The Return of Native Americans as Immigrants
New America Media, Commentary, Louis E.V. Nevaer Posted: Oct 24, 2007
The United States is seeing a resurgence of Native Americans in the form of immigrants who are descendents of North America’s indigenous populations. As Native Americans, they are terrifying precisely because they have a moral claim to cross the borders imposed on their lands, writes NAM contributor Louis E.V. Nevaer.
As the immigration debate rages throughout the nation, the lingering, but unspoken, fear is that illegal immigration from Mexico heralds the return of the Native American.
“The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages,” Samuel Huntington famously argued in Foreign Affairs magazine in March 2004, unleashing a firestorm of protests among U.S. Hispanics and Latinos. “Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves — from Los Angeles to Miami — and rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream.”
In fact, almost all Mexican immigrants are descendents of North America’s indigenous peoples. As Native Americans, they are terrifying precisely because they have a moral claim to migrate throughout the nation-states imposed on their lands.
This vilification of immigrants differs from the same sentiment of earlier generations. Previously, Americans debated and settled immigration issues through legislation: the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to keep French and Irish Catholics out, the anti-Papist sentiment that fueled Nativism in the 19th century aimed at Italian, Irish and German immigrants, the xenophobia that culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” of 1907 aimed at the Japanese.
In “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” Huntington argued that the Mexican state was complementary to the American one, both heirs of Europe and the Enlightenment. This suggests that the cultural conflict he fears is between Western versus Native American.
He is correct. Native Americans are indifferent to the Western values used to obliterate them, and he recognizes the moral authority with which they challenge the very concept of the nation-state.
To refuse entry to immigrants from across the oceans, from Europe or Asia, is one thing; to stand against the internal movements of Native American people, Americans find unsettling. They can’t forget that efforts to transplant and expand European civilization in the New World have been the driving force behind the settling of the West in the 19th century and the exclusion of Native Americans from the mainstream of society in the 20th.
It almost worked: There are no Manhattans on the island of Manhattan, no Coast Miwok in San Francisco.
“The only good Injun is a dead Injun,” is a line in a Hollywood Western that sums up the nation’s attitude during the 19th century, and it is true that Native Americans were massacred, subjected to forced migrations and deliberately infected with contagious diseases so as to reduce their numbers. It is also true that during the last century, the establishment of reservations created marginalized communities where alcoholism, substance abuse and unemployment demoralized Native Americans into early graves.
Now, peoples rendered almost irrelevant to American society are thriving in such large numbers that they are once again on the move across the continent.
The return of the Native American began in earnest in the 1980s, during the Sanctuary Movement in California. Suddenly, people apprehended at the borders spoke neither English nor Spanish. Isa Gucciardi, who managed a translation company in San Francisco, reported getting calls from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), as it was called then, with requests for interpreters who spoke “Indian” languages from southern Mexico and Central America. “We had to double the rate, since it was so difficult to find anyone who spoke English and Tzotzil Maya,” she said.
Despite their best efforts to wipe them out, at the start of the 21st century, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and scores of other indigenous peoples have returned.
They are working in our restaurants, stocking shelves in our stores, building houses and doing our landscaping. They are taking care of our kids while we’re at the office, and giving birth to more Native Americans in our hospitals. They are fueling the economic expansion, contributing to a society that looks upon them with disdain.
Yet in the second half of 20th century, it was Europeans who looked on Americans with disdain. Walt Whitman celebrated America being one people out of many – “Of every hue and caste am I” – but to the Europeans, hyphenated Americans are mongrels and half-breeds: Irish-Americans, African-Americans, Italian-Americans, Anglo-Americans.
The realization that Native Americans are crossing the borders that crossed them is alarming even Jesse Jackson. Interviewed on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” he complained that the workers streaming into New Orleans were “outside workers,” since he could not bring himself to say “Native Americans from Latin America.”
My office in New York is in the Citigroup Center where the only Native American used to be the “Manna-Hata” Indian on the seal stenciled on the flag of the City of New York, standing next to an early Dutch colonist.
Not anymore. Now when I go to the lobby and downstairs into the subway concourse that connects the Uptown Number 6 train with the E and V subways, there are Maya women, wearing their traditional textiles. Their babies strapped on their backs in shawls, with a blanket made of blue basket, they lay out before them for sale probably the last thing that is actually made in New York City: pirated DVDs of Hollywood movies.
Having rid ourselves of the Manna-Hata people, we import Native Americans from Mexico.
Given this demographic trend, it’s only a matter of time before we hear, “Press three to continue in Zapotec.”
Alcatraz Sunrise Ceremony Celebrates UN adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Live From the Amazon
The Great Radio Hope
The Importance of Being Evo Morales
Page 1 of 1