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Do recent immigrants from Latin America diminish the economic advancement of other Americans, in particular black Americans?
“The reaction to foreign immigrants, as also to internal migration, comes partly from the belief or, in any case, the assertion that the newcomers are taking jobs that properly belong to established workers already in residence. That many of the immigrants, if not most, take employment for which the resident workers are not available or that they no longer seek goes unmentioned. A further, much cultivated negative reaction is ethnic and social — the newly arrived are thought to bring a different and presumptively defective racial, religious, familial, hygienic or civic culture to the established community.” –John Kenneth Galbraith [The Good Society, 1996]
A very clear statement of this argument is given by Brother Pruitt, Chairman of the Committee for African-American Reparations, in Los Angeles, California, reproduced here in full.
On Wednesday, May 31, 2006, “Bro. Pruitt” AfrikaSpirit@aol.com wrote:
African-Americans have been injured, excluded and held back since coming to America, so now they have greater expectations and desires to achieve equality than ever before. Groups who have not been in this country as long as blacks or have not contributed to the growth of this nation as blacks have are given access to certain rights and privileges that guarantee them entry into institutions and services that enable persons and groups to progress and become equal. It is a crying shame to see the descendants of slaves denied entry and find themselves left out of sharing in this vast structure and fortune that came about from profits of slavery, which materialized in the foundation and infrastructure of this nation. The Civil Rights Movement was based on a struggle for blacks to overcome constraints and obstacles in society that prevented them from reaching equality.
Though blacks have made marginal progress since that era, they are now losing ground they gained. African-American workers, educators and students should not feel uncomfortable when their peers speak Spanish. If Spanish speaking people want to come to America they should speak English, just as other minority groups do. African-Americans should not sit by and watch their brethren in certain fields be forced to learn Spanish because Spanish speaking people are not forced to learn Swahili. That is a true encroachment on the rights of black people, and as a proud black man it pisses me off to know this is exactly what is happening. Those in politics have got to stop this madness and make those Spanish-speaking people know that it is their responsibility to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and learn to speak English if they want to stay in America, and learn to respect what blacks, whites and others have come to accept as a melting pot. This means that there is nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage, but you must learn the ways that people of this country have become accustomed to, to keep the social fabric of this nation intact.
When Spanish-speaking people began this mass migration into Los Angeles thirty years ago, they were just as nice and cooperative as they could be. They went out of their way to learn how blacks made it in a society where they are the underclassmen and underachievers … they learned the skills and trades of blacks, and they copied them in social activities. Now that Spanish-speaking people have numbers, they are using race-based tactics to give those who speak Spanish advantages over others, and they are applying these unfair means to overload the system in competition for programs and services. They have become very disrespectful in the communities, schools, and prisons, and they are a threat to blacks in terms of employment, housing, health care, safety, business and education because they are trying to get citizenship for 12 million illegal aliens.
It does not matter what anyone says … the statistics are there. Spanish-speaking people are receiving free health care that has been denied to blacks for generations, and they have invaded communities, jobs, schools and public programs that have historical significance in housing and helping blacks. If the government does not want to provide enough resources to meet the needs of both groups, blacks had better come together and demand Reparations to ensure their piece of the pie, because the climate in America is leaning towards the ‘new Negroes’.
African-Americans should look at this immigration issue in terms of others getting resources and concessions that they should have received long ago. Blacks have never been compensated for unpaid slave labor, psychological abuse caused by suffering from displacement, lynchings and segregation, and the powers that be broke promises that were given to them in social, political and legal actions to assist them in life after slavery. Blacks should demand the immediate production of an African-American Reparations Package that will guarantee them land, resources and technology to meet the needs of their people to improve Integration, establish Repatriation and secure Separation. If we blacks do not stand up to fight for what is rightfully ours, we will recede to a lower status in image and standing in this nation, and around the world.
I know this is heavy information, but if you read my home page thoroughly, you will understand this position for African-Americans: http://hometown.aol.com/blk2day/myhomepage/index.html.
In loving memory of our ancestors,
Bro. Pruitt, Chairman, Committee for African-American Reparations (CAAR)
6614 South Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90047
[letter of 31 May 2006, distributed by John Wilmerding, CERJ@igc.org]
I do not think it is possible to change the type of thinking expressed by Brother Pruitt; it represents a justifiable frustration within a limited conceptual framework.
