Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
I just finished a book review for the Journal of Landscape Research. The book is aptly titled ‘Beyond Walls: Reinventing the Canada-United States Borderlands‘ because the entire book is a complete reinvention, devoid of much historical understanding or exploration of how the Canada-U.S. border is so ‘benign.’ Of course, I was nicer in my book review parts of which I can share:
Konrad and Nicol claim that their purpose is “not to attempt a comprehensive history in a book devoted largely to contemporary border issues…[but to] entice readers to search beyond the national narratives…” (64). While the last chapter on transnationalism provides some narratives of people living in the borderlands, it leaves out much of the complications from the new security border. For example, the border fence between Canada and the United States in Derby Line, Vermont is spreading hatred and discontent among residents as they can no longer see long-time neighbors.
Additionally, while recognizing that it is futile to talk about the border without talking about immigration issues (210), the authors shy away from delving into this homeland security imperative, which has completely transformed the cultural landscape. The fact that Canada and the United States do not dub each other as ‘foreign’ is worth further historical examination than the book provides.
Since the evolving borderlands are not cloaked by violence and anguish of power struggle and the changes are aligned in the interests if both countries, Konrad and Nicol conclude that the Canada-United States border offers a model of future borderlands.
This book review should appear in the upcoming edition of the Journal of Peasant Studies. I cannot publish the whole bit here even though it is my work, since I signed over licensing rights but it should be available through your college databases.
I don’t know whether I will have time for more book reviews in the future or if it is an endeavor that I am any good at, but it was worth experimenting and I am not too displeased with the results. (The Publisher ain’t complaining; why should I)?
Review: Vinayak Chaturvedi, Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India, University of California Press, 2007.
by Prerna Lal
The untold narrative of peasant classes marginalized from the promise of the postcolonial nation-state is a popular subject of research and criticism among subaltern scholars seeking to pose ruptures and discontinuities in the hegemonic history of Indian nationalism.
In Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India, Chaturvedi embarks on this project after a chance discovery while pouring through archives on the agrarian economy of Gujarat: he discovers notes by the district magistrate about the historically-celebrated Patidars forcibly extracting labor from the Dhalara peasants in Kheda. Upon further investigation, Chaturvedi discovers that the Dharalas were considered a ‘criminal class’ by both the colonialists and Indian nationalists through the passage of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 and given their treatment, it came as no surprise that the Dharalas opposed Patidar-led nationalist politics along with colonialism.
Enamored by the prospects of an untold history of peasant pasts, the central thesis of this scholarship revolves around the actions, practices and discourses of the Dharala peasants before the emergence of an Indian nation-state. Chaturvedi claims that the Dharalas were political in their own right and their opposition to Patidar nationalism allied with Gandhi did not denote that these peasants lacked an understanding of politics or an inability to imagine political community. On the contrary, through rigorous fieldwork and archival study, Chaturvedi lays out a fragmentary and episodic history of the Dharala peasants that establishes their broad political discourses, complex understandings of political community, and subsequent resistance to both colonialism and nationalism.
Discrimination against those that are seemingly foreign-born and ‘different’ from the
(White Protestant) norm is pervasive in the immigration control history of United States.
It goes back to when the United States was a budding new nation of (illegal) immigrants from Europe and conscious of the ‘dangerous’ Irish and ‘revolutionary’ French migrating into the country.
Response: Congress passed legislation in 1798 lengthening the period of years required for citizenship from five to fourteen and also gave the President the power to deport any alien deemed a threat to public safety.
Next came discrimination against Chinese laborers most of whom had been welcomed into the country as cheap labor in the 1860s but with the economic crisis of 1873, faced nativist fears.
Response: The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which created the category of ‘illegal immigrant’ for the first time, establishing border controls and sparking violence against Chinese migrants.
But the country still needed cheap labor and migrants continued to flow into the United States to fulfill that role, this time from Southern and Eastern Europe.
Response: Besides the many acts of violence against these immigrants, Congress passed the National Origins Quota Act in 1924 that strictly limited immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.
Entering the Cold War period, we are struck with the lunacy of McCarthyism, and hence heightened fear of ‘strangers’ and dissent.
Response: The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 set quotas of 100 immigrants only from each country in Asia, while immigrants from the United Kingdom and Germany consisted seventy percent of the annual immigrant quota. On top of this, noncitizens faced deportation for simply harboring radical and supposedly subversive ideas.
The witch hunts were truly on at this shameful period in United States history. However, we came out of our ‘temporary insanity’ made progress in the 1960s with the Immigration and Nationality Act that abolished discriminatory quotas and gave preference to skilled workers.
As immigration from across the border increased and we noticed a proliferation of ‘brown’ skin and Spanish languages in school, anti-immigration efforts were launched again, this time squarely at Latinos. In the 1990s, Proposition 187 in California was an act to deny public education to children of illegal immigrants, and soundly defeated by the Courts.
The anti-immigrant fervor did not let up, especially with 9-11 and the economy taking a nose-dive, again we were more fearful of ‘difference.’
Response: International students were restricted and hassled by immigration authorities, visa petitions incredibly backlogged especially from China, India, Mexico and the Philippines, and for a short while, even post-operative transsexuals denied residency based on marriage to partners of the opposite sex.
Now we have ICE agents conducting raids, separating children from their parents and locking teenage students in detention centers for months, deporting students for being truant and even going after sanctuary cities.
I am having a déjà vu of the witch hunts conducted during McCarthyism. Think about the similarities for a second. This anti-immigration climate is ideologically-driven and we are using countless resources to round-up and question hard-working Americans all over again, separating them from loved ones and smearing their names.
I wonder what we would call this era when we look upon it shamefully in the distant future. Let’s hope we wake up from this period of temporary insanity soon.