Workers Vanguard No. 871
26 May 2006
From Death Row, This Is Mumia Abu-Jamal
Now, as polls show growing disenchantment with both political parties, the issue of immigration is raised once again, as politicians seek to stir the pot of social resentment.
Voices are raised, tempers are frayed, proposals are launched, and the destinies of millions are apparently held in limbo.
But, in numbers not seen for generations, mostly Mexican-born (or related) families pound the pavements in protest, demanding amnesty for the millions who live and work, in the most thankless jobs, here in the U.S.
The immigration discussion masks deeper currents in American life, of those who dread the approaching dawn when those who number the nations majority are brown, instead of white.
As the government and the servile corporate media hawked fear to trap the nation into the Iraq War, so now fear is once again merchandised for political gain. The perpetual fear of the foreign Other, the fear of Spanish-speaking people, who are called criminal for daring to cross the Rio Grande, to inhabit the lands stolen from their ancestors!
The truth of the matter is that it is highly unlikely that over 11 million men, women and children will be returned to Mexican territory. Thats because businesses, especially those engaged in agriculture, would virtually go out of business if their immigrant-based workforce up and disappeared.
But, like most people, many Latino immigrants are involved in other businesses and industries in U.S. life. Guess whos doing the lions share of the work to actually rebuild New Orleans? (In case youve not guessed, let me just say—It aint FEMA!)
With the exception of Native Americans (as in so-called Indians), and African Americans, every person in the U.S. today is a descendant of a willing immigrant. (OK, strict historians will object that many poor whites, especially in the Southern states, were sent to Georgia and Maryland as indentured servants, as part of a penal sentence.)
But the point is clear. Immigration was consciously used to craft the U.S. as a white nation. For centuries, certain racial groups, like Chinese, for example, were specifically excluded by law from citizenship. (Like their Mexican counterparts, many Asians were needed in the building of this country as cheap labor.)
As law professor Ian F. Haney Lopez has shown in his book, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: NYU Press, 1996), American courts and legislatures have consistently defined citizens as whites, and over the course of centuries, millions of people were denied entry to the U.S., or even if allowed in, denied citizenship, because they were not white. In 1882, Haney Lopez explains, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese workers for a decade. In 1884, the Act was expanded to bar all Chinese people, and shortly thereafter an indefinite ban was implemented. State and federal court decisions banned Syrians, Asian Indians, Palestinians, mixed-race people and multitudes of others on the basis of insufficient whiteness!
That ugly history may be reborn in this latest battle over Mexican immigration. Political storms have a way of giving way to political hurricanes that even those who planned them cannot control.
Several years ago, a right-wing politician in California tried to ride the anti-immigrant train to the White House. His name is Pete Wilson, and his playing with fire left him politically burnt. Angry Hispanics in Cali sent him, and some of his colleagues in the Republican Party, into retirement.
But this era of politicians, trying to create an issue that protects them from the falling numbers of the incumbent Bush Administration, look at Wilsons fate as ancient history.
Perhaps the recent demonstrations, massive in their size, vociferous in their spirit, have given them pause.
Time will tell.
The political entity that truly befriends this growing segment of the U.S. population will have tapped into a powerful social force.
Dont expect it to be either the Republicans or the Democrats.
From Death Row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
©2006 Mumia Abu-Jamal
If you wish to correspond with Jamal, you can write to: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM8335, SCI Greene, 175 Progress Drive, Waynesburg, PA 15370.