Excerpt from Border Hysteria and the War against Difference

by Guillermo Gómez-Peña

The US-Mexico border is wider than ever.

As an artist engaged in binational cultural exchanges for over 25 years, I have never seen my two countries more separated from one another. While Mexico is obsessed with its own postelectoral crisis, the US is obsessed with the War on Terror. While Mexico grapples with organized crime, the US grapples with its inner demons of terror. Indifferent neighbors, neither one is paying attention, much less talking to the other.

From the US side, Mexico is, at best, invisible, (post-9/11, Latin America disappeared as a regular news item); and, at worst, a Dantean inferno. From the local news to recent Hollywood movies and video games, Mexico is portrayed as an ongoing source of drugs, illegal immigration, senseless crime, and political turmoil, and nothing more. When discussing organized crime in Mexico, US pundits and politicians fail to understand the obvious: the guns that perpetrate that violence are actually made by US gun manufacturers and sold by US dealers. This too is an “inconvenient truth” of global significance. It’s the same with drugs. The US distributors and consumers don’t play significant roles in action movies—unlike in the real world. In public discussions no one acknowledges that violence and drugs are part of a systemic global problem. All sides are implicated. There are no good guys or bad guys in this film. (Gonzalez Iñarritu’s amazing 2006 movie Babel made this case in a very poignant way.)

Strategic ignorance plays a major role in all this madness. Many “patriotic” Americans easily forget that it is thanks to “illegal” aliens hired by other “patriotic” Americans that the food, garment, tourist, and construction industries survive. They conveniently forget that the strawberries, apples, grapes, oranges, tomatoes, lettuce, and avocados that they eat were harvested, prepared, and served by “illegal” hands. These very same hands clean up after them in restaurants and bars, fix their broken cars, paint and mop their homes, and manicure their gardens. They also forget that their babies and elderly are being cared for by “illegal” nannies. Like the proimmigration aphorism stated so poignantly in banners during the major marches of 2006: “The giant wasn’t sleeping; he was working.”

The list of underpaid contributions by “illegal aliens” is so long that the lifestyle of many middle- and upper-class Americans couldn’t possibly be sustained without them. Yet the Americans who are against illegal immigration (over 65 percent according to current polls) prefer to believe that their cities and neighborhoods are less safe and that their cultural and educational institutions have significantly lowered their standards since the “aliens” were allowed in. Current anti-immigrant discourses and practices exploit the image of hypersexualized Latinas coming across the border to have their babies, collect welfare, and overburden the environment, the public hospitals, and the schools.

The great paradox is that when it came to recruiting noncitizens to go and fight in Iraq as foot soldiers, no one seems to mind who is illegal and who is not. Offering “postmortum citizenship” to undocumented migrants if they choose to enlist (as an alternative to deportation) is both hypocritical and inhuman. Incidentally, only 15 percent of those undocumented migrants who have accepted the Faustian deal have returned alive to enjoy their citizenship. In fact, the very first US soldier to ever die in Iraq was a Guatemalan migrant named Jose Antonio Gutierrez who spoke very little English. He died from friendly fire.

Are these contradictions articulated in the current immigration debate? Rarely. Why? Because it isn’t really a debate but rather a fanatic creed and an expression of much deeper fears.

(Full text at http://www2.ucsc.edu/raza/pipeline/border.pdf)