Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reconquista reconsidered

[The nativist nightmare: "Borders? We don't need no steenking borders!"]

-- by Dave

We've had a little fun here in the past making fun of the wingnuts (like Michelle Malkin) who have ardently adopted the "Reconquista!" conspiracy theory.

But Alisa Valdez-Rodriguez has a thought-provoking post up about the continuing currency of the theory, and makes an important point:
45 million Mexicans live in extreme poverty in Mexico. According to Duke University professor David Brady, at least 46 million Americans now live in extreme poverty. We are technically the richest country in the world, yet we have the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation, and by far the most poor people. Our poverty rate is double that of Canada and the UK and triple that of the rest of Europe. It's like the caller on the Randi Rhodes show said, "You have seven unemployed guys in a bar, Bill Gates walks in, and on average, everyone's a billionaire."

Yep. It’s a fact. When it comes to income distribution and poverty, we’re being Mexicanized. But it’s not because of the Mexicans. It’s because of the neocons, their disgusting monopolies, corporate greed and political corruption.

I wouldn't characterize this as a product of the "neocons" per se, except to the extent that they are part of the larger conservative movement, which encompasses the nativists who are the chief progenitors of the wedge politics that enable this paradigm.

Nonetheless, her larger point is an important one -- namely, that Republican and generally pro-corporatist policies throughout government have had the long-term effect of creating what my late mentor, Sen. Frank Church, used to call the "Latin Americanization of America":
One comment in particular, however, stands out in my mind these days. We were talking about America's future, and where the conservative cadre that was then taking over the Republican Party intended to take us. His expression darkened, and it was clear that he had a good deal of foreboding in this regard. "What I fear most," he said, "is the Latin Americanization of America."

He wasn't concerned, of course, with the arrival of Latinos on American soil (or what Pat Buchanan calls "Meximerica") except insofar as that could be manipulated to achieve this end. What he feared was that corporatist conservatives, if given free rein, would turn our standard of living into what you find in Latin America. That working Americans would one day be reduced to the level of near-serfdom that is the common way of life for millions of Latinos.

Indeed, this is the underlying dynamic driving much of the current immigration debate. Nativists so far have had a field day whipping up hysteria about invading Latinos, which lets conservatives evade the hard issues about the role of immigration in a growing economy.

By making Latinos into scapegoats, the American right has managed to obscure the culpability of the "magic of the marketplace" in creating the demand for illegal labor -- and obscures the reality that keeping them illegal ensures the corporations who benefit a captive labor force. Of course, creating a path to citizenship for these immigrants would immediately undercut, if not demolish, this dynamic -- so it's important to keep whipping up fears about white privilege as a way of preventing from even considering such a route.

In the process, of course, the all-important discussion we need to be having -- one in which we start emphasizing American values and what it means to be American, which really is the essence of our nation's great immigration tradition -- is lost altogether.

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