Saturday, February 18, 2012

An Apology Ceremony That We Need to Publicize

The African World


An Apology Ceremony That We Need to Publicize


By Bill Fletcher, Jr. Editorial Board BC

Feruary 16, 2012


On February 26th, a ceremony is to take place in

California apologizing to the approximately 400,000

people of Mexican ancestry who were deported from the

USA in a spate of ethnic cleansing that gripped the USA

during the Depression. What is at stake in this

ceremony is not only the apology but what it says about

racism and ethnic cleansing in times of economic crisis.


Approximately two million people of Mexican ancestry

were deported from the USA during the Depression. This

was not only Mexican nationals, but Chicanos as well,

i.e., US citizens of Mexican ancestry. This was a

blatant example of ethnic cleansing taking place in the

USA which destroyed families and exiled family members,

in some cases indefinitely.


As with many cases of mass trauma, this deportation

process was ignored in the general public. The

"Repatriados," as those who were deported were

referenced, existed in a twilight zone. Those who were

able to return often did not speak of it and families

that remained stuck in Mexico had to begin entirely new

lives. It was the work of people like Detroit activist

Elena Herrada and the Fronteras Nortenas organization

that helped to re-raise the issue, not only in

California but also throughout the USA.


The 1930s, as a period, is often viewed as one of

increasingly progressive change. While there is

certainly some truth in this, the change was far from

linear and far from complete. When it came to race,

intense white supremacy was alive and well. And even

many progressive organizations failed to speak up in

the face of such horrors. Mexicans and Chicanos were

being attacked in a wave of a specific form of anti-

immigrant mania. In a period of an intense economic

crisis, Mexicans and Chicanos were blamed for allegedly

taking the jobs of (white) Americans. Nothing

comparable was done to immigrants of European ancestry

and it was only a few short years later - 1942 - that

in the midst of a particular response to the Japanese

attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were

interned for the remainder of the war (compared to the

treatment of US citizens of German and Italian ancestry).


One does not have to jump too far to see the relevance

of this historical horror to our situation today. Just

the other day, I was grabbed by an African American in

an airport who recognized me from my TransAfrica Forum

days. Among other things he wanted to say to me was the

matter of immigrants, and particularly about the

competition that is created through immigration. He

refused to look at the big picture but his conclusions

were clear enough that he did not need to express them:

remove the immigrants.


Yet, just as the Great Depression was not caused by

Mexicans and Chicanos, today's economic crisis, and

specifically the massive economic crisis faced by

African Americans, is not the result of immigrants, be

they documented or undocumented. It has to do with the

system, and unfortunately too many of us seem to be

afraid that identifying the system is the equivalent of

looking into the face of the Gorgon, turning us to

stone. Thus, for right-wing populists and for too many

of our own people, it is easier to blame the immigrant

for our suffering than to recognize that capitalism

will use whoever it can to weaken the power of working

people. It used us in the period around World War I

(and after) as a cheap labor source, and it has used

successive groups. The mass, indiscriminate deportation

of two million people of Mexican ancestry was just one

implication of this racist irrationalism.


What's to prevent this from happening again?

_____________ Editorial Board member, Bill

Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute

for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of

TransAfricaForum and co-author of Solidarity Divided:

The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward

Social Justice (University of California Press), which

examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.


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