Critique of Borders – Canada no longer visible from Derby Line, Vermont

Since this site is called ‘No Borders and Binaries,’ lets revisit the philosophy behind that term. The creation of a bordered world is a deliberate attempt to divide, contain and isolate communities, to forget about arbitrary and ‘disorderly’ origins, in order to create a ‘more ordered, more secure world’–an impossible goal. See the case of Derby Line in Vermont below.

One library, two countries by Soul of Beer.

The border fence between Canada and America in Derby Line, Vermont is spreading hatred and discontent among residents. The United Press International reports:

Derby Line, which has a shared library with the neighboring Canadian community of Stanstead, has had lettering painted on three side streets: “Canada” on one side, “U.S.A.” on the other. Then came an influx of U.S. Border Patrol agents who chased motorists who ignored signs telling drivers to use official entry points.

The Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) reported Sunday that there was a proposal last year to erect fences on the town’s small streets to officially barricade the United States from Canada.

“They’re stirring up a little hate and discontent with that deal,” said Claire Currier, who grew up in the border area. “It’s like putting up a barrier. We’ve all intermingled for years.”

See NPR for more coverage of this issue.

The residents are told that it is a matter of national security, that our borders are porous, that terrorists could enter the border through these unsecured places. It doesn’t seem to matter that the people living in harmony across the border, intermingling often, don’t like the idea of a fence that would create barriers amongst them, deny them access to golf clubs, libraries, shopping malls and other activities they share together. And then there are those that think that Vermont should belong to Canada.
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The flawed logic of either/or – Creating spaces for intervention

black/white, straight/gay, women/men, left/right, us/them, American/Un-American, nativist/humanist, legal/illegal, liberal/conservative anti-corporate/anti-labor, capitalism/communist, butch/femme, inside/outside, developed/undeveloped, top/bottom, public/private…

Our world is tainted in simplistic, dualistic undertones since we are young and we grow up conditioned to think in this manner. It starts from the household where pink is for girls and blue is for boys going all the way to the President where you are either with him or against him and there is no middle ground, no space to negotiate and intervene.

This blog is a reflection of my personal and political philosophy. I am not concerned with whether anyone subscribes to it or not; for me, it is about building a space without the pervasive duality and dichotomy of everyday discourses. And if that space is only occupied by the presence of few, that is fine with me as well. The point is to make ruptures and disruptions in these hegemonic continuous, cyclical modes of thinking.

The intellectual work that tested my limits was Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject.

Saba Mahmood rejects secular liberal feminist theory and practices that cast religion (in this case, Islam), as opposed to the interests of women. Through her particular field study of the grassroots women’s piety movements in the mosques of Cairo between 1995 and 1997, Mahmood aims to provide a stark contrast to the often secular liberal depictions of women’s movements. In doing so, she questions the age-old ethnocentric notions of secular liberal feminism that requires feminism and women’s movements to be framed as opposed to structures of patriarchy and power i.e. religion and going a step further, the nation-state project. Mahmood does away with these notions of ethical norms, agency and freedom, thereby posing conceptual problems for secular feminists who would otherwise continue to push for the liberation of women from Islam and actual structures of power in order to achieve their warped-up notions of liberal emancipation of women.

I wrestled for days with this book. Essentially Mahmood was saying that feminism and being political need not denote the emancipation of women from patriarchal structures like religion and the nation-state. Women do not have to completely reject structures of power to actually carve a space and voice for themselves, and thereby work towards transforming it as the women in the piety movement carved spaces for themselves within a traditionally male sphere. I finally realized that juxtaposing Mahmood’s text with secular liberal feminism need not mean that I had to choose or submit to one. I did not and neither do you. Sometimes the questions are more enlightening than the answers to them.

So when I read comments like “how can you be anti-corporate and still pro-exploitation of cheap labor from the Third World?” it is immediately marked as spam. Maybe I should take the time to respond, to expose conditioned minds to different ways of thinking about issues, to bury the either/or in an intellectual manner. Then again, the title of the blog should be clue enough — I do not do either/or and will not submit to that discourse.

You do not need to choose between being pro-amnesty and pro-American. You need not choose between an “illegal alien” and a U.S. citizen. And you definitely do not have to be pro-migrant or anti-migrant. Focus on the becoming, not the being.

When I speak about bridges, I am referring to a metaphor for fluidity, change, channeling, multiple levels of positioning that culminate into a meeting point. I am not speak of ONE compromise or middle point–I am comfortable with no resolutions. Call it folly or postmodern emancipation. I am comfortable in-limbo; after all, that is my conditioning, no?

I realize I am flawed — There are certain categories I hold dear that I did not choose for myself. At times my patience is tested and I do slip up with the anti-_______. And I will not offer love or compassion to those who hate me because of some category, label, classification, documentation, physical feature, or preference. No, I am not a Gandhi or MLK and do not wish to go down that path. It is a tit for tat when it comes to me. But I will agree to disagree heartedly.

Study – Majority legal residents were "illegal" at one time – California

It appears that most things don’t happen in a STRAIGHT line (neither do brain waves and heart beats FYI).

After my constant repetition of “undocumented or illegal is not a permanent immutable characteristic” this past week, the Public Policy Institute of California has just confirmed the accuracy of the statement.

In a new study based on a survery of 8000 people, the PPIC found that 52% of Californians had past experience of living in the country illegally at one time or another.  It absolutely smashes the ill-promoted dichotomy of legal/illegal, proving that binary modes of thinking about immigration policy are superficial, baseless and untrue.

“It highlights how overly simplified our understanding of immigrants and immigration can be,” said Hill, who said a stark distinction between “illegal” and “legal” immigrants does not acknowledge the frequent correlation between both categories. “We need to be a little more cognizant of the variety and breadth of experience.”

The ALIPACers are seething. They cannot believe that the lines between legal and illegal can be blurred. After all, we are talking about black and white, engraved-in-stone distinctions, right? You can see the obvious physical, emotional, spritual, intellectual and personality differences between a legal and illegal migrant, right? Some have even gone as far as to say that “if they are going to break simple immigration laws, they will break other laws.” Yes, because if you run a traffic light or drive above the speed limit, it immediately makes you more likely to commit felonies, right? Believe it or not, there is such a thing as “ex-illegals.”

Re-read Plyler v. Doe – The Supreme Court had it right in 1982: The “illegals” of today can become the legal residents of tomorrow. If 26 year old legal opinion can get it right, why can’t the fear-mongering, immigrant-loathing bashers? And based on this study as empirical evidence, immigrant-loathing is an accurate assessment of ALIPAC since it does demonstrate that undocumented migrants work to become legal residents and citizens. Still, the “blood is boiling” over at ALIPAC.

No human being can be Illegal. It is not a noun, not a permanent category or classification that reflects the true character of a migrant body. Fluid and subject to change, unauthorized stay can translate into authorized permanent stay in the form of citizenship.

Documenting my thought processes – Guidelines for research

After finishing a review for a journal, I am still in an academic mode. I thought I would share my thought processes here. These are mere guidelines I use when researching, writing or trying to understand all sorts of phenomenon.  I suppose it is an insight into how my brain works

  • Don’t make claims without warrants.
  • NEVER fall for dualities and binary modes of thinking i.e. black/white, either/or. As a longer example, juxtaposing the gathering of women in a patriarchal space to secular liberal feminism does not mean we stop questioning oppression no matter how narrow the space. We don’t need to submit to either non-liberal contestable agency or First World secular feminism.
  • Get rid of certainty of knowledge and any broad generalized claims to truth – questions are better than statements. DECONSTRUCT AWAY!
  • What? Who? – I.E. What is criminalized? Who is the incarcerating regime? Keep your units of analysis clear.
  • LET THE SUBALTERN SPEAK – It is not the place of a secular, liberal and privileged scholar (albeit outsider) to tackle and analyze unfamiliar structures and discourses. Lets not assign agency to people who do not see themselves as agents, situating them in movements that they don’t consciously identify with.
  • Don’t obsess over categories, labels, boxes
  • Sympathize with the becoming, not the being
  • Never ignore the specific social and historical configuration within which the research is situated.
  • Keep this at the back of your mind – Ideas and assumptions do not exist outside the material conditions of life. Go to the root of the matter if you need to.
  • Don’t ignore the importance of minor acts and inconspicuous transformations — they may be the start of something more. Footnote them if possible.
  • Value narratives and experiences. Don’t shy away from feeling and emotions. They are oftentimes more powerful than empirical evidence.
  • Aim for discontinuities and ruptures in meta-narratives
  • Make notes of contradictions
  • Keep in mind: agency/structure without the binaries. It is a reproductive and cyclical process.
  • Do not disregard the importance of space – Colonial globality? Autonomous space? Hate-free zone? Sanctuary-sphere? Nuclear-free zone? — What space do we inhabit?
  • Never approach an issue in a uni-dimensional manner. It is not just nationalism, not just sexism, not just racism or classism  i.e. the gendered impacts of a globalization that has disparate impact on the rich/poor/ethnic minorities of developed, developing and underdeveloping countries. Try and see the broader linkages between ISMs, systemic patterns if possible while always being careful of meta-narratives.
  • Be a tragic-comic — Humor helps.
  • Question/Critique everything, including the self.

Who is more 'undesirable ?' The 'illegal alien' or homosexual ?

Over the weekend, I was reading some pro-migrant news at a Catholic site that I had stumbled on via Google News Alert service. And on the sidebar, the very site was spewing hatred about same-sex marriage in California. The churches and religious ‘right’ who first established ‘sanctuary’ and are very pro-migrant, are also the ones who are very wrong on LGBT issues. So what happens when we have a gay undocumented migrant??

This post has been in my mind for quite some time because lets face it, those of us in the pro-migrant community know undocumented persons who are also gay, lesbian, transgender. This intersectionality is further complicated by our homophobic and heterosexist immigration laws that do not recognize ‘marriage’ or partnership between people of the same-sex, and hence we have undocumented partners who are forced to live in the shadows, break off their relationships or move to another country.

It is utterly discriminatory to single out a ‘particular group of people’ and deny them equal rights and protections under the law–that is not debatable.

The sheer increase in the hate mail on my pro-migrant/pro-gay Youtube videos since the marriage equality ruling has prompted me to finally say something. To some extent, I can understand arguments against ‘undocumented migrants.’ I can understand working class fears of migrants taking their jobs, respect for the ‘rule of law’ and those who apply legally etc. even while refuting them. But marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people? NOT even debatable, which is often why the comments I receive are hilarious:

“…California will face the wrath of Sodom and Gomorrah…Now that gays are destroying marriage, there will be a huge earthquake in California… violence, perversion, lawlessness …Sodom and Gomorroh II. The U.S. will come to an end soon…Thank god you people cannot pass on your impaired genes by reproducing…What is next–legalizing sex with animals?…Why aren’t real lesbians hot like the ones in TV sitcoms?…”

What is this –the new Comedy Central Online???? It reminds me of this one scene in The L word when Kate Moening (Shane, the poster child of androgyny) waves her hands in the air saying “Where do you live, ________? It’s entirely possible” when her ignorant straight male housemate says that lesbians can’t fuck. But we are going off on a tangent.

The point is that as an out and proud lesbian, I haven’t dedicated my time to the gay rights movement precisely because I cannot begin to wrap my mind around the egregious fallacies, inaccuracies, lies, misrepresentation and sheer IGNORANCE of a vast majority of people. But that will change in the next 6 months as I am not about to sit around and watch California voters dash the hopes and dreams of people in my community, some of whom are our idols, since we so lack representation of ‘healthy, stable and loving’ same-sex families.

So where does the church stand on undocumented gays and lesbians? Who do you think is more undesirable in the current political climate of immigrant crackdowns and constitutional amendments for marriage discrimination? And how can we support our undocumented gay/lesbian students who have to deal with both anti-migrant and anti-gay sentiments?

The biggest lesson from this post is that social and political rights cannot be ‘divided’ and given to people on the basis of binary categories and identities. It is not enough for some of us to push for just pro-migrant rights because even when some of us become legal citizens, we would be SECOND-CLASS citizens who pay taxes but don’t have our lives affirmed by the state. Likewise, it is not enough to exercise ‘federalism’ when it comes to LGBT rights since state laws do not affect homophobic federal immigration laws and the lives of our bi-national couples, who are torn apart by their countries for the crime of love. This struggle is not just about selective rights for a select group of people; it is a small step forward in the bigger fight against global inequity.

I hate identity politics. But it does matter.

Quote of the day:

“Gay haters just can’t get enough news about gay sex and gay everything.” jerrydoubleu