Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What is this "The dark skinned Communist Mob?"

About a month ago, I was reading a post on Sepia Mutiny about the May Day protests. Although initially it irritated me, (actually it was a slightly stronger reaction than that, I had to close the window and come back to it later) it did give me some food for thought.
Those rallies were also in response to particularly harsh anti-immigration positions by some members of Congress (positions far less likely to pass with Democrats in charge). However, these demonstrations increasingly pose a problem for me. They are no longer just about immigration (to be fair I wonder if they ever were). They are rallies by the working class against the elite. I worry that conflating these two separate battles will lead to a maelstrom. I worry more that these battles will increasingly become inseparable and that we will start to move toward a culture as in Europe where class and race seem to be inextricably tied and often lead to violence. Our strongest defense against self-immolation as a nation is to fight to de-couple race and class.

The first question that comes to my mind is What, is this going to be race war then or class war? And if so, who is on whose side? And how are the conflation of race and class causing America to destroy itself?

Anyway, I think we've discussed race and class around here before. Abhi makes the point that because these rallies occurred on May Day (International Workers Day) this gave the rallies themselves Communist connotations. As well as, seeming to promote Latin American Nationalism.

Is waving the flag of Mexico and other Central and South American countries on a day traditionally associated with Communism the best way to secure rights for immigrants in this country? Doesn’t it do the cause more harm than good?
I have a couple thoughts on these things. Since, according to my understanding, these were protests having to do with demanding rights and recognition for undocumented immigrants, so there is necessarily a class element to the protest. Undocumented immigrants are employed largely by people who can afford to pay people to do things for them.

The race element is equally unavoidable, since the majority of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico or other parts of Central and South America, or Asia. Racism groups all people of a certain ethnic group together, characterizing them as the same stereotype regardless of class. Furthermore, since most undocumented immigrants come from the same places, there's obviously going to be a measure of solidarity, and perhaps resulting from that, nationalism or national pride.

As for the flag waving, well, what about the Irish flags waved at St. Patrick's Day parades? Those aren't perceived as threatening or communist, or nationalistic. Perhaps this is due to the day, but something tells me, from reading some of the 142 comments over at Sepia Mutiny, that part of the objection is, if you want Americans to accept you, quit flaunting your foreignness. Maybe they'll accept you then. (I have my own cynical doubts about this. Assimilation seems to have done most Asians no good, but I digress.)

What I found especially interesting about the comments was the difference in opinion there seemed to be about illegal immigration. And a rift which does seem to be to some extent class-based. I think that the commenter makes a pretty good point, do doctors from Delhi and migrant workers from Mexico have that much in common besides that they came to America from other places?

And the argument, is made, in the thread that in fact they do, both are subject to exploitation due to racism and/or their tenuous status as immigrants, documented or not.

However, clearly some of the commenters feel that there is a distinct difference between those immigrants who "have a right" to be here, and those who are undocumented. And the ones "who have a right to be here" have the right of it, keep your head down and assimilate, if you don't not only are you stupid, but you're also making other immigrants look bad.

I also found Abhi's comments about the use of socialism, or the trappings of socialism for immigrants' rights to be rather interesting. At least among white activists, there does seem to be a desire to support the underrepresented, as well as a communist-socialist agenda. I'm not a big fan of capitalism myself, I don't know if I'm entirely sold on communism either. (Not for the ideals so much as communism's track record when put into practice.) Is communism the best way to go? Would that really help people of color and the working class of America? And if it doesn't then why does it attract so many ethnic organizers and such to its banner? But at the same time, I don't really believe that capitalism and democracy are really doing that great either.

In any case, immigrants are by no means a united, or uniform group of people. And class does divide them, and their perceptions of America and themselves. I have a friend whose coworker is an Eastern European woman who will rant endlessly about the "Gypsies and how they are ruining Europe because they have too many babies." And according to my friend she has intuited that in America the equivalent to Gypsies are Mexicans, and so she will also rant about what is wrong with America is the Mexicans and how they have too many babies. I asked my friend if her coworker realizes the irony of what she is saying, since she is also an immigrant. And my friend said "No, I think she thinks she's different because she's white, educated, and has only one baby."

No comments: