Immigration and National Identity: Beyond Raids, Walls and Bans There is a Desperate Search for Identity
No discussion about immigration can be possible without defining an American identity.
The immigration phenomenon, which now groups a great deal of literature and collective concern, dispersed into sundry ideologies and a foreboding political agenda, has become relevant not because it is new, but because it encompasses several reflection topics.
No discussion about immigration can be possible without defining an American identity and immigrants cannot be condemned without a strong national self-concept. The more intuitive and unprepared contention would pose, fallaciously, that an American is not an immigrant, at least for a few generations back. But, what makes an American? Is it the blond hair or the blue eyes? Is it the conspicuous and self-devouring consumerism or the drive to accumulate goods? Is it the petulant and arrogant –but bona fide- belief that they are the freest people in the world? Is it the self confidence in a lifestyle which is constantly bound to be expanded relentlessly and opportunistically? Is it the remarkable capacity to incorporate and accept diversity? Is it the proud hillbilly, the redneck? Is it the intellectual, the liberal, the righteous one, the scientist, the discoverer, the entrepreneur, or the ultimate entertainer? Is it their fascination with big things? Is it their cosmopolitism? The world liberator? Their casual lifestyle or the courteous stance? Is it the first generation of children of immigrants born in the country? The second? The third? For goodness sake, which one?
The despot brilliantly wielded the longing of a sound defined creed and personified himself as the restaurateur of nationalism, to resolve an identity crisis and strong feelings of de- legitimation stemming from an overwhelming diversity. It is little wonder that his oratory and propaganda used recurrent slogans targeting the vacuum of the nation’s need of a sense of distinctiveness. He knew that Identity is most likely to solidify when threatened and blooms by antagonism, so he kept brewing hatred and division. In that context, the demonization of immigrants appears to be an important tool to bolster a sense of identity. Perceived as a detour to American nationality, immigrants came to be the embodiment of conflict, barbarism, and backwardness. Indigenous, wild, prone to crime, inferior in race, and bound by nature to transgress the social order, they resemble a noble savage, as Rousseau used to say. The demagogue bullies a hybrid society with the longstanding issue of sovereignty. And, by monitoring, intercepting, and exorcizing those perceived as foreign, his rhetoric becomes a giant machinery to produce identity and preserve the homeland.
Why the fear? Why the raids, the bans, the walls? If America took shape molded by an extraneous history of ideological contradictions, also known as Europe. Borrowing foreign models, instituted in Anglo Saxon ideas, and French ideals, both romantic and liberals. Abiding a bond of tradition, symbolic or real, with icons and emblems purposely designed to promote a sense of collective belonging and shared values, as a way of unifying diversity and producing a national identity. The truth is that a vast majority of the United States population are immigrants except, as many social network memes utter, native Americans.
Immigrants came and went across history, arriving from homey rural areas to the anonymity of the big cities, living in constant translation. But not much is said about the double standard about immigrants. A number of European descendants granted themselves some sort of a privileged migratory score, for no discernible reason. Holding a French pedigree, English mores, Irish traditions, and Germanic features. That European inheritance is perceived as a positive feature, with the exemption of the Spanish, always professed as a negative sociocultural trademark and a rustic race.
Now, a great deal of the American population is fractured and the system of bondage broken, as well as the ideas of what America is, or should be. Divide and conquer, a cliché and a truism indeed, but don’t minimize it. The declamatory agenda ruthlessly targets scores of people and wide spreads panic; they want to surgically remove the migratory transplant, self-justifying it in the name of self-preservation.
There is nothing more abusive than to blame others for the abuse one perpetrates. The interminable frenzy irruption of immigrants — supposedly threatening to contaminate and secede an allegorical homogeneity- continues to come. Yet no one asks the most fundamental question: Why do they come? Where lies our accountability, our contribution to the status quo? How do our foreign policies and interventions contribute to the flee of such a strain of immigrants? Some come looking for freedom, running away from war, persecutions or abuse, or simply not to starve. What does America have to do with it?
The demagogue disavows empathy and holds no self-accountability. He successfully and tacitly installed terror and with it, the urgent need of extreme and coercive measures, legitimizing the existence of his draconian order. Ban, raids, walls, and a blaming rhetoric to counteract indulgence from a part of the population. Turn empathy and compassion into guilt is the underlying intention targeting that “so called judge” or any “lefty”, for that matter. He seems to forget that American nationalism seems to be more based on legal and rational concepts of citizenship, established on a common language and cultural traditions, rather than ethnic separatism.
Immigrants endured an assimilation which might have felt more like a correction or an amendment of their former identity. Try to understand and share their feelings and for a moment, pretend to bear their shoes. Forced by choice to abandon their native tongue, the language of emotions, which is not just words but an element for the subjective structuration of a person. Blamed for leaving and for coming they became a nowhere person, sitting in their nowhere land, and making all their nowhere plans for nobody.
Let us learn to understand diversity is not an opposite to uniformity, in the context of a healthy nation. A positive national identity can be reinforced by welcoming friends instead of creating foes, literally and symbolically. And, by holding ourselves accountable as a nation, we can stop the very cause of the travails immigrants run from. Before asking them to leave, ask yourself who you are and who really is the most barbaric of the barbarians.