The Ethics of Pro-Migrant Blogging: The Perpetual Search For My Voice

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More than three years ago, I began an experiment that I would come to call pro-migrant blogging.  What is pro-migrant blogging?  A pro-migrant blogger is someone who uses blogs to promote the interests of migrants.  There are, of course, varying shades of pro-migrant bloggers.  Still, I have a sort mental checklist for determining whether a blog is pro-migrant, or not.  A blogger is pro-migrant if she or he:

Characteristics of a Pro-Migrant Blogger

  • Believes that all human beings are equal, regardless of the nation they were born into.  In other words the blog is not nativist.  What is nativism?  In the same way that racism is the belief that one human being is superior to another on the basis of race, nativism is the belief that one human being is superior to another on the basis of birthplace.
  • Actively promotes the interests of migrants, dispels the myths of nativism, and fights back against nativism. 
  • Provides a safe space from nativism in the online spaces he or she controls, or at least does not allow nativism to go unchecked.
  • Recognizes that nativism is inextricable from racism.  The relationship between nativism and racism is best exemplified by the tendency to view people of color as being from other nations.  One of the most famous and dramatic instances of this relationship was exemplified in the killing of Vincent Chin.
  • Explores the relationship between migrant oppression and other social constructs such as class, gender, etc.  I don't personally see religion as a social construct, but it could be included here.
  • And, finally, he or she sees migration as a symptom of broader global ills.  Hence the use of the word migrant as opposed to immigrant or emigrant.  Immigration approaches the issue from the perspective of receiving nations, emigration approaches the issue from the perspective of sending nations, and migration recognizes the phenomena for its true.  The only criticism of the term migrant is that it has a transitory connotation.  This is why some people strive for the more permanent connotation of the word immigrant.  This criticism, however, implies that a transitory state of being, a being in a state of movement, is a bad thing, and to concede that is a fundamental blow to the dignity of migrants. 
Others are free to contest this list in the comments section.  I am not particularly attached to it.  It's a starting point more than a finished product.  I wrote it out partly so that it could be contested.  Still, serves roughly as my mental checklist for determining whether a blog is pro-migrant or not.    To get on Citizen Orange's pro-migrant blogroll I ask bloggers to go a couple steps further than my checklist.  You have to email me about helping to fight nativism online, and you have to cross-post your writing over at The Sanctuary.

It is important to state that I was not the first pro-migrant blogger.  I also hope I will not be the last.
I always like to emphasize the importance of the Latina/o blogosphere to the pro-migrant blogosphere.  I'll never forget that one of the first bloggers to ever link to me was XP.  Since then, when all others refused to prioritize migrants, the Latina/o blogosphere has always led the charge.  The leadership of the Latina/o blogosphere has led to the creation of the one of the most powerful pro-migrant spaces online, The Sanctuary.

If the Latino/a blogosphere is the womb in which the pro-migrant blogosphere was cultivated, undocumented youth bloggers are its children.  After the sputtering of an attempt by Brave New Films to provide a space for unauthorized youth to blog, dreamactivist.org has emerged like a phoenix from the ashes.  Dreamactivist.org is now leading an impressive national campaign to pass the DREAM Act.

I see these two loci, the Latina/o blogosphere and the unauthorized youth blogosphere, as the heart of the pro-migrant blogosphere.  Another word for the pro-migrant blogosphere is the sanctuarysphere.  Citizen Orange has always sought to be an ally space in the sanctuarysphere.  I personally have always striven to be a supporter, rather than a leader in the sanctuarysphere.  I will continue to do so for as long as I am afforded the privilege. 

Still, I can't deny that I have struggled to find my voice in the last months.  I think I first noticed this struggle when I was invited to speak at Yale University before the undegraduate chapter of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA).  It was part of an ongoing campaign to get Ivy League university presidents to publicly support the DREAM Act.  During my speech I realized that I hadn't modified my talking points much since Barack Obama had been elected.

As I jumped out of a hectic school year and into and active summer, I confused myself even more.  This confusion came into sharp focus for me at the Reform Immigration For America Summit.  I'll explain what I mean by this below.

During the school year at Harvard I became a strong advocate for the DREAM Act and involved myself in several initiatives to push for the DREAM Act.  At Harvard, I became a part of Harvard Act on a Dream.  In Massachusetts, I became a part of the Student Immigrant Movement.  Nationally, I was invited to be part of the United We Dream Coalition.  While at first glance it would seem that these three groups would be in natural alliance with each other, I played very different roles in each.  At Harvard, I focused almost exclusively in on-the-ground organizing.  Nationally, I focused almost exclusively on online communications.  I play a sort of hybrid role in Massachusetts as a part of the Student Immigrant Movement.  I have commented several times on the tension between new media and organizing.  This has made my role within the Student Immigrant Movement particularly confusing, but I also think that with the help of organizers within the Student Immigrant Movement that I will be able to find an answer to this confusion.

