Journeys


When I was ten years old in 1980, Los Angeles reached an important milestone: it supplanted Chicago as America’s second city.  No longer a nation whose energy came from the East Coast, the United States counted on the influx of goods, ideas, and people from Central and South America and Asia. Los Angeles was this country’s second gateway, and it could claim to be the only city in the world with someone from every country in the world.

The LA Times has several articles that look at the reasons why people moved to Los Angeles.  The story is complex, one that focuses on demographic and migration trends of Twentieth Century America, but also on America’s ethnic make-up, both of natural citizens and immigrants.

Surprisingly, a city of Hispanic name and origin was considered a place to get away from the ethnic stew of eastern and mid-western cities:

As McWilliams writes, “[t]he first wave of migration brought wealth, enterprise, and culture to Southern California,” this second influx delivered a more Midwestern sensibility, domestic and traditional. What set it apart from other, similar movements in American history was that members of the middle-class uprooted themselves by choice, moving west to a more pleasing landscape that seemed to offer endless space and light.

Beneath this optimism, of course, there dwelt a nativist impulse; when Times city editor Charles Fletcher Lummis called Los Angeles the “new Eden of the Saxon home-seeker,” he was speaking to every so-called homegrown American frightened by the immigrants who had transformed cities such as Chicago and New York. Such a sensibility represents the underside of the Southern California mythos, and it would become part of the bedrock on which the region developed, helping fuel its essential conservatism while setting the stage for its most bitter legacies, from racial housing covenants to the John Birch Society, the Watts Riots to Rodney King.

In the early 1900s, however, Los Angeles sought to present itself as a blank slate, outside history or consequence, a three-dimensional template for a brand-new life. This was what Southern California had to offer, its attraction, its appeal to America and, indeed, the world. Come west, boosters like Lummis urged — and come these middle-class migrants did. From 1900 to 1930, the population of L.A. County grew from 170,298 to 2,208,492. The enormous village’s status as a promised land was assured.

However, by tradition and location Los Angeles would remain a magnet for Latin American migration.  By the 1920s, the Mexican Revolution would cast off enough dispossessed bourgeoisie and disappointed peasants to fortify the city’s Mexican population.  That movement continued throughout the century, turningLos Angeles into a center for Latino/Chicano struggle in the US, as Gustavo Arellano remembers:

My father arrived in a Los Angeles under siege. The Latino community, beset by decades of discrimination and harassment, was angry. Calling themselves Chicanos, Latinos demanded better schools, a fairer government and less police brutality. There were protest rallies and marches. The city leaders responded with violence — arrests and beatings. In 1970, Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar was killed by a tear-gas projectile fired by police during an East L.A. protest against the Vietnam War. Yet for all the turmoil, Papi was oblivious to this chaos. He was 19 years old and ready to work. So were millions of his countrymen who would follow him across the border in the coming weeks, years and decades, all ready to change America for good.

Pundits have predicted the Latinization of America for years, often in apocalyptic terms — witness the fulminations of radio and television talk shows. Many people can’t accept the fact that the heirs to imperial Spain, the scions of Pancho Villa, are the nation’s largest minority, and increasingly a majority in communities across los Estados Unidos.

Some call this reconquista— the idea (born from a bizarre fusion of pre-Columbian Aztec, medieval Spanish and post-revolutionary Mexican mythologies) that Mexicans are intent on reclaiming ancestral lands “stolen” by the Yankee imperialists. But this theory pays no heed to the centuries-old yells of America’s Latinos. All they’ve ever wanted is acceptance, the right to live as Americans while keeping some semblance of their ancestral culture. Latinos assimilate, but many Americans just don’t want to believe it.

More than in Miami, New York or Texas, Los Angeles is where Latinos’ struggle for acceptance finds its truest expression in the United States. Californios became foreigners in their own lands after the 1848 Mexican-American War, and a nuisance for nearly a century afterward. The hometown film industry reduced them to stock characters — the spicy señorita, the greasy bandito — and exported the images across the country. Segregation and discrimination was the rule.

Influx of immigrants, from Asia as well as from Latin America, broadened the reach of the city as its residents networked with their home countries.

Outside Hollywood, Asian Americans have long added a global dimension to Los Angeles. Since 1960, immigration has been the main impetus of Asian population growth in the United States. With almost 5 million Asian Pacific residents, California has the largest such population in the country. This includes Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Asian Indian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Laotian, Cambodian, Hmong and Thai. It’s not surprising that L.A. County has the largest percentage of Asian Americans in the state — more than a million people, according to the U.S. Census, of whom 70% are immigrants. Any map of L.A. would reveal “Asian global ethno-hubs” in the central city (Koreatown, Thai Town, Chinatown, Little Tokyo) and in the San Gabriel Valley, where Little Taipei includes ethnic Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as native-born American Chinese. Farther south, Cambodians in Long Beach are organizing for a Little Cambodia not far from Little India in Artesia, or Little Saigon in Garden Grove.

