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The Confederacy and Communism

[ 19 ] August 25, 2015 |

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Good article by Andre Fleche on the connection between the Confederacy and an early version of anti-communism, which in the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions in Europe was very much on the minds of the southern planter elite, particularly since a lot of refugees from those wars came to the U.S. and supported the Union during the war.

Immigration Reform for the 1 Percent

[ 10 ] August 25, 2015 |

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I don’t have any particular problem with increased immigration for wealthy people necessarily, just like I support immigration generally. But reforming the EB-5 Visa alone so that wealthy investors can move here without doing anything for the vast majority of potential immigrants in other categories is a bad policy move and is in fact immigration reform for the 1%, as unions claim.

Keeping Rana Plaza Out of Sight

[ 17 ] August 25, 2015 |

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A Bangladeshi court banned the making of a film about one of the survivors of Rana Plaza for fear that the international attention might cause Bangladesh to lose its apparel industry.

I’m skeptical that a film would garner more attention than the actual death of over 1100 people, but I think more importantly is that the sweatshop owners in Bangladesh are also the governing class. I don’t know about the individual judges in this case of course, but many apparel contractors are in the Bangladeshi Parliament. They are protecting their own economic investments here, just like they do so by forcing workers to labor in unsafe factories, killing union organizers, keeping wages as low as possible.

This just reinforces why we need global labor standards that hold the western companies accountable. If Walmart didn’t pull out of Bangladesh because workers died making their clothes, they aren’t going to over a film, unless it led to a real international movement against the company. Or they will pull out because Bangladeshi workers make too much money for the billionaire owners of the company. But if we hold the apparel companies legally accountable for the conditions of production, then there is no incentive to pull out at all. The incentive is to improve the factories so that workers aren’t dying. Otherwise, workers will just die in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, or wherever else. That needs to be the focus here. That’s how you build solidarity with the Bangladeshi workers while actually doing something to ensure that Rana Plaza doesn’t happen again.

Book Review: Neil Foley, Mexicans in the Making of America

[ 6 ] August 24, 2015 |

Border Showdown

U.S. border agents stop Mexican immigrants crossing into United States, 1948

Neil Foley has written what I believe to be the first comprehensive history of Mexicans in U.S. history. It seems ridiculous that no one has written something like this before but I’m pretty sure it is true. Mexicans have played a very important role in much of American history but in a nation where race in the public mind means black and white (Black Lives Matter interrupting an event at Netroots Nation primarily about Mexican immigration and the oppression of those migrants seemingly without blinking an eye to the irony of it was a classic example of this; that so few people talking about it even mentioned this point even more classic) and in a nation where until the last few decades they have primarily lived in states faraway from eastern centers of power means that for the most part we don’t think of Mexicans playing a big role in American history generally. That’s a mistake.

Some of this history are stories you know. The Bracero Program. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the theft of land and power from Mexican communities when they were unwillingly citizens of a new nation. The United Farm Workers and the rise of the Chicano movement with leaders as diverse as Reíes Lopez Tijerina, Corky Gonzales, and Cesar Chavez. These are the stories you expect to hear and any good overview will cover them.

But much of the book you will not know. I thought the best chapter was on World War II. Foley discusses the braceros in some detail, calling the program Mexico’s biggest contribution to defeating the Axis in World War II while detailing the enormous exploitation these workers faced. But there was a lot more going on in the Mexican-American community. A lot of Mexican-Americans were caught between two nations when it came to the war. Some wanted to fight, others didn’t. Some Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. with the express intent of joining the Army. Some tried to go back to Mexico and join the Mexican military so they wouldn’t die. Mexicans in the U.S. were subject to the draft whether or not they were American citizens and many of those drafted could not speak English and were sent to units without any other Spanish speakers, where they faced discrimination and punishment for not following orders they couldn’t understand. This all led to a pretty sticky diplomatic situation between the U.S. and Mexico, with the question of whether Mexicans should be classified as white or Indian central to it.

This question of how to classify Mexicans in a nation that saw race as black and white (with indigenous people a minor third category) also became important in issues around the segregation of Mexicans in schools, which contributed to the larger post-war move against school segregation. Desegregation cases against Mexican discrimination went back to the 1930s and a lower court decision in the 1946 Mendez v. Winchester case paved the way for the Brown decision in 1954, with a district court ruling school segregation unconstitutional and the Ninth Circuit backing it up, but only on the grounds that California didn’t actually have a law allowing for the segregation of Mexicans. But the language used by Earl Warren in Brown was quite similar to that original district court decision.

