Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Immigration, A Humanistic Perspective

I remember crossing the border at the age of 13. Despite having my passport and Visa, I prayed in fear as we passed the border patrol check point in San Clemente. Some years later, I crossed the border again, but this time without my family. I stayed here after my VISA expired and became “illegal” or undocumented. I remember living in fear of deportation all the time, being afraid of going to public places, every time a saw a police officer I would run away. I hated my life so much and at the age of 16 I dropped out of school and left to Mexico. Unable to go to college and work for a living, I had to come back to the U.S. This second border crossing experience was terrifying. I was about 18 years old and I was detained and taken into a room by three border patrol agents. I had lied about my citizenship and they threatened to “do anything they wanted to with me” luckily they let me go, unharmed but this experience scarred me forever. Every time I cross the U.S. border I experience fear and panic.
I got married and had two children and then decided to go back to school. Unable to qualify for scholarships and resident fees, I had to pay extra to attend college. Today I have earned a Master’s degree and will soon be completing my doctorate. I have come a long way from those days and I believe that my story represent what has made this country what it is today.  Immigrants like me have come to work hard and earn an education and be productive assets to this society.
One of the most controversial topics of today is immigration reform. It seems to be a very emotionally charged topic which emerges from the political propaganda of discrimination. Just the mere word immigration brings images of illegal aliens crossing the border in Mexico. Many ignore the deaths that have occurred through this journey, and many forget the way our U.S. society has been one of immigrants. It seems as though if the U.S. population has suddenly forgotten the history of this country, or perhaps it is precisely this history that is being played out once again
The xenophobia and exploitation of the new comer, every so often a new immigrant group came and found itself being the new exploitable minority. The same rhetoric of discrimination and fear has been used over the years, the same propaganda, manipulated to benefit those in power.
It is convenient to ignore the way that immigrants of color have helped build this country, from hard work of African slaves who were objectified by those in power, to the Chinese who built the railroad and then were forbidden from staying here. Many people ignore that from 1791 to 1952 U.S. Constitution dictated that to be a citizen of the U.S. a person had to be white. This kept people of color from becoming part of this society and reaping the benefits awarded to whites. Blacks were already excluded through Jim Crow segregation. Over many centuries, the contributions immigrants have made in the United States resulted in making this the number one economy for many years. Yet, how much longer can this country claim this title?
It has also seemed easy to discard the importance of Latinos historically in the U.S. and to portray them as “alien” invaders, criminals stealing jobs. Think of the irony of this! Who can be more alien to these lands? Those with indigenous blood or whites who’s history of colonialism has been one of exploitation and murder? Who can claim the title of criminals when looking at ancestors?
They say history is written by the winners; perhaps this is why we still have such hateful views on other minorities.  Today many economists and experts advocate for an immigration reform as a way to strengthen our economy. Alan Greenspan believes that if we close our borders and deport the estimated 12 million immigrants our economy would collapse. Today we must outsource many professional jobs, such as accountants, doctors, engineers, etc. By educating people who have grown up in this country we can strengthen the economy by keeping jobs at home.
Many times, the realities of others are invisible to the rest. The images we get about immigration are skewed and framed by those in power. It is time we look at immigration from the eyes of those most affected. From the eyes of the child whose parents are deported and is left abandoned in this her/his country. According to Nicholas Mirzoeff “Visual culture is a tactic for those who do not control such dominant means of visual production to negotiate the hypervisuality of everyday life in a digitized global culture.” Through this video essay I hope to open a window into various other images of immigration, to give a voice to those who in this country do not exist.
I wrote this video essay in a way to give a voice to those immigrants in this country who lack the ability to be heard, and also in a semi-ethnocentric manner. I have always tried to hide my shameful history of being "illegal" attempting to hide this part of my past. By doing this project, I forced myself not only to come to terms to a major part of who I am, but to also advocate for people I feel identified with . I feel that it is my responsibility now to highlight this group of "ghost citizens." 

Works Cited
Greenspan Says Illegal Immigration Aids U.S. Economy
Koppleman & Goodhart, Understanding Human Difference
Leo Chavez, The Latino Threat
Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Visual Culture Reader
Race, The Power of an Illusion. Episode 3- The Houses We Live In


  1. Tips:
    Insert more pictures of you. Maybe go back to the personal narrative. Great use of music and narrative. Nice to have the personal story.

  2. Leonor, thank you so much for your video. It address really valuable and pertinent issues. After watching the visual essay again, I wanted to comment on your discussion of borders. You show us several images of borders, something that I think extends as an effective visual metaphor throughout your piece. The border permits access and rejects access. The border divides based on race and based on class. These serve as strong, thematic elements as they all exists the discussion of immigration.

  3. Leonor: The timbre of your voice and gentleness of presentation, even as you make a strong intellectual and political argument, are a great power of this video: a technological manifestation of the power of your voice, and a state's inability to silence, even when wielding fearful, violent suppression. Seeing you would add more of the personal, while taking from the every-woman sort of feeling of the piece: you speak for everyone who does not have the access you have carefully acquired. I like how you weave the personal and the academic, but am certain even more stories would only build the compelling power of the one who would not be silenced.

  4. Coming from a family that immigrated from Mexico that refuses to discuss it, I found your story the topic quite compelling. However one does not need to have a history of immigration to find your film both moving and informative to the emotional issues of immigration.

  5. The bravery present in your story truly touched me. I want to thank you for sharing this story because I think what makes it so powerful is it is not just "another news story" telling us issues but it is a the "story" about the issues.

    By coming from the personal aspect, you made me truly think about the problem occurring in our country and more importantly how it affects ALL of us and not just one specific group!

  6. Sorry for the late comment, but as I said in class, I really loved the film and as Claudia said, though the history of immigration was not unimportant, I think that your strongest tool was emotive. Regardless of the history, telling your story made me as a viewer care about you as a person which translates to seeing undocumented people as humans with feelings and deserving of respect and human rights. Great job.

  7. First and foremost, I would like to thank you for your courage to speak the unspeakable and show the invisible. I was humbled and simultaneously reminded of my roots as a descendent of the Mexican diaspora in the U.S. Secondly, the mainstream debate on immigration has been very single sided and your video offers up the flip side of the coin; the human face of the Latin American immigrant has been absent from the discourse of 'securing our borders.' The potential for your video to be widespread is great and I will show it to many others for educational purposes. Third, I offer up a critique of what was missing. How did you get from being considered an illegal criminal to a successful anthropologist? Can you elaborate more on what path you took to be as brilliant as you are having encountered such institutional roadblocks ?