What do the ethno-hubs mean for the future? How do they connect Los Angeles to the world? These nexuses of Asian residents and commercial and cultural activities have developed a complicated network of institutions, including churches and temples, language schools, banks, book and video stores, markets, factories and other businesses, linked with like institutions across the United States and Asia, as well. Much like the lotus garden that blooms in Echo Park lake, the roots of L.A.’s Asian ethno-hubs traverse the city and spiral across the Pacific to Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, New Dehli, Manila and Singapore.

Pushing the apocalyptic visions of Blade Runner aside, much of the city’s growth–political, cultural and economic, not just demographic–can be attributed to migration.

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One (among many) of the problems I have with Minutemen-like movements is that their claim the enforce American law just covers for breaking the law.  Not just passive watchers over the landscape with binoculars and cellphones in hand, they come with guns, prepared to confront and threaten those who dare cross the border.  The NY Times looks at one of these vigilantes, Roger Barnett, and the effort to bring him to justice.

Immigrant rights groups have filed lawsuits, accusing him of harassing and unlawfully imprisoning people he has confronted on his ranch near Douglas. One suit pending in federal court accuses him, his wife and his brother of pointing guns at 16 illegal immigrants they intercepted, threatening them with dogs and kicking one woman in the group.

Another suit, accusing Mr. Barnett of threatening two Mexican-American hunters and three young children with an assault rifle and insulting them with racial epithets, ended Wednesday night in Bisbee with a jury awarding the hunters $98,750 in damages. …
A few years ago, however, the Border Action Network and its allied groups began collecting testimony from illegal immigrants and others who had had confrontations with Mr. Barnett.

They included the hunters, who sued Mr. Barnett for unlawful detention, emotional distress and other claims, and sought at least $200,000. Ronald Morales; his father, Arturo; Ronald Morales’s two daughters, ages 9 and 11; and an 11-year-old friend said Mr. Barnett, his brother Donald and his wife, Barbara, confronted them Oct. 30, 2004.

Ronald Morales testified that Mr. Barnett used expletives and ethnically derogatory remarks as he sought to kick them off state-owned property he leases. Then, Mr. Morales said, Mr. Barnett pulled an AR-15 assault rifle from his truck and pointed it at them as they drove off, traumatizing the girls.

Barnett’s own mentality betrays  any recourse to claim to act in the name of the law:

For your children, for our future, that’s why we need to stop them.  If we don’t step in for your children, I don’t know who is expected to step in.

For our children–this has overtones of eugenics and racial science.  He is claiming that illegal immigration will create an inheritable problem.  It is a problem that, as he sees it, is worth controvening law, even morality, in order to stop.

Higher walls, more patrols–nationalist measures to problems of illegal border crossings are unlikely to be effective, more likely to warp the structure of immigration. A commentary by Guido Friebel and Sergeï Guriev in Le Monde describes how tougher border controls tend to push illegal immigrants into the waiting hands of organized crime rather than repulsing them.

Good news for you, [smugglers]! The western governments are trying to control immigration by organizing a battle against illegal immigrants. The voyage becomes more perilous. You become incontrovertible. And at their arrival, your stranglehold on the endebted illegal immigrants is stronger than ever before. If they attempt to escape, they will fall into the police dragnets. Their docility is much more likely. … Your invenstment is more likely to be profitable. [Translation mine]

Border enforcement drives up the cost of crossings. The potential immgrants, unable to pay, lose their independence to organized crime. Indeed, the poorer the immigrant, the more likely that he or she will be indebted to the smugglers.

Friebel and Guriev point to a second problem as well: concentrating on the border, the places where the labor of illegal immigrants is exploited are left unobserved.

So, how effective is tougher border security? With regards to illegal immigrants, probably not much. If they are caught at the border, fine. If not, they descend into a spiral of dependence that authorities pay no heed to. Organized crimes can only profit from this situation.

[The untranslated articles is below the fold.]

[ETA] The federal government seems already aware of this vulnerability among illegal immigrants.  Fearing that drug cartels will court them for the meth trade, the government is producing Mexican-style fotonovelas to dissuade immigrants from crime:

Fotonovelas — pocket-size picture books popular in Mexico — have gotten a California makeover that authorities hope persuades immigrant laborers to resist the easy-money temptation of the methamphetamine trade.

