Over at CNN, Ruben Navarette, Jr. published a commentary, Fear of losing culture fuels immigration debate. I read it because my anthro undergrad thesis (1994, never published) was entitled The English Only Movement: A Cultural Self-Defense Mechanism. Navarette does a better job of summing it all up and putting it in plain language.
I’m with Navarette on this matter. Anyone who’s looked at the history of immigration and immigration-restricting or -reactive movements in US politics can trace a cyclical pattern which targets all sorts of different groups at different points of history. These groups, incidentally, all assimilated US culture just fine and fed into the melting pot with their own unique additions to America that have since become regarded as America’s own culture. (Pizza, Tex Mex, and Chop Suey all come to mind just within the cuisine realms alone.)
There was one quote which elicited the response in the title of this post. Oh, puh-leeze. Not aimed at Navarette… he’s just quoting the rhetoric of the anti-immigrant fearmongers. Emphasis mine.
This sort of rhetoric is all about fear — that those who thrive in the dominant culture are losing their primacy, that the mainstream is being polluted by foreigners, and that our children are going to live in a world where they’re going to have to work a lot harder to keep up.
You say that like it’s news. Or hasn’t already happened.
I’m struggling like hell just to get to a point where someday, somewhen, somehow, I’ll be able to afford a house and property. I’m hocking my soul to higher education in order to earn a grad degree on the off chance it translates, finally, into the ability to earn a living wage. True, I’m living in one of the most expensive areas of the country. Connecticut is home to America’s rich, and I have to say I’m really not impressed. Being rich in Greenwich, CT seems to look a hell of a lot like what being middle classed looked like to my family back in the Hudson Valley in the 80’s, but the folks in Greenwich don’t seem to have nearly as much property.
We’re all fighting just to break even, it seems. No one really wants to talk about the fact that we’re bailing out the wrong housing crisis. The real housing crisis is that many of the blue collar or working poor families from the 80’s have been forced out of their homes by rising prices. The rich indeed are getting richer, and the poor are indeed getting poorer. And the middle class is vanishing, right before our eyes.
This isn’t the work of immigrants. This is the work of our own elected policymakers. Our nation is being bled dry on a pointless military excursion of questionable legality, pushed through by an administration who gained power by being appointed to the position of President. How many trillions of dollars have we spent? How many thousands of human lives have we wasted? How large will the followup bills be to take care of the veterans who stepped up to answer our country’s call, right or not?
And it’s all going to hit at a time when the Baby Boomers are all retiring and stressing our Social Security system to its maximum. The greatest economic threat to this country has NOTHING to do with the workers coming in across the border to fill up the gaps in the bottom. Our children already cannot afford to dream as large as achieving any level of disposable income, security, or stability as their parents.
The Death of the Middle Class Dreams
It used to be that I dreamed of achieving a better economic situation than my father, who was healthily middle-class, but had to work exceedingly hard as a small business owner to do so. Now I dream of someday being able to afford to pay back my loans and break even. I’m beginning to think that a landlord will always be in my future, and that property is a pipe dream made impossible by the fact that my job skills are not in demand where it’s cost effective to live. Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford to start a savings account. Seems like every attempt now gets drained by repairs or maintenance or emergency dental work or other incidental costs that just -know- when to hit.
It’s getting bad, which means that for others not born to the middle class like I was and not prepared by college and adaptive skills for this economy must have been drowning them all for a while now. I know more people who have been unemployed for so long they can no longer collect unemployment (and no longer count toward the unemployment rate either) than ever before. The fact that they exist in multiples in my small group of friends is telling, because the majority of my friends are college educated, several with advanced degrees. They’re all hard working, and they’re mostly white. They are, frankly, formerly from the now-gone middle class.
Don’t Blame Jesús
No, this wasn’t done by the immigrants. This was in progress long ago. The fact that the privileged classes are also feeling the crunch is where the current shift in focus to villifying immigrants comes from. If times are tough and resources limited, the last thing you want is new neighbors who look different, talk different, and act differently than your family did. ‘Otherness’ becomes evilness to the small minded, and that magnifies wherever times are tough and the two groups mingle.
As bad as it seems, immigrants are a fact of American existence. We’ve never successfully gotten rid of any group of immigrants, although we came close with the WWII Japanese American Internment Camps, and we’ve never really come up with a policy that worked to deter new groups of immigrants from coming here. We talk of being the melting pot, but often forget that the spice being absorbed into the stew also flavors it.
What will impress me is if the immigration debate continues -after- life gets better again in the economy of the US for all. Show me an anti-immigration popular movement that happens in times of economic prosperity, and then I’ll take them seriously on their issues. In the meanwhile, the anti-immigration folks out there better look at the cause and not just the symptoms. If economic reforms don’t happen soon to alleviate the decline of the middle class, then it’s not your neighborhood Mexicans you’ll need to watch out for… it’s your elected officials.