As if this wasn't confusing enough, I jumped head first into two new commitments this summer.  America's Voice recently hired me as a consultant to help take on nativism online.  Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together, also hired me as a consultant to help with their English and Spanish blogs.  Both of these commitments deserve more extensive comment than I'm going to give them in this post.  I will comment on each of them individually, soon.  Still, it is easy to see how this entaglement of interests can become confusing even if their technically all on the same side. 

All of these relationships with Harvard Act on a Dream, the Student Immigrant Movement, the United We Dream Coalition, America's Voice, MATT, and as a blogger for Citizen Orange and The Sanctuary converged at the Reform Immigration For America Summit.  To say that I emerged from that Summit confused is an understatement.  Before I was able to keep these roles separate but at the Summit all of these roles were competing with each other.

I wish I could say that I've found a simple way out of this tangled web that I've weaved for myself, or that this post was converging on some sort of all-encompassing point.  I'm certainly not asking for pity.  I take full responsibility for all of these commitments I've voluntarily entered into.  If the compromise my effectiveness to make change I will have to live with that on my conscience.  I've already been personally emailed by several people I have great respect for who have urged that I sever ties with some of these commitments.  This is not an answer to those emails, but an attempt to clarify where I stand within this tangled web.

From the moment I founded this blog, I have always used my new media work to bankroll my activism.  This very blog, founded almost two years ago, was paid for by my first check from the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, for which I was a consultant for over a year.  I was paid $1200 a month by MIRA.  The same is and will be true for my work for America's Voice and MATT.org.   America's Voice pays me $1600 a month in addition to stipends for travel and phone calls, and MATT.org pays me $300 a month.  I have taken money from all of these organizations with the clear understanding that I am free to say whatever I want here, whenever I want, and that I am free to go about my own personal activism in whatever way I see fit. 

I like to believe that taking money from these organizations does not compromise my principles in the slightest.  I believe I would much rather stick to my principles than take money from anyone.  I am young.  I can afford to do that.  While it would result in me spending much less time on my pro-migrant work, I believe I could prettily easily find work elsewhere to support myself and the work that I do.  It's not up to me to decide that, though.  It is up to the readers of Citizen Orange to decide whether or not I'm compromising my principles by taking money from these organizations.  That is why I'm disclosing these connections.

What are my principles and how do these relationships help advance those principles?  It is no secret that I have become increasingly invested in the movement to pass the DREAM Act.  When I decided to be an organizer with Harvard Act on a DREAM and the Student Immigrant Movement, and I decided to accept the invitation to be a part of the United We DREAM Coalition, I became accountable to something greater than myself.  In fact, if readers are concerned with any relationship compromosing my principles they should be concerned primarily with my commitment to pass the DREAM Act.  I entered these commitments voluntarily and receive no monetary benefit from them, but my commitment to unauthorized youth has influenced me beyond measure. 

Why do I feel such a strong commitment to unauthorized youth?  Unauthorized youth have reached out to me from the shadows more than anyone else in my online activism.  I have also been intimately involved with their online organizing.  In my online work, I feel accountable to unauthorized youth more than any other group.  In this way, I see my activism for the DREAM Act as a natural extension of my online work.  My work with America's Voice and MATT has already supported this work.  It has been through my travel for America's Voice that I've been able to support and deepen my involvement with the United We Dream Coalition.  The blog training I've been developing for MATT, I'm turning right around and using to train dozens of unauthorized youth to blog.

Throughout this entire process, I have also not lost sight of the ultimate goal.  I'm often asked what I believe the solution to the U.S.'s broken migration system is.  There are a lot of complex parts to U.S. migration system, all of which can be moved to benefit migrants.  A lot of these complex parts go way over the heads of most people.  There even hard for me to keep track of even though I do it full time.  Ask a person on the street what the heck 287(g), or H1-B, or any number of other alphabet-soup initiatives and acronyms that define so much of the U.S. migration debate is, and they're bound to go over the average person's head. 

The ultimate solution, however, is simple.  We need to create opportunities in the countries people are migrating from.  We need to move towards a world where people migrate out of want, not need.  When (not if) we get there, much of the problems associated with migration will go away.  Though I'm intimately involved with the DREAM Act, though I'm taking money from various migrant rights organizations with different interests, I have not lost sight of that goal and I'm happy to report that this summer I am moving one giant step towards beginning to work towards that goal.