Thousands in the meth-plagued Central Valley have read the bilingual graphic-novel story of Jose, a farmworker who creates tragedy for his family by working for a drug ring. No Vale La Pena, or It’s Not Worth It, has inspired a Spanish-language docudrama, and police from Tennessee to Colorado have requested copies.

In Mexico, fotonovelas often illustrate life’s struggles through recurring characters, like the trucker with a heart of gold or the secretary trying to get ahead. Community leaders in and around Merced, about 130 miles southeast of San Francisco, saw them as an effective way to reach immigrant workers.

“We were trying to get that message across to a population that has a very low literacy level and that’s really isolated,” said public relations executive Virginia Madueno, who created the booklet. “So we thought, ‘Aha! A fotonovela.'”

 

 

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Polish Diaspora: As Poles are taking advantage of EU’s single employment market, employers at home find that they need to import labor from other parts of Europe. Another situation in which economic growth really benefits those with moderate education (see the U-Curve below).

This is the “second” Poland, a diaspora of 800,000 Poles estimated by officials here to have left the country since it joined the European Union in May 2004. The exodus is believed to be one of the largest migrations by Europeans since the 1950s, when a wave of Irish crossed the Atlantic to escape poverty. But in Poland, this huge movement of people has created a labor shortage so severe that the government may not be able to spend the money that is due to begin arriving in January from the European Union for projects like improving roads and the water supply.

[One] factor in the unemployment rate is the mismatch between jobs and workers. Krystyna Iglicka, a migration expert and sociologist at the Center for International Relations in Warsaw, says that Poland’s education system failed in the 1990s to train enough skilled workers, including engineers and craftsmen. “The trendy professions were marketing and services, not focusing on vocational or technical skills,” Ms. Iglicka said. “Vocational and technical schools were closed, teachers were made redundant. We are now paying the price.”

So critical is the shortage of welders and shipbuilders for Poland’s shipping industry that Poland and Germany are close to an accord that would allow unemployed workers from northern German ports to work in Poland.

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The Guardian reports on the industry that has grown around clandestine immigration from West Africa to Spain.  Areas of Senegal are becoming ports of call for Africans who, throwing caution to the wind, board flimsy vessels with the hope of reaching the nearest piece of European soil.

 Now the village [of Diogue] economy has found a new source of income: emigration. The hopefuls have to stock up on water, food and other supplies for the voyage, which can take two weeks. There are bargains to be had as the young men who are leaving sell anything they will not be needing where they are going – local currency is exchanged for euros at less than the going rate and mobile phones are dirt cheap. Many struggling fishermen have sold their pirogues to people-smugglers. But once the money has been spent, they find themselves with no way to make a living.

Africans are making harrowing journeys out into the ocean, hoping to find their way to the Canary Islands.  These trips are make-or-break propositions, costing a lifetime’s savings, and threatening lives themselves.

Forsten, Edward and Isaac are a little less fearless. They are from Ghana, but have been in Gambia for the past year, working on a building site to save the 400,000 CFA francs, the currency of Senegal and other former French colonies, charged for the trip to Europe (about £400).

All Forsten has with him is a half-filled plastic bag of his belongings. He is aware of the dangers of going to Spain in a pirogue, but he says that he has no choice – his life in Ghana is little more than a day-to-day struggle for survival, ‘and I can’t see that ever changing’.

Edward and Isaac managed to get on a boat leaving from Diogue, and were off the coast of Mauritania when a huge storm blew up. Everyone in the boat – including the ‘captain’ – was so terrified that they decided to head back to Senegal. Two people died in the course of the voyage from exhaustion and sickness. Their bodies were thrown overboard. ‘It was like we had become animals,’ Edward says afterwards. ‘I realised that it wasn’t worth degrading ourselves, and risking our lives just to get to Europe, even though it means the end of our hopes of finding a way out of the dead end we are in. There is no work for us back home.’ They know that the jobs they left in Gambia to go to Diogue will have been filled by others.

Not only have they lost their dream of a better life, Edward and Isaac have also lost the money that they had worked for a year to save up – the man who organised the voyage refused to reimburse them. Now they set off on the long journey back to Ghana. Isaac has a Spanish phrasebook tucked into his plastic bag. Will they make another attempt, once they have got some more money together? ‘When we were on that boat we saw into the pit,’ he says. ‘We were so tightly packed in there that no one could move. There were a number of us who couldn’t speak to anyone, because we didn’t share the same language. After the storm the supplies of food and water began to run out. Most of us had never been at sea before. We were ill and scared, and then the people started dying…’ His voice trails off. ‘I can’t describe how awful it was. Nothing is worth that.’

Read the article for more testimonials.