On Wednesday 2/23 we had a multidisciplinary panel on immigration at Fullerton College. The event was inspired by the book Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario. The panelists were Josh Ashenmiller from the history department, Jodi Balma from Political Science, Flor Huerta from Counseling, me from Anthropology and our moderator was Adela Lopez from Ethnic Studies. Each panelist provided an overview of their perspective on immigration, yet being such a broad topic and having time limitations of 10 minutes, it was difficult to provide a holistic perspective on the topic.
Flor was the first one, she reminded us of the importance of getting to know the students at FC and getting past the stereotypes we have about undocumented students being ignorant and poor. She explained that many immigrants face additional challenges, but they are dedicated, hard-working, and many have very high academic training from their home countries. Overall, all students are working hard to pursue the American Dream of a better life. We should look at our similarities more than our differences.
Josh provided a very interesting overview of the historical attitudes and ideas about immigration. Many people claim that immigrants today are not like immigrants in the past, yet historically we can see that negative feelings and xenophobic attitudes have been the norm for all waves of immigration. He explained how difficult it is to discern the reasons for migration. Policies favor immigrants who are escaping political repression but not economic hardship. However, most immigrants are migrating due to economic hardship resulting from political repression.
Jodi explain the political climate now with the division of our governmental institutions. She expressed that it is highly unlikely that we will have an immigration reform within the next two years. Though an immigration reform is really what we need, we have a very uncertain (and possibly unsafe) immigration practice. Many immigrants are coming from various countries as visitors and yet decide to stay. These immigrants however, are not tracked by the government and some (like Canadians and Irish) just pass as documented due to their physical characteristics.
I discussed the wave of indigenous immigrants to the U.S. A major challenge for me was to provide conceptualize the framework which has led to the large wave of immigrants from Latin America to the U.S. Many U.S. citizens ignore the post-colonialism that has taken place in Latin America. The impact the U.S. presence has had in countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico (to name a few). Additionally, globalization and neoliberalism has made it extremely difficult to make a living in these countries. I conducted an ethnography of Oaxaquenos in Orange County in 2009, and then I visited Oaxaca and researched the effects this migration has had in the indigenous communities in Oaxaca. A vast majority of the agricultural labor in California is made up of immigrants, many of whom are indigenous. This has had a very negative effect in the indigenous communities in Oaxaca, domestic violence is one of the highest in Oaxaca. Additionally, there has been an increase in crime and gang membership there. California has one of the largest diaspora of Oaxaquenos with approximately 400,000 living in the U.S., about 100,000 migrate during the agricultural season. This has resulted in an interesting mixing of cultures. We are fortunate to enjoy the rich culture of Oaxaca in food, festivals, and more, and Oaxaca has been able to receive about large remittances (in 2007 there were 25 billion dollars in remittances). Yet, the money sent to Oaxaca does not stay there. During my visit I was surprised with the number of corporations which have opened business there (like Dominos Pizza, Burger King, Chase bank, McDonald's, etc.). These remittances are being moved back and forward with out borders (globalization).
So the main points to conclude the event were:
-Immigration is a necessity to keep the U.S. economy going.
-We must recognize that not all undocumented immigrants are Latinos (despite Arizona's policies and attacks).
-We need to have a comprehensive immigration reform, yet it is very difficult due to the political and economic situation. WHen the economy is bad people tend to find scape goats to blame for the situation.
My conclusion was that it is critical that we continue to have a discussion and explore the various facts that surrond this issue. We need to reflect on the moral issues we face as humans on the rights of the individual. Taking a multidisciplinary look, enables us to get closer to a holistic analysis of the issue, which is the aim of any anthropological perspective.