Monday, November 26, 2007

Bar Book Club for November

Time once again to report on the doings of our monthly (or so) book club that meets in a local microbrewery. Beer of choice: no single one dominated, but I had Existential Porter, a very dark beer that I often choose, though several of the other guys find it too sweet.

Our book: Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America's Illegal Migrants. It was a fascinating book, a nonfiction account that was originally published in 1987 and recently reissued with a new forward. I've made no secret of the fact that I consider the arguments of Coloradan politician Tom Tancredo to be pure racism--his rhetoric and that of others of his ilk is all about playing on racist fears, some of it conscious but given the number of people supporting such extreme views, I have to believe a lot of it is subconscious. And that's when it's most dangerous, when we don't think we're being racist but there's an unacknowledged foundation that these ideas build on.

I'm not saying that all who advocate for immigration reform are racist, but at least the rhetoric being used should give us pause before suggesting what to do.

We had some good discussions on the book. Some of it's dated--today there are many more undocumented workers who aren't involved in agriculture at all, and there are many more women who come across as well. But the underlying images, the stories of these workers and their families back home are powerful, even twenty years later. Even with the time that has passed, we ended up agreeing that the book makes it pretty clear a fence on the border is pure silliness. And we also agreed that the public debate too often offers only very limited and opposite positions, where what seems needed is either in between or some sort of third option that's neither end.

Here's a quote from the afterword:
Like most previous waves of immigration, Mexican immigration leaves some citizens worried that there are becoming too many of "them," and not enough of "us," that we as a nation may drown in the tide of foreignness. But if there is any truism about immigration to America, it is that "they" soon become "us"... This is as true today as it was in the early 1920s, or during the previous century.
That matches my experience as a grandchild (and son-in-law) of immigrants from the Netherlands, of growing up in an agricultural community that attracted many migrants (and working side-by-side with them in the onion fields and Christmas tree fields), and in studying the issue in college and getting to know those in the Hispanic community around there.

So anyway, enough of a lecture. Our next book is a John Irving book, The Water Method Man. Probably not until mid-January.

2 comments:

Lion said...

One of the complaints I often hear levied against Colorado (even big cities like Denver) is that there's a local tendency toward racism. Never been there myself, so I don't know how true it is.

Even the good arguments against turning a blind eye to illegal immigration fail to acknowledge one truth: our retail-markup economy is dependent on illegals who work for below minimum wage. It's likely we'd all be spending $25 on t-shirts if all sewing machine operators made a federally-regulated income. If anything that means we need to work harder to document everyone so that they can all make a living wage (and keep prices down by eliminating the retail system)... but I wonder how the "they're taking our jobs!" faction would react to that hike once everyone's deported.

Daniel Ausema said...

I don't know that Colorado is any more racist than any other region--as everywhere, it has its residents who are. Where we live is fairly progressive-minded, so I haven't noticed much of that mindset...but then I've lived here only 2 1/2 years and am a stay-at-home dad, so that limits how broad a spectrum of people I spend any significant time with. Colorado, like much of the West, has a relatively strong libertarian streak, so I could see that jumping out at someone from the East Coast.

Certainly if anything were actually successful in cutting out all or most illegal immigration, we'd see correspondingly higher prices on many things, from agriculture to landscaping and roofing to retail products. And likely some people looking for work would find jobs...but so many of the jobs are those that even if the wages were significantly higher, I'm unconvinced that the jobs would all end up filled by native-born unemployed.

It's certainly a complex issue, and I don't want to sound like I have the answer or that there even is a simple one. But I'm confident that the secure-the-border-at-all-costs crowd are overlooking the realities of the situation.