Arizona's Immigration Law: a Modern Expression of Manifest Destiny

As a result of several recent draconian laws, Arizona’s image has taken a drubbing internationally. And yet, Arizona is but the spear. In reality, its politics are not that different from other states or from Washington. That more than a dozen states are waiting in the wings with copycat legislation and the Obama administration continues to view migration through a law enforcement and military prism is plenty proof.

Those politics, fueled by cowardly politicians and hate radio, are undeniably anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant. And in truth, they are actually anti-indigenous. In effect, the politics are an extension of Manifest Destiny. Its modern expression is a manifest insanity – an attempt to maintain the myth of America, reserved for White Anglo Saxon Protestants – amid the “browning” of the nation.

These Arizona laws are part of a spasmodic reaction to this demographic shift, an attempt to maintain a political and cultural dominance over those who are seen as defeated peoples. These laws seek to maintain this narrative of conquest. This is why the loss of lives of some 5,000 Mexicans and Central Americans – primarily indigenous peoples ––in the Arizona Sonora desert in the past dozen years, mean little in this clash. The same is true in regards to the recent killings of two Mexicans by U.S. agents along the U.S.-Mexico border.

For those who are attempting to uphold this dominance, the browning of America represents another time – a cultural and political reversal of the so-called triumph of Western Civilization. This is what Arizona represents -- a clash of civilizations and narratives over the myth of America itself. Nothing less.

Rodolfo Acuña, author of “Occupied America,” came to Arizona last week, offering a stark reminder about this clash. His book – along with Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” – has been at the center of the anti-ethnic studies firestorm and law HB 2281 signed last month by Gov. Jan Brewer. (She signed SB 1070 – the racial profiling law – the previous month).

The controversy surrounding his book has been fueled by an extreme Eurocentric ignorance. For several years, State Superintendent Tom Horne has been pushing an “Americanization” agenda, insisting that Arizona students be exposed only to "Greco-Roman" knowledge. Knowledge centered elsewhere is generally considered subversive and un-American, including Mