Race, Ethnicity and Immigration | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Race, Ethnicity and Immigration

In one of my favorite quotes from "Mal Tiempo, Buenas Caras," my piece on Latino immigrants and Hurricane Katrina, Guadalupe Silva, an undocumented laborer from Peru, said, "I know that they are not all so, but I know there are racists—'rednecks,' as they say in Mississippi. They are very racist, and don't want us. But there is no such thing as pure blood. Everything is mixed. More than anything, we came to support the country with our shoulders and work."

Racism emerged as a common theme in my immigration coverage for the Jackson Free Press. My first real article on immigration, in fact, focused on the anti-immigration movement's association with racist organizations such as NumbersUSA. (See "Dealing Racism in the Immigration Game," July 3, 2007.)

Silva makes a brilliant, and often misunderstood point, though: If race is ambiguous, how can racial hatred logically exist? Shouldn't race not even enter the discussion? Of course, the logic of racism -- that one race is superior to another -- is inherently flawed, despite attempts to legitimize it by organizations like NumbersUSA and their predecessors (namely, the Pioneer Fund, which funds pseudo-scientific studies into the genetic superiority of whites, in addition to funding anti-immigration groups such as the Federation of American Immigration Reform, a partner of NumbersUSA).

As anti-Latino sentiment (often confused as an "anti-illegal immigrant" position) grows, fueled by race-baiting pundits like Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly, it is worth noting that Latinos (categorized as "Hispanics" by the U.S. Census Bureau) present a conundrum for simple-minded bigots: they do not fit under any one racial category. In fact, the terms "Latino" and "Hispanic" (despite the racial connotation of European-descended "Hispanics" or "Spaniards") are ethnic, not racial terms. And necessarily so: Latin America has embraced a long tradition of "racial mixing," unlike the U.S., where in some states the practice was illegal for many years, and only recently society has accepted it -- and only arguably so. There are many reasons for this (the nature of slavery in the U.S. vs. the rest of the Americas, immigration patterns, and acceptable sexual mores), but one of the most interesting outcomes is the difference in racial perception. Here, in the U.S., we largely abide by the "one-drop" rule (in which, if a person has at least "one drop" of black blood, then he is black), while in countries like Cuba and Brazil, virtually everyone has both European and African (in addition to Asian and indigenous) ancestry, so race is defined in shades -- not by the absence or presence of color. (In fact, there are hundreds of "races" on the Brazilian Census, describing different shades of brown.)

Sadly, even in Brazil's "racial democracy," it stands that the darker one's skin, the poorer his lot in life. This reflects society's refusal to look beyond phenotype, or the outwards appearances of race, and historical attempts to shun people of a certain type of appearance.

By categorizing Latinos as a single race (or, more commonly, as having a single country of origin -- e.g. Mexico), we are again genetically categorizing that which we do not understand. In this same manner, all sub-Saharan African-descended slaves in the U.S. became a uniform "Negro" race.

Now, as Latinos have become the largest minority in the U.S., a new, unique form of ethnic bigotry serves to stir up fear and hatred -- a hallmark of a racism we thought we left behind. "Why don't they learn English?" is a common refrain, one that reflects cultural insensitivity and xenophobia. It also reflects historical short-sightedness: all major groups of American immigrants struggled to learn English through one generation, then made sure that their children could succeed (and, indeed, survive) by learning the King's English.

"Why don't we send them all home?" is a complaint, though often couched in legal terms, that reflects broad strokes of racism. Sure, it is one thing to be "anti-illegal immigrant" and another to be anti-Latino. But often the two get confused, especially when we abide by the "one-drop" way of thinking. It is no surprise, then, that organizations like FAIR and NumbersUSA helped orchestrate a resounding rejection of "amnesty" for immigrants, when these same groups have historically supported research into eugenics. Quite simply, they focus on race to divide people.

It's easy to say "send them home" when we can see, in racial terms, who "they" are. I doubt many readers have the social security numbers to prove otherwise that the "illegal aliens" they see are, in fact, illegal. Take, for example, Jo-D's comment on the thread for "Amnesty for Gangbangers?," the sidebar to "Mal Tiempo:"

"I look forward to your next story with real, illegal aliens - the 15 working at any local Mexican restaurant who will be gone and replaced with new faces in 6 months - to compliment this love story you wrote on behalf of poor Ms. Silva."

It's comments like these that frighten me—not because some (or all) of those workers may actually be undocumented, but because, to some observers, they are anyways.

Previous Comments

ID
114262
Comment

Amazing post.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-08-28T11:33:13-06:00
ID
114263
Comment

Racism and white supremacy are sick and ugly diseases or pathologies that when taken to their logical extremes include hating everything unlike the holder, which includes the opposite sex, other races and those in his or her race who don't look, act, believe and function as he or she does. The holder will pervert, de-ethicalize and de-abnormalize Christianity or any other religion, institution or system that preceded or followed him or her. The holder will make himself god-like or his own god or ultimate authority, and convince anyone who will listen that God put him in this position rather than his corruption, theft, murdering, oppressing, repressing, abusing and taking. The holder won't ever honestly admit to any wrongdoing of any nature because to do so would require introspection, and possibly a come to Jesus, and changes which the holder never wants to see or make. Changes would prove he or she was in error or wrong, a no no in his world. The holder is right because he or she believes she is, no matter the data to the contrary. They are delusional, irrational and crazy as hell. Everyone on earth were placed here for the racist's and white supremacist's use and pleasure, and those others couldn't possibly know what to do with themselves without the racist or white supremacist instructing or leading them. It would be un-godly for the racist and white supremacist to let those others roam the world happy, fullfilled and free of his or her control. The world wouldn't be as the racist and white supremacist knows it should be without his or her unique input and lead, and that would be un-godly, uncomfortable and displeasurable for the racist and white supremacist.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-08-28T12:39:07-06:00
ID
114264
Comment

In fact, the terms "Latino" and "Hispanic" (despite the racial connotation of European-descended "Hispanics" or "Spaniards") are ethnic, not racial terms. Thanks for bringing this up. There are whites and blacks alike who classify themselves as Hispanic/Latino.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-08-28T12:47:33-06:00
ID
114265
Comment

Let me get this straight: People from Mexico and the rest of the Americas are Latinos and those from Europe are Hispanics?

Author
golden eagle
Date
2007-08-28T13:22:00-06:00
ID
114266
Comment

Myself included, L.W.! And, Golden Eagle, "Hispanic" and "Latino" are functionally equivalent terms in the U.S., though several etymological problems arise with "Hispanic"-- the term decided upon to describe descendants from Latin America on the U.S. census. For one, the term excludes Brazil and other countries in South America and the Caribbean that did not emerge from the Spanish Empire (e.g. Haiti, Guayana, Jamaica, and Suriname). And, yes, the term emerges from Christian Spain, not the Americas (which, prior to colonization were considered pre-Hispanic). Since, as I pointed out, Latin America has as much African and indigenous ancestry as European, the term can be problematic. When you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, though, the term "Latino" is also Euro-centric, but only linguistically so-- the term arose because the vast majority of the non-indigenous population of Latin America speaks Romance (or Latin-descended) languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French, etc. Since significant portions of the Caribbean are English-speaking, it is disputed whether to describe these countries as Latin American. But, if you're ever in a bind-- go with "Latino!"

Author
msaldana
Date
2007-08-28T14:45:43-06:00
ID
114267
Comment

Where are all those people who participated on the last thread involving this or similar issues? I hope I didn't say anything to dissaude any of them from participating. I've never known clearly when to say Hispanic or Latino. I'm learning better now.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-08-28T14:54:18-06:00
ID
114268
Comment

Matt, what do you think of the term Chicano?

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-08-28T15:18:57-06:00
ID
114269
Comment

I think it's fine, L.W., though I don't typically use it myself. 'Chicano' refers specifically to Mexican-Americans. I think the term is slightly dated since it came to light during the 1960s and 70s Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Because of this association, it also has strong political overtones--not that there's anything wrong with that!

Author
msaldana
Date
2007-08-29T08:56:35-06:00
ID
114270
Comment

I knew it was a political term, but I wasn't sure how. Thanks for the info.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-08-29T09:33:10-06:00
ID
114271
Comment

I have been doing a little research and it seems that Americans have typically always been resistant to immigrants. Look up some of the stories about Chinese immigrants, the 5 Points area in N.Y., etc. I think the current reaction to immigrants, illegal or otherwise is pretty consistent with history.

Author
Goldenae
Date
2007-08-31T11:13:54-06:00

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