Monday, March 26, 2007

U.S.' love-hate relationship with immigrants

Seeing what I saw at the rally today reminded me of something I've been saying for 12-15 years- the U.S. only has a relationship of convenience when it comes to its immigrants. The bottom line is that U.S. will always have a love-hate relationship with its immigrants- love 'em when you need 'em, hate 'em after you've used 'em.

History tells us as much going back to the 1800's when U.S. government officials went to Asia to recruit workers for the transcontinental railroad, making promises of land ownership & such only to turn their backs on them & pass the Gentleman's Agreement in 1908 denying land ownership to Asian Americans. In 1924, Congress passed the Literacy Act which stated that all new immigrants had to pass an English-proficiency test (which obviously favored western europeans who already knew the language) but there was 1 exception, Mexicans. You see, the Southwestern Growers Association had successfully lobbied for this exception as they needed laborers for their budding enterprise (which was also conveniently tied to the end of the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920, so they had lots of people ready to come work). Then, of course, we had Black Monday & the stock market crash of 1929 which sent the U.S. spiraling into the Great Depression which saw many Mexican-Americans- many of whom were U.S. Citizens, landowners & businessmen- rounded up like dogs & wrongfully deported just for being the wrong color. After the Depression was over, the U.S. needed more farmworkers so the Bracero Program began in 1942 (also due to WWII & having noone to tend to feeding this vast country). Again, U.S. government officials went abroad for labor (Mexico this time), handing out permits to come to the U.S. to work on farms but there was one caveat, they only wanted men (they didn't want women so that Mexicans couldn't make families & settle here). The Bracero Program ran until 1964 & it was ended, ironically, by the Civil Rights Movement as they thought that these were jobs that the U.S. should be giving to Americans (though, no "American" wanted to work hunched over for 12 hours a day, in the scorching heat while being exposed to chemicals & getting paid a pittance to boot).

Yea, Americans will always have a love-hate relationship with its immigrants. In the mid-1800's it was the Chinese, then the Irish after the Potato Famine struck Ireland, then the Italians & Jews. The Japanese were put in internment camps during WWII (but hey, at least they received reparations which we all know was a political ploy to "make nice" with modern-day, technology-rich Japan, but at least they got it). For a long time before that, it was African-Americans (though, originally, they were forced to come here & were enslaved) & they were promised reparations which they've still never received ("40 acres & a mule"). Heck, even NATIVE Americans weren't immune to this discrimination & they were here before anyone else even arrived on boats from across the Atlantic. I guess it's just been Latinos' turn for quite a while now & the foreseeable future.

ps. And let's not forget that a section of Latinos, Central Americans, started emigrating to the U.S. en masse during the 1980's, in large part, due to U.S. government-funded Contras (there were more, but this was the highest profile group) which were reigning death by the thousands through terrorist acts. So in no small part was the Reagan administration directly responsible for their emigration as they sought political asylum. Or have we conveniently forgotten about that too?

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