I also loved how Foley discussed the fantasy Spanish heritage in New Mexico. I witnessed this first hand during my time in the state. Essentially, after the Mexican War, with the arrival of white elites to New Mexico, racial hierarchies changed and the old Spanish-Mexican elite found their racial status severely threatened. Part of the response was to claim that in fact they were not Mexican or mestizo at all but rather pure-blooded Spanish, which in almost every case was (and is) certainly not true. This attempt to claim whiteness was only partially successful at the time and the Anglo elite certainly wasn’t going to give up their newfound power. But this fantasy Spanish heritage has incredible legs, with families still insisting upon it today, partially to delineate them from both recent Mexican migrants and the many poor Latinos in the state, as well as from the state’s sizable Native American population. I didn’t have any tolerance for this at all and would openly state it was a myth when I taught History of New Mexico in graduate school. I had students drop my class for this. It’s understandable, the need to claim whiteness in a new nation where that matters so much. But it’s also pretty racist and classist, especially given how it is deployed today.

Naturally, since the Mexican-American population has risen so quickly in recent decades, much of the book focuses on the last fifty years. Foley frames this as the “Decade of the Hispanic” in the 1980s giving away to what he calls “Fortress America” of the 1990s and into the 21st century. He comes across as a bit more pessimistic about the present than I am, but then again he makes a pretty good case. He follows the political arguments around immigration in the 1980s and how that shifted toward the more partisan politics of the present, including the labor movement turning from its traditional anti-immigration stance to a strongly pro-immigrant movement. But the 1986 amnesty and rapid growth of Mexican migration led to the 1990s backlash personified by Proposition 187 in California, which placed the issue front and center in the national debate and destroyed the Republican Party in California, as well as the militarization of the border, construction of the border wall, and all the other attempts to keep Mexicans out, which ended up just driving many of them to their deaths crossing the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Not knowing too much about the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to those in the country undocumented, I was interested to understand why Reagan bucked his conservative allies to push this, which was about his close ties to the California agricultural interests who had always demanded cheap and disposable labor of color, as well as his desire to build a free trade zone that eventually became NAFTA.

Certainly in the present, with Donald Trump leading a national freakout about “anchor babies” and the future of the white race “the nation,” it’s hard to feel confident. Most of my confidence comes from demographic changes and the age of the xenophobes, along with what happened in California when a growing Mexican-American reacted to racist white politics by making the Republican Party toxic and moving the state significantly to the left. But demographics are no guarantee of the future and with a potential rise in violence against Mexican-Americans in the short-term, along with no solution in sight to our broken immigration system that deports good hard-working people who want to be Americans, it’s a bit hard to retain much optimism. Either way, Mexicans aren’t going anywhere. They are now a permanent part of the American landscape and centering their experiences in American history is going to become more central in understanding this nation, as well as Mexico.

This is a good book that you should read if you are at all interested in integrating the history of Mexicans into the broader national debate. Readable and recommended.

New Orleans: What Climate Change Adaptation Looks Like

[ 82 ] August 24, 2015 |

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One point that many on the social justice side of the climate change issue repeat over and over is that the impacts of climate change are going to be felt primarily by the world’s poor. The wealthy will be able to move to the last livable areas if need be while the poor will be stuck in poverty, driven off, forced to deal with the desertification, rising sea levels, flooding, etc. In other words, it will look like New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. David Roberts:

Which brings us back to Katrina.

The debate over whether the hurricane was strengthened by climate change — which tends to be the focus of any attempt to link the two — is utterly beside the point. We know events like Katrina are going to become more common in coming decades. And what Katrina reveals is that adaptation, in this world at least, is a cruel joke.

The failure of New Orleans to properly prepare for a foreseeable hurricane has been written about a great deal and there’s no need to rehash it. One key factor in that tale is the role played by the extraordinary inequality and segregation within the city, which made lawmakers and taxpayers loath to spend money on shared resources.

So when disaster struck, all of New Orleans’s submerged dysfunctions rose to the surface. There was shockingly little solidarity. Wealthier white people fled; poorer black people were trapped. The authorities were grotesquely racist in every stage of their response, nowhere more unforgivably than in the way police treated dislocated black residents. It was a nightmare in slow motion and an uncomfortable experience for everyone who watched it unfold on television. This was a wealthy city in the wealthiest country in the world. And this is what happens?

What’s it going to look like when climate change brings storms, droughts, and floods to more and more places, more and more often?

Perhaps New Orleans isn’t a fair example. It’s unique in many ways, not all of them good. New York seemed to handle Hurricane Sandy at least somewhat better. But even there, residents in lower Manhattan made out a whole lot better than residents of Rockaway, Queens. And what city in the world has more social and economic capital than New York?

This is not inevitable of course. We can make reducing inequality part of our climate change strategy and we should. But we sure aren’t doing that right now and there’s no evidence that we will.