During the months of July and August I will be interviewing Guatemalan deportees for my senior thesis at Harvard.  I have long argued that deportation is the key to globalizing the U.S. migration debate.  I will be using the money I earn from America's Voice and MATT to support myself while I interview Guatemalan deportees, and continue my migrant rights work in the U.S.  This is a step closer towards my ultimate dream of using my new media work to support myself while I begin to tackle the root of the problem in my home of Guatemala.

So, as much as I feel people raise their eyebrows at the work that I'm doing as I occupy this nebelous space in the pro-migrant blogosphere, I feel I can say with confidence that I am continuing the steady march to tackling the reason I began this work in the first place.  Migration is merely a symptom of global inequity, and I hope to use my new media work in a way that allows me to tackle the root causes of migration.

I will end this extremely long post, here.  Needless to say, this conversation is not over.  At the very least, though, it allows me to continue my blogging knowing that I have alerted my readers to all of these issues. 

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In a previous rambling post about my struggle with the "ethics of pro-migrant blogging" I laid out a working definition of a pro-migrant blogger, along with additional steps you have to take to be on Citizen Orange's pro-migrant blogroll:To get... Read More

6 Comments

Will C said:

Wow, Kyle, I love how transparent you are about everything in this post... even your consulting fees! I knew you were working on a lot of things but... wow.

As you know, I agree with all your points above, particularly on linking migration to larger issues. My only addition would be something about building bridges to other progressive communities and folks who are pro-migrant but may not know it yet. I agree that we should challenge nativism but I sometimes wonder if they create more heat than fire (is that the right analogy?). I worry sometimes that the immigrant rights movement spends so much time either preaching to the choir or fighting time-consuming battles with haters, that we miss opportunities to connect with folks on the sidelines. Seems like there are lots of folks out there who are sympathetic but haven't been engaged yet. In much the same way that white people saw the civil rights movement as theirs too, I think we need to get more US citizens to see this as an American issue, of course while at the same time building and strengthening the participation of immigrant communities. While I'm a big fan of social media, I'm still thinking through how we can use these tools to get at the root causes of why communities don't communicate/collaborate more and see the things that unite us.

But I feel a lot better knowing that someone like you in in the trenches (as a former employee of a Quaker org, I'm trying so hard not use military metaphors) and admire you for how many folks you've united in the cause. Props for all your excellent work! Stay true to that vision, dude!

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Will.

As I said in my post this is just a starting point, not an ending point, so your thoughts are extremely welcome as an addition to mine. I can't say that I disagree with anything that you said. My analysis of polling suggests that most U.S. citizens are pro-migrant they're just not as engaged as the nativists. The key for us is going to be engaging them.

Another key towards communication is giving migrants themselves a voice. It's one thing to hear me spout off about migrant rights, it's quite another to hear unauthorized youth speak for themselves.

I haven't had a chance to re-read over this post, yet, so hopefully it looks alright. Thanks again for the comment, Will, and for taking the time to read through this. Stay well.

Dave Bennion said:

Thanks for the update, Kyle. Sounds like you have been/will be very busy. I'm especially looking forward to your work in Guatemala. It could be very powerful to hear updates from Postville deportees and their families.

I get paid for my blogging and my day job, but it's a lot less than I'd make working shorter hours in the corporate sector. I say, use the money to build your own vision.

And Will's comment is astute: "I worry sometimes that the immigrant rights movement spends so much time either preaching to the choir or fighting time-consuming battles with haters, that we miss opportunities to connect with folks on the sidelines." I spend too much time doing just that. Still, engaging antis in comments has led to some fruitful interactions. And they help keep you on your toes. I'm not willing to give up on it yet.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thank you for contributing your thoughts, Dave. The lively debates over at change.org do seem like they're worth it sometimes. We'll continue to stay in touch about this summer, and you're welcome to come visit Guatemala if you'd like!

Lisa said:

Thank you for your thoughtful blogs and all the good work you're doing, Kyle. I don't see a conflict of interest here -- just the opposite. We need more pro-migrant advocates/activists with your level of passion and committment. I've learned a lot from reading your blogs and Dave Bennion's (I'm mostly over at change.org but I keep an eye on Citizen Orange, too). I look forward to reading your posts from Guatelmala. All I have to say is, keep up the good work, Kyle! :-)

LnddMiles said:

Pretty cool post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say
that I have really liked reading your blog posts. Anyway
I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on June 22, 2009 2:30 AM.

Anti-Migrant Hate: Pro-Migrant SanctuarySphere was the previous entry in this blog.

Kicking Off Immigration Reform? is the next entry in this blog.

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