MigrantRoots: We Are All Migrants

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There seems to be a sufficient enough lull in migrant suffering and anti-migrant hate, that I will be able to start a series of posts that I've been meaning to write for sometime now. 

So much has happened over the last few months, much of which I will be able to reveal on Citizen Orange shortly.  The pro-migrant blogosphere is exploding and soon will become an integral part of the fight for migrant emancipation.  Just on Citizen Orange there has been an incredible burst of new and positive energy with the efforts of janna, yave and duke, and I'm hoping for more!

With all of this energy and all of these new voices, increasingly I find myself thinking about how best I can contribute.  As more pro-migrant bloggers come into the fold and each of us defines our areas of expertise, it's looking like mine, increasingly, is going to be the angle of global justice that so few willingly discuss.  For too long, now, we have separated the local from the transnational, the national from the global.   I personally have been trying to build power locally and nationally here from Massachusetts, but it has always been with an eye towards global justice.
A frame of global justice really requires activists and bloggers to step outside the narrow definitions of power that most use to make change in the United States.  It's difficult enough to get U.S. citizens to vote for the oppressed in their own country, much less the oppressed in the majority world.  Some would say a global justice frame might not be the most practical to make change. 

Anyone that's been reading Citizen Orange for some time probably notices this tension in my writing.  The millions of migrants living in fear in the U.S. need change right now.  I struggle between building in a way that will help migrants in the U.S., now, and building in a way that will tackle the root of the problem, which is global inequity. 

Ultimately the two are the same.  The dichotomy between the local and the global is false, because they are one.  Still it is important to define one's role in this unity.  My role will continue to evolve and change, but for now, increasingly I see the need for an articulation of the roots of the problem.  Often when I speak of the need for a more global approach to the U.S. migration debate, people nod their heads and say, "Yeah! NAFTA sucks!".  I'm fortunate that progressives often see the wisdom of approaching the U.S. migration debate from a global lense, but I'm sad to say that there is a lot of liberal elitism in the way of a clear vision of global justice.  I will attempt to arrive at clarity with the help of the collaborative nature of the blogosphere.

I will begin by admitting a mistake in the way I've characterized migrants.  It's happened sort of unknowingly.  As I've gotten involved further in the immigrant movement in the U.S., I've noticed that I've never really considered myself an immigrant.  Even though I was born and raised in Guatemala, and spent 18 years of my life there, I never thought that by moving to the U.S. and living here for the last three years that I would be an immigrant.  Maybe it's something about a U.S. passport that makes you feel like you own the world, maybe it was part of not wanting to let Guatemala go, but I've finally realized that I'm an immigrant to the U.S.

By that same token, for the last two years, I generally characterized migrants as a sort of "them".  Even though its accidental, as many of these systemic ways of thinking are, I have been separating myself from the migrants whose injustice I want to bring to light.  I've always talked about the fear other migrants have been dealing with and the injustice other migrants have suffered.  I've meant well, of course, but in seperating migrants from myself I've given into the forces that seek to define migrants as others.  More importantly though, I ignore the fundamental truth that if another migrant lives in fear -- I live in fear; that if another migrant suffers an injustice -- I suffer an injustice.  This is because we are all one.  An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. 

We are all migrants.  We move somewhere everyday.  Whether its something as simple as going to work or school, or it's something as significant as moving half a world a way, we all move in someway or another.  That is what it means to be a migrant, to migrate.  The problem here is that millions of people, for one reason or another, have been criminalized for the simple act of moving. 

Certainly there are distinictions and complications that need to be logically and philosophically worked out, but they don't change the fact that there is a fundamental inequity in the way movement is criminalized.  The vast majority of the millions of migrants characterized as illegal in the U.S. are good people that contribute to U.S. society and are simply pursuing opportunity and happiness.  This, while a U.S. passport allows U.S. citizens to travel around the world with very few restrictions.  Again, while there are complications that have to be worked out, this situation, at its core, is unjust.

In a series of posts entitled MigrantRoots I hope to address some of these issues from the lense of global justice.  I'm going to catch flack from both anti-migrant and pro-migrant factions for what I have to say, I imagine, but I can only hope that people will consider it and grow along with me as we find a solution.

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barb said:

Hey Kyle, this is a great post and it raises lots of interesting ideas about identity and place. I didn't know you were born in Guatemala! What a beautiful country! (conozco a Quetzaltenango- Xela! bellisima pais!) I like this paragraph a lot:

"We are all migrants. We move somewhere everyday. Whether its something as simple as going to work or school, or it's something as significant as moving half a world a way, we all move in someway or another. That is what it means to be a migrant, to migrate. The problem here is that millions of people, for one reason or another, have been criminalized for the simple act of moving."

yave begnet said:

I'm with you so far, Kyle. We have the luxury of going almost anywhere, while many migrants are unwelcome almost anywhere. Most migrants really just want to stay where they were born and grew up, but they don't have that luxury either.

Your post reminded me of a situation I found myself in a few years ago in Buenos Aires. I somehow ended up at a community meeting at the AsociaciĆ³n Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA)--the place that got bombed in 1994--with a roomful of elderly Jewish Argentines. Most of them had probably migrated to Argentina to flee persecution in Europe around WWII. They were discussing what it meant to be a migrant--culturally, emotionally, intellectually--what it was like to uproot yourself from your home and re-root yourself in some strange place, and the reverberations of that act of moving in the years after. They were very curious as to why three young students--two Americans and a German--had randomly appeared in their midst, like the quasi-tourists we were. After a bit of debate, their consensus was that we were migrants as well, if only temporary ones, and thus we were included as part of the unit under discussion.

So much of the immigration debate in the U.S., or global migration issues, is about group dynamics: who belongs to "my" group, who is an "other," who can I trust, who should I fear. It even, to my great frustration and chagrin, plays out almost parodically on immigration blogs. I will never forget the empathy and openness of the people whose discussion group we crashed that night, and their willingness to admit us as one of them, if not exactly on the basis of shared experience, then on that of shared humanity.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thanks Barb,

I'm glad you liked one paragraph of my rambling. A lot of people don't like my use of the term migrant but I think it's a really good word for the reasons you've mentioned above. I'm also glad you've been to beautiful Guatemala. Everyone should go!

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

That's a great story, yave. I love reading personal experiences like yours. It brings such a warmth to the things we discuss everyday. I generally try to avoid WWII comparisons because I think Eurocentrism results in focusing on it too much, but there are so many horror stories of Jews trying to get visas and passports, and being denied time and time again.

You also bring up an important point, which is that most migrants don't want to move and start a new life they do so because they have to. That flies in the face of a lot of this false rhetoric about the American Dream and such.

Oryx Orange said:

Your readers might be interested in participating in the Davos Question, a program being run on YouTube around the annual Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland. The program asks the public to post video answers to the question "What one thing do you think countries, companies, or individuals can do to make the world a better place in 2008?". Your interest area of global justice would be a big part of this. The link is at:

kyledeb said:

Thanks for the reference Oryx Orange,

Love your blog by the way. Be certain that I'll certainly consider this. I've been working on cultivating a pro-migrant blogosphere, but be sure that the orange bloggers of the web have to unite as well! lol

Alan said:

Hey Kyle,

I love reading your writing, it is often extremely insightful and always full of useful information. Reading this post made me question a few things though. I myself am an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and I currently work with many immigrant/migrant communities in New York; but in none of the situations i have been in have I seen people name as migrants people that are visiting other places. even going so far as denying that Obama's father was an immigrant, rather a student/tourist. The US Passport that you talk about is a wonderful tool and a great pass to the world, but it is not a pass to go places and stay there. I would say that the migrant definition has to include the "intention to stay" aspect, whether it's a temporary one like ag workers or a permanent one like me and my family. However, whichever way you choose to define it, i agree with you about the global nature of migrations. Whether it's the global east to global west, like it was in the early days of this century, or in the global south to the north, as it is now, we are all in a constant flux of movements. unfortunately, those movements have just as often led to war as they have to peaceful resolutions. How would you go about addressing the issue? would it be to suggest a reformat of our view of nation-states, or an open border idea, or another view??

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Interesting point, Alan. This "intention to stay" you speak of wanting to add to the definition of migrant is what Liisa Malkki would call the "pathologization of uprootedness." In non-academic speak, that essentially means that we have a tendency to think less of people who do not stay in one place. I think all types of moving people need to be characterized as migrants, whether tourist, expats, or undocumented people. When you look at the world that way, it's easy to see how power relations characterize our perception of migration. "Expats" usually from privileged nations are forever defined by the nation they've left whereas "immigrants" are forever defined by the privileged nations they are going to, even though they are essentially the same thing.

In terms of how I feel about addressing the problems associated with migration, I think the solution is very simple. Migration is a symptom, not a cause, of global inequity. If we give opportunities to people in sending nations, than all of the problems associated with migration will essentially vanish. We need to move towards a world where people migrate out of want not out of need.

In the meantime, I believe we need to be as humane as possible in the way we treat migrants. I don't believe in open borders, but I do believe in reformating our view of nation states so that borders are no longer the primary guarantors of people's rights. I actually we believe more borders, and more local autonomy for communities to decide their own destiny, rather than less borders.

TL Winslow said:

The age-old pesky U.S.-Mexico border problem has taxed the resources of both countries, led to long lists of injustices, and appears to be heading only for worse troubles in the future. Guess what? The border problem can never be solved. Why? Because the border IS the problem! It's time for a paradigm change.

Never fear, a satisfying, comprehensive solution is within reach: the Megamerge Dissolution Solution. Simply dissolve the border along with the failed Mexican government, and megamerge the two countries under U.S. law, with mass free 2-way migration eventually equalizing the development and opportunities permanently, with justice and without racism.

Click the url above to read the details.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on December 17, 2007 9:32 AM.

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