And not surprisingly, white people think New Orleans has recovered splendidly! African-Americans? Not so much. That’s in no small part to the racialized response to this natural disaster that is part of most natural disasters and which will probably be the case for climate change exacerbated disasters as well.

C-SPAN Famous

[ 3 ] August 24, 2015 |

Anyone who wants to watch my appearance on CSPAN’s BookTV, you can do here at the link. I don’t think it goes away, but it might at some point. So watch it.

C-SPAN

[ 25 ] August 23, 2015 |

Quick reminder that my CSPAN2 BookTV appearance is this evening at 7:45 pm eastern time so DVR it or whatever you do. Or you can watch it on the website later.

Also, quick reminder that I’ll speaking at Big Idea Books in Pittsburgh at 1:30 on Out of Sight.

Birmingham

[ 120 ] August 22, 2015 |

Birmingham, Alabama is 73 percent African-American and of course a history of some of the nation’s most notorious racial violence. The Birmingham News now has 0 black reporters.

Trump and Wallace

[ 79 ] August 22, 2015 |

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Who do you think Donald Trump reminds Alabama voters of?

“Donald Trump is telling the truth and people don’t always like that,” said Donald Kidd, a 73-year-old retired pipe welder from Mobile. “He is like George Wallace, he told the truth. It is the same thing.”

That’s really what we are dealing with here–the early 21st century version of George Wallace. Trump has about the same chance of entering the White House as Wallace too but both also represent the phenomena of race resentment and fear of non-whites.

Strange Hellos

[ 0 ] August 21, 2015 |

A Friday evening link to one of my very favorite songs of 2015.

Suing the EPA over the Gulf Dead Zone

[ 5 ] August 21, 2015 |

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Good on the Gulf Restoration Network for suing the Environmental Protection Agency for not doing its job to regulate the fertilizers and other chemicals that have created the huge biological dead zone where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone knows this is a major problem but the power of agribusiness provides a lot of incentive for the government to not crack down. This is much like how greens had to sue the U.S. Forest Service for not protecting northern spotted owl habitat under the Endangered Species Act because the agency was operating as a tool of the timber industry. If the government isn’t actually going to protect the environment, lawsuits have proven a good way for environmentalists to make change. It’s not quite as clear of a case here as it was with the spotted owl, but it’s probably the only way to actually get the government to take the problem seriously.

It’s not an easy problem for sure. But while I really respect Obama’s executive orders on coal and climate change as a good start, it would be nice if he took these agricultural issues a bit more seriously than he has through his entire administration.

Children and Immigration in the 19th Century

[ 32 ] August 21, 2015 |

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Above: the ancestors of today’s anti-immigrant Republicans.

As this nation is going through one of its occasional freakouts about immigrants, it’s worth looking at how the nation has dealt with immigrants in the past. Specifically, how did the nation start dealing with American born children of people it wanted to deport? Hidetaka Hirota:

Upon the inspection, the Collector of Customs at the port of New York found that Nellie was “in destitute circumstances.” He then decided to detain Nellie and her children at an immigrant hospital on Ward’s Island on the East River as paupers who would be sent back to Scotland under the federal Immigration Act of 1882.

Nellie Wilkie could have been a simple addition to the list of excluded foreigners, but her American-born child made her case complicated. While denying Nellie and her children admission for the moment, the customs officer was not entirely certain if he could prohibit a native-born American citizen from landing in the United States and send the child to a foreign country. Nellie was an alien pauper who could lawfully be returned to Scotland, but could a citizen of the United States be banished with the immigrant mother? Realizing that the matter belonged to higher authority, the customs officer requested instructions from the Department of the Treasury, which was then charged with supervising issues of immigration to the United States.

In response, the Treasury Department reached a remarkable decision for Nellie Wilkie. In the first place, a native-born citizen could not be sent out of the country. If Nellie had to go back, her exclusion could be done only by “separating it [the citizen child] from its guardian by nature.” But it was not “the intention of Congress to sever the sacred ties existing between parent and child, or forcibly banish and expatriate a native-born child for the reason that its parent is a pauper.” Accordingly, the Treasury Department instructed the customs collector to admit Nellie and her children.

The case of Nellie Wilkie was not a one-time exception. A year later, the Treasury Department opposed the possible deportation of two Irish immigrant women on the grounds that they had native-born children who were “American citizens, under the natural guardianship of their mothers.” Considerations of the deportability of immigrant mothers, the department decided, “cannot affect the rights of their children since born on American soil and under the jurisdiction and protection of the United States.”

This and so many other cases also make me want to shake all the people today of Irish and Italian and Polish descent who are so worried about non-white immigrants and supporting Donald Trump. What about when your great-grandmother was the anchor baby?

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