In framing a response I will use the word “native.” If this makes you cringe, good, I want you to think about why this is so.
Colonial administration always relies on creating dissension between subjugated “native” tribes and populations. The fundamental white-power core of the American ruling class manages the nation in the colonial style. It sees itself as a small elite of elevated race (with a sprinkling of approved and tested tokens) that must control a vast, lower-class population. Setting the natives against each other in petty jealousies helps to fragment any opposition to their true masters.
The “carrot” always offered to subjugated natives is the chance to “sit at the right hand of the master, at his table.” This is an avenue of advancement for a select few — the Clarance Thomases, the Alberto Gonzalezes — to implement the rule of the elite to the detriment of their own tribes, but for personal gain. Such people have been termed the “comprador” class in the literature of colonial administration. These are the “native bosses” who buy the labor needed for elite projects (e.g., native troops and native police), and keep current on doings in the tribes, to ensure the elite can quell independent thinking should it threaten to arise (e.g., weed out opposition leaders). They also man the facade of “diversity” and “equal opportunity” which all colonial administrations find useful for public relations. See the movie “Burn” by Pontecorvo (1970, starring Marlon Brando).
What can frustrate many natives is that the comprador option is just a cynical ploy, not an indication of real avenues of opportunity. So it is only open to a few, and these must be both highly capable and thoroughly compromised. Thus there can be much frustration among natives who are taken in by the ploy yet unable to actualize the false promises. Many want to “sit at the table” and believe themselves worthy, either on the basis of their own talents and achievements or by association with a reliably exploitable tribe (“we deserve it”).
Some, like Malcolm X, come to realize that there will NEVER be a time when their kind will be welcomed “at the table.” I could say “at the table of the (Great White) Father” to add the religious connection generally implied by the hierarchical concept enshrined in Judeo-Christian religions; this concept is melded to a racial hierarchical concept. Mark Twain was one clear voice about this racist reality of American religious conceptions. But, I digress.
When you argue with others about whose suffering under oppression is worse, then you play the oppressor’s game. When you make common cause with others who are oppressed, then you build power against oppression. Let me give some examples.
Between the War of 1812 and the presidency of Andrew Jackson, ethnic cleansing of the American Indian tribes was prosecuted in the American South east of the Mississippi River. Survivors and escapees from this, for example the Cherokee Trail of Tears to Oklahoma, hid out in Florida, still officially Spanish territory, and an undeveloped wilderness of swamps and wetlands. This became a destination for runaway slaves, whom the Indians took in. From the relations of these diverse oppressed populations arose the Seminole Indian tribe, and they fought a pair of wars with the United States, defeating armies headed by Andrew Jackson, among others, who were involved in purely genocidal “search and destroy” missions, eerily analogous to the Vietnam War a century and a quarter later.
The Seminoles were eventually abandoned to their Everglades hideouts, as the US gained possession of Florida, and concentrated its development on the high ground further north, and the coast. This development was plantation agriculture with black slave labor. An expanding economy based on slave labor spread west and penetrated Texas. There were very prosperous American slave-owners in Texas, having settled on large spreads of land. However, there was a slight problem with these American Texans, they were in Mexico, not the United States, and there had been an official banning of slavery in all of the Spanish territory liberated by the Bolivarian revolutions of the 1820s and 1830s. Mexico was a republic with slavery outlawed. Well, we know the story, Jim Bowie and Davey Crockett and Sam Houston made a gallant effort to defend their freedom to enslave others, by precipitating a war between the United States and Mexico (1846 for the Alamo, where the slave-owners died in a battle immortalized by a John Wayne movie; 1848 for the US-Mexico War).
So all those Mexicans killed in the years of war with the “Colossus of the North” over the situation in Texas were fighting not just for the territorial integrity of Mexico against a US land-grab, but also for an anti-slavery way of life. Mexico lost dearly. One imagines it could have sold out Texas and keep other lands, or simply carved out a slavery exception in its legal structure to satisfy the American settlers — really illegal immigrants seeking special rights (to echo the complaints of today). But they didn’t; perhaps a little respect is deserved them for nobility so ill repaid.
As has been noted, because of this unjust war (Lincoln, Grant, Thoreau, and others were aghast at its illegality and immorality), that part of Mexico from the Gulf of Mexico near San Antonio, up to the Pacific Ocean near southern Oregon was taken over by the US. “We didn’t move, the border did.” Mexico lost much (1/3?) of its arable land (i.e., California Central Valley). How stomachs work and where crops can grow does not change with the change in political fortunes and political borders, so it hardly seems strange to see many Mexican workers following the plantings and harvests along the North American south-west.
One can continue with modern day (20th century and today) examples of appreciation and respect shown African-American ballplayers and musicians who traveled to Latin America: no segregated travel, no segregated hotels, no segregated pay, adoring women fans. This despite the fact Latins are aware of the role of black troops being part of the many and bloody invasions, interventions and occupations by the US in Latin America. Being aware of their history and of how colonialism and slavery are implemented, they knew such blacks to be “native troops,” an inevitable feature in the coercive force of any imperial & racist power (I think it impossible for imperialism to be non-racist).
Latin America is the land of coffee and chocolate, they are accustomed to it from coconut white to velvety black. Latin America is a land of Mestizo people, a blending of American Indian, black and Spanish (see the movie “The Motorcycle Diaries,” 2004). There simply isn’t that same hyper-racism that is endemic in the US, and most explicitly expressed in the North American South up through the 1960s. North American blacks unused to Latin Americans may over-react to them because they have been over-sensitized by the sheer brutality and rabid virulence of North American white-power Christian racism.
I have read that, proportionately, black Americans feed more tips turning in illegal aliens than any other officially tracked US ethnic category. I don’t know if this is a bit of disinformation disseminated in the service of colonial control (to stir up native inter-tribal friction), or if it is an actual fact. If so, I pity the deluded, but I understand the delusion as being a product of colonial control.
Now, about “English only.” First, you must understand that it is impossible to be completely uncomprehending of English and make a living in the US. EVERY Latin American knows enough English to minimally get work as a day laborer. Many Latin Americans are bilingual and trilingual, simply because language instruction is broader even in very poor communities as compared with the US, where it is abysmal. Second, quite a number of Latin Americans are also “Indians” — real natives — or members of communities that were themselves immigrant to Latin America. Also, there is a large exchange of travelers between Latin America and the rest of the world, often tourism and business from North Americans and Europeans (and Japanese and Chinese); and there is quite a bit of participation by Latin Americans as “foreign workers” whether at holiday and resort industries, cruise ships, at overseas locations, as foreign factory workers, and of course US agricultural workers (95% of kitchen help in US eateries is Latin American, I know a Mexican sushi chef). So Latin Americans will at least speak Spanish and a local language, or Spanish and pidgin English plus any local language, and possibly Spanish and/or Portuguese and/or a local language and some English. This minimal English of most Latin Americans is insufficient to pass timed tests, especially with questions requiring particularly North American white concepts and idioms. However, this minimal English is always beyond the zero Spanish of the typical “English-only” ‘Murcan.
The complaint about “English only” can have several components:
1, I object to people who can learn a second language having an advantage over those who can’t (won’t?);
2, I object to the expansion of the field of candidates I must compete with, if you allow others to take examinations and/or fill out official forms and legal requirements in a language other than the one I use;
3, English is already a second language for me, because among my own people I speak in a way that the ruling class in the US cannot understand, so if I have to speak in this official way to carry on my life in this country then I demand that any immigrant also be forced to verbalize in this official manner (US English) in any activity in which I also have to use English (e.g., school, legal documents, public appearances, on the job).
Behind such complaints is the frustration of the marginalized “native,” the “I resent newcomers getting ahead of me on line to sit at master’s right hand at the table.” This is all to the good of colonial control: “better the natives, both new and old, are at each other’s throats than united in opposition to our command.” Divide and conquer.
As I have already said, I think none of this can penetrate a mind confined by limited conceptions to bitter resentment over the undeniable crime of colonial (racist imperialist) oppression. Unite, that justice may prevail.
“The tendency to see the poorer immigrant as an intruder and in some measure as a burden is something the good society rejects. It sees the immigrant worker in the full light of the service he or she performs. It is understood and accepted that life in the advanced countries would be difficult without a steady foreign contribution to what, admittedly, are the lower, more arduous levels of the labor force. Accordingly, those coming and so serving should be both welcomed and encouraged and, needless to say, should encounter no discrimination or hostility based on race, color, language or cultural difference.” –John Kenneth Galbraith [The Good Society, 1996]
MANUEL GARCIA, Jr. is a physicist who studies fluid flow, electricity and energy. He can be reached at: email@example.com