Tuesday, June 8, 2010

AZ, or the historical waves of fascism in the South West

I've been meaning to comment on this for some time but I've been preoccupied with other things, neglecting the blog (some of this I've posted before). The Passage of Arizona's Anti-Immigration Bill SB 1070 seems to be some sort of regressive attack on Latinos that follows from the regressive and nationalist tendencies of the American populace. Here again we have an example where American politics are posited in moralistic terms rather than seeing them in the wider historical sphere: insofar as this turn toward this kind of policy originates in an aggregate of malignant racism at the core of each Arizonan's being and the bill is merely the result of the final mobilization of these abominable sentiments. Although persistent racism against Chicanos and Latinos in the region is definitely involved in the rise of such policy, but I the picture is much more complicated than the typical liberal line attempts to paint it.

There is an important correlation that many scholars have noted, Mario Barrerra among them, that US border enforcement policy has almost always mirrored the needs of US capital (particularly agricultural capital, that established its girth largely on Bracero and illegal labor). One example of this might be noted in the fact that the border and border migration enforcement did not really become a national political issue until the 1960s. Here is a newsreel where the Councile of California Growers justifies to the American population it's use of Braceros (workers with their arms, "brazos").

(notice the appeal to "quality" as a carrot held before newly aware middle-class consumers).

However, during similar periods of economic crisis such as the Great Depression similarly fascistic moves were pursued on a federal level, including the Repatriation Movement (1929-39) which demanded the repatriation of obviously mestizo and Chicano folk living in recognizable barrios throughout the Southwest and California (60% of those "repatriated" were actually US citizens). Similarly, Operation Wetback (1954) engaged in similar bullying and illegitimate repatriation of Mexicans living in the US and Chicanos.

The end effect of these policies historically not only assuages racist and nationalist sentiments at home, but more importantly produces a much more disciplined, precarious, and therefore grateful-to-work population of undocumented and documented Latino workers to be exploited by agricultural, and now border-industrial interests. And, moreover, it disperses communities and exports labor activists in a sense demobilizing any political or politico-economic will emerging in these communities. What you get from this is a population so battered from their dangerous journey to the US and so persecuted by the constant threat of deportation that they are too terrified to organize and seek political recognition and protection. Racialized subjects therefore become reserve armies of labor, permanently mobilized by globalization to endure hardship, obstacle, and loss of life for the pursuit of a rapidly receding American dream.

This is a pretty standard reading of the scenario, but I suppose the only thing I would add is the ways in which the mobile populations of Latinos (not just Chicanos anymore, but increasingly Central American) do bring with them new political forms and possibilities. The Immigrant Rights demonstrations of 2006 were some of the largest seen in LA, Chicago, etc. If they are to be considered labor demonstrations they would be the largest in US history (clearly they are not merely organized around labor but certainly to a great degree). Demonstrations of this size are generally not recognized or even read as significant in US politics but in Latin America these are vibrant and largely significant political manifestations. To me this presents us with some new possibilities for thinking about labor mobilization in this country increasingly dependent on "flexible" working populations and reminds us that No Borders movements do have some progressive trajectories despite their seeming to play into the hands of capitalism (families, peoples, cities, etc. are already divided by the border).

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