Just like beauty, progress for immigrants is in the eye of the beholder. America must come to terms with its history of oppression of individual groups, or it will only know marginal progress, which is reversible, depending on which direction the wind blows.
Yet again, Mayday is upon us, but let’s quickly examine the pertinent facts of how far we have not come in this nation of immigrants.
There are 11 million new Americans within our national borders who are massively disenfranchised, abused and singled out for unrestricted exploitation by the business, employer, and civil classes, despite coming into this nation in much the same manner as the earliest European settlers-–hunted and exiled for their religion and political beliefs.
And in today’s America, we are now collectively responsible for electing an openly xenophobic and racist man into the highest office, a man who campaigned on a platform to build physical and symbolic walls with the objective of separating families, not decent peoples from terrorists.
But as we will see today, on Mayday, America will be overtaken with color, joy and loud fanfare in celebrating our nation’s unmistakable heritage of diversity. We will dance to exotic tunes, sing in exotic languages and reminisce on the notions of inclusion we had hoped would be the reality in America today. We will do all of this because, while we aspire to be a nation of inclusion, we have seldom been consistent doers of the deed in ensuring all immigrants are welcomed and positioned to succeed on their own merits.
Progress for immigrants cannot be a situation, where Black ancestors were systematically disenfranchised, nor can it be a situation where more recent arrivals of their kin face the same, evolved systemic biases that restrict integration and opportunity.
No, we have not come to terms with the experience of the Black man, woman, and child, who were forcibly uprooted from their homes in Africa hundreds of years ago, brutalized and commoditized into goods and services for the average White settler’s household. But words are cheap, so we tell the descendants of slaves to aim high in this racist society, which fetishizes Black skin, hungers for Black labor in the working fields of mass incarceration and forgets that the most legitimate owners of American progress lie in the waste bins of the American economic ladders.
How on earth can we truly hold up new immigrants when we have a permanent underclass of Black peoples, whose experience will forever prevent them the warmth of being welcomed by truly illegitimate hosts? Or do we forget that the truest Americans lie decimated, long ago, in arranged waste fields called reservations, which can be reserved away from them anytime industrial progress requires a pipeline to run through sacred burial grounds?
But what about today’s notion of immigrants, who tend to have brown skin? How dare we call Mexicans immigrants, when it is they who once called large swathes of America their home? Who are we to be in the position to welcome anybody, when the very lands we stand upon were stolen and re-branded as the “land of the free”?
Still, millions of our brown-skinned immigrants have arrived to work the fields, build the homes you and I can afford, and lift the nation’s economies, only to be told they must return or stay in detention centers-–centers of unimaginable cruelty, where even mothers and children are separated. Yet, sing we will, because today is Mayday, and budgets have already been drawn to pacify largely White masses, who wish to celebrate our nation of immigrants.
The seeds of deceit-laden incremental progress, spectacularly, lie bare for all who want to see in Immigrant Central New York, where close to 1 million new immigrants live in the shadows. In this city I call home, the once “illegal” immigrants are now fondly referred to as “undocumented.” But, they can still be picked up and separated from their loved ones anytime they fall into traps set by local governments, who decry historic levels of crime and progress at the same time.
Never mind, “because we are still making progress,” is what a council member is apt to tell you when you ask why certain things are the way they are in Sanctuary New York. How come we cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in at least 170 different kinds of crimes? You will be forgiven to think we passed sanctuary resolutions because that’s all they were–words of cheap speech.
Or, why is it that legislation affording undocumented immigrants basic notions of enfranchisement, like the ability to vote in local elections, do not pass? They will gesture with seeming understanding, but then balk and tell you that many in this immigrant city would not like to see the undocumenteds vote like they can. Either way, I promise the response will be shallow and reek of old, but updated methods of, “now is not the time,” at best.
So, on this blessed Mayday, we will pray and chant our throats sore, trying to forget that hypocrisy and old racist habits will not die on their own in America.