Nice photo set from Foreign Policy magazine that I ran across thanks to Cuéntame. It’s a little goofy and shmaltzy, but I like the message. The photographer started comparing immigrants to superheroes, in the way that they have “secret identities”, where they are invisible to the vast majority of Americans, but that the difficulties they face to earn a living for their family makes them heroic.
So, the photo set is of immigrant workers in New York, working at their job while dressed as superheroes*. Each photo includes the name, occupation, and amount of money that these people regularly send home to their families. Cuéntame’s comments on the photos are very positive and filled with the stories of thankful people who’s parents sacrificed and worked themselves to exhaustion for the sake of their children. This is the core of the “illegal immigrant” story that is neglected by all our politicians and media: “illegals” (I really dislike the term) are human beings who are trying to make money for their families. They’re not “aliens”, or invaders or demons or whatever. And hell, even though they’re “workers”, that’s not as important as the fact that they’re people.
But to the media and politicians, they will always be a “them”. Immigration, laws, borders, and economics create all sorts of problems and complications, and it’s certainly true that some aspects of illegal immigration hurt legal immigrants and citizens of the adopted country. But all we’re getting is ignorant scapegoating that doesn’t really look at these problems, what causes them, or how we could try to improve things for everyone, to turn a we vs. them into an us vs. the problems.
Most of the anti-immigrant folks I come across (and many of the commenters at Foreign Policy) jump quickly to the “law” part. But breaking the law isn’t inherently bad, and many of us do it daily: breaking the speed limit, jaywalking, taking drugs, pirating music, cheating on our taxes, etc. So the “but they’re breaking the law!” argument is weak. Many of the anti-immigrant folks are outraged, truly indignant that someone would break our laws and enter this country. But it does seem like most of this outrage is reserved for latino illegal immigrants, and not for people of other backgrounds. Frankly, underneath it all, I think the outrage is largely racism, an anger that a different racial group doesn’t “know their place”. The outraged anti-immigrant American is angry that a latino would think that they have the right to be here, in “my” country. That these latinos don’t acknowledge American rules and superiority.*
As always, I have to recommend Aviva Chomsky’s book “They Take Our Jobs!”: and 20 Other Myths about Immigration on this subject, because the entire US-Latin American legal, cultural and economic connection is very complex, deep, historical, and largely misreported in the United States.
* The nerd in me can’t help but point out that Catwoman is not exactly a “hero” in the comics. Well, depends on which comics you’re reading, I guess.
** I know, I know, it’s not all racism. Jobs, cultural change, and generalized fears about the future play a large role as well. Like I said, it’s complicated. Read that book I linked to.