I learned about how this country never stopped being a place where the very people responsible for America’s economic prosperity are called unwanted and blamed for its woes. I learned that here, inclusion means being incorporated into a racial hierarchy of otherness that maintains white supremacy above all else. However, I also learned that when “citizenship” is not enough, not a category of identity that means full inclusion and equal rights/protection, people create new forms of belonging in creative and powerful ways. For example: Black and Chicano youth in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the present formed networks of solidarity even when their neighborhoods were being destroyed and policed, even with journalists claiming that they were only ever competitive and violent toward each other. In their case, music became a site of resistance and solidarity, where policing and border drawing were not as effective as the mainstream historical record reads. And American Indians were able to control to some extent their image in Hollywood and form strong communities in cities where performing Americanness (a kind of assimilation) and celebrating Indianness weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
It was helpful for me to see that the immigration narrative in the U.S. is created within a globally implicated system in which countries like the U.S. profit off of the exploitation of less wealthy countries, making it impossible for people in these less wealthy countries to make a living where they are, giving them no choice but to come to the U.S., where they are simultaneously heavily exploited and depended upon for this country’s continued prosperity and power. Immigration I realized was an axis where everything I am studying about the United States of America comes most clearly together: race, class, gender, (dis)ability, sexuality; all are implicated when it comes to belonging, identity and citizenship in a nation state.
I think it is best to know this. To see that the only reason the violence and unjustness of border enforcement isn’t obvious is that the state tries to turn immigrants into criminals, less-than-humans, and that there is a historical precedent for this kind of exclusionary inclusion of certain people defined as lesser citizens, inferior humans to be exploited and blamed. America is used to this. When Fox news plays its reels of people jumping a border again and again, humans are made to seem dangerous and against the state, and white masculinity (Americanness) is made to seem threatened, and so then class and race are in conflict: people who should be on the same side aren’t. But it’s important too to see that there is hope, ways of subverting and resisting state power and the constant message that America is made for people who don’t look like you, that you don’t deserve respect and dignity and inclusion and your basic needs met because you are a criminal, a deviant, a non-citizen, illegal.
Seeing this whole network of power and oppression and subversion has helped me understand how deeply flawed and violent our immigration policy and laws are, why they are that way, and how urgent it is to fight for changes in immigration policy and to start seeing immigrants as exploited and oppressed causalities of a global economy that the U.S. is negatively implicated in. I don’t think immigration rights is something that will fade away now that I know: knowledge so poignantly is power.