My point is mainly that we shouldn't discredit the power of undocumented people to stand up for themselves at a moment like this, that their safety comes in numbers, and that it's not necessary or helpful for us to claim to be proxies for them when they clearly don't need more proxies right now. They need people to listen to them and talk to them. So I think what I was trying to do, fairly ineffectively, is bring up that I have a difference of opinion with the tone of your post about how some of this stuff might move forward--and whether or not it's helfpul or not to perpetuate an atomsphere of fear.

Rage said...

Actually - I don't disagree with you that folks should be out there to represent themselves and their own stories. I don't think it's fair to say that I want to be a proxy, or that I'm saying that's the best way to go. I mean - it's not very different from having white folks speak on behalf of communities of color, or middle-class folks speaking for the poor. Immigration status is more hidden than race or gender (generally)... so of course it's different.

However, that doesn't mean that there's no place for allies - or that we have to always play this same, tired inside/outside dynamic. I am saying that it's not reasonable to push people, just as it's not reasonable to push them outof the way. And I think it's important for people with the particular privileges of status, class, or education to do something more than just worry about themselves. Everyone should do that - regardless of status.

But I still think that there is a complete wash of these complexities in mainstream America - and it's an interesting contrast with the conversations happening within some of these/other circles.

someone else said...

However, that doesn't mean that there's no place for allies - or that we have to always play this same, tired inside/outside dynamic. I am saying that it's not reasonable to push people, just as it's not reasonable to push them outof the way.

I completely agree with you. Especially the part about "tired inside/outside dynamic"--which,as you probably know, I'm frequently guilty of :)

I'm trying not to do that here. What struck me about your post and caused me to object a few times was this part:

"It is not safe for someone who is undocumented to attend a rally or a protest, because if anything happens with the police because of some bonehead, disgruntled white dude who cares more about blowing up a Starbucks than marching peacefully, someone who is undocumented is at serious risk of deportation if they are caught in the aftermath.

So responsible organizers don't push undocumented members to go out to protests. That's what we, who have status privilege, should be doing."

It's not that I literally disagree with this under different circumstances--I think it's more that as a matter of interpretation of facts based on what I've seen and my own preconceptions people are standing up on their own and we shouldn't take that away from them. I think a more appropriate step right now would be to help people learn how to deal with the media (lots of people gave me their full names as i was reporting), help people understand what to do in case of police repression, garner back-up legal support--which I'm not sure people are doing. These, I think are probably some of the roles that allies should be playing, rather than denying the fact that people are standing up and are going to continue to as long as they are asked to (or given the opportunity to) and they are not repressed or discouraged somehow through public relations or legislation.

But, again, I completely agree with you in some sense in that I don't feel at all comfortable pushing people to demonstrate, skip work, etc., which some groups are doing (and I don't criticize them for that either--because I think they're in some sense responding to what the social reality is--people are ready to rebel, even if tentatively). I read about one man who had been fired for missing work to attend a demo, was reinstated with the help of allies, and then pledged to go back out on May 1st nonetheless. That, to me, is amazing.

And yeah, most spaces don't talk about this. But then, there isn't an assumption of sympathy with undocumented people in most spaces because,well, (some/many) people are politically moronic :)

Rage said...

Actually - the language I used was not perfect, and I'm glad you brought this up. You were kind - but it can be construed as a good example of the very thing that I was hoping to write against: status privilege.

I do think that folks in the know about ramifications should be straight with people who are upset and want to act and stand up for themselves... and then be supportive when folks make the decision - either to get involved, or not.

It's very exciting to hear about folks standing up for themselves, and when it's a job on the line, it's one thing... but I don't need to tell you that in this environment, it is easy to live in fear of worse things happening.

But your earlier point about not living/acting in fear is spot on. And this:

I read about one man who had been fired for missing work to attend a demo, was reinstated with the help of allies, and then pledged to go back out on May 1st nonetheless. That, to me, is amazing.

Is awesome.

someone else said...

Cool. I hear your point too. If you hadn't brought this stuff up, I wouldn't have given as much thought to all the subsidiary activities that people need to be engaging in to make sure that when people do go out there, they're protected. I mean, I was shocked at how much info undocumented people were willing to give me about themselves, and i had no press credentials, generally didn't speak their language, etc. And I'm still not clear on exactly what angle to take on it--i have to talk to my editor i think, and probably consult with an outside source too.

Rage said...

Yeah - it's amazing that folks are coming out of the shadows, but I'm wary of the requisite backlash (I made the mistake of listening to conservative radio [when did they move to FM anyway?!] and getting scaring myself).

Still - it's only through personal stories and human faces that we can change the tone of this debate overrun with statistics and a deep-set American fear of a violent unknown in the wake of Sept. 11 (which I think may be a stronger factor than it has been in most other times when immigration policy has been strongly contested).

What I mean, and this is more for myself than adding anything for you (^_^), is that in a casual reading of American history, it seems like protectionists over the decades have been worried about the "ideal" and "culture" of America being dilluted (or polluted, depending on who you read/talk to). The "yellow hordes," the threat of the Vatican's influence over the government, and even the influx of Eastern Europeans at the turn of the last century seemed to be more about safeguarding the "character" of America.

But while that strand of reaction, the misbegotten progeny of xenophobia, is still very much alive, it seems like there's another strand that focuses (or plays upon) the threat of physical destruction and "our way of life" in a much more literal way.

While the expected parallels to anti-immigrant laws and movements in American history have been made in the past 4 years, I wonder if we should look at a different thread of American history to try to figure out how to address this particular development. For example - perhaps the 50s, when Sputnik and the arms race changed the American psyche and precipitated the red scare, the air raid drills in schools, and eventually, McCarthyism.

I think that the talking points may have to change - to better address the undercurrent of fear from the opponents of positive immigration reform with a focus of immigrants' rights. Maybe getting the stories of individuals and families just trying to make it will address at least this fear that every person who comes into the country without documentation may be trying to destroy something. But who knows. I definitely can't vow for the openmindedness of the Lou Dobb/O'Reilly crowd.

someone else said...

Wow...you're not scared of complication apparently :)

Anyway, I would say this--the way that the issue has been framed thus far is the result of the alliances built business/pro-immigrant against racists with the citizen working class the x factor whose allegiance everyone is vying for. This is a fundamentally counterproductive arrangement for immigrants and their advocates who care about more than securing cheap immigrant labor and/or the appearance of a short-term policy victory. What you would want to do is detach the non-racist nativists, the working class citizens, and the immigrants from the preexisting coalitions and have them form a working class coalition. In other words--you split Lou Dobbs from O'Reilly and make it a choice between racism/pro-business/conservative demagogic assholes on the one hand and citizen workers, the undocumented, and other dispossessed people (and even the center) on the other. At least, more than is hapepning now. THEN you can have a real debate about "immigration" and what it means :)

You're right that this isn't unique to this historical period (though maybe I'm being overly abstract about this), though the configurations at a particular historical moment are always different, right? If political circumstances were different and different forces had more power, i could see going along with a halfass compromise bill in the 1980s or in the 1970s because things were much more favorable in terms of which social forces had more power. but right now, what you're going to get and what we've already seen is a compromise between peopel who want immigrants solely for their cheap labor and people who dont' want them at all with every one else left out in the street (or "in the shadows", if you want to use the cant of the immigrant rights movement :).

make sense?

Rage said...

Thanks for the edimification. :)

someone else said...

sorry..i just had to drop some theory on your ass. i'm a bong--i can't help it :) and i'm reading the introduction right now to a copy of gramsci's prison notebooks :)