Beyond economics: about that Mexican flag

The idea that only economic "push/pull factors" drive immigration is about thirty years out of date among researchers. People find the idea of leaving their home country attractive for different reasons. Second only to jobs is the importance of what experts call "trans-national social networks." Simply put, people emigrate to places where they already have kin and acquaintances, where there are people who know where to find jobs, housing, etc. and where people understand the laws and customs of the host country.

Over the course of more than a hundred years, and beginning before today's U.S.-Mexican border was established, a social network developed among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the United States. This is by no means unique; there are similar networks between North Africa and France, Turkey and Germany, among the Kurds (across several countries) and in many other communities that cut across national lines. These groups tend to develop a unique sense of identity, one that straddles both the home culture and that of the host country.

That's important to understand as it reveals just how insulting the right's obsession with identity issues like the Mexican flag being waved at recent immigration protests really is. Virgil Goode, an IQ-challenged legislator from Virginia, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "I say if you are here illegally, and you want to fly the Mexican flag, go to Mexico to fly the Mexican flag!"

That's fine, but in all likelihood most if not all of those protesting were not undocumented; they were American citizens and legal residents and their protests were inspired by a mean-spirited immigration bill passed in the House that -- among other odious provisions -- would criminalize people who give any assistance at all to an illegal immigrant, including a member of their own family.

Many Latino voters know or are related to people without documents. I doubt we'll see a significant change in the immigration laws during this Congress for a bunch of reasons, and number one among them are those people protesting. More than two thirds of all Latinos are legal, they're the fastest growing segment of the population and they're voting in increasing numbers. Both parties want 'em.

And they're pissed about all those folks who don't have a problem with the Irish flag at St. Patrick's day marches but are freaking out about a few Mexican flags at legal and peaceful demonstrations for immigrant rights. It's a growing voting block that doesn't appreciate the rhetoric.

Conspiracy theories about Latinos trying to reclaim the Southwest are abundant. On Fox News last week Jack Wheeler, who has warned in the past of "Mexican Nazis gathering on our border," declared Mexico to be America's "greatest threat" and warned of an impending civil war between natives and immigrants.

Serious studies of transnational networks have shown that these communities are in fact quite patriotic towards the host country, often more so than the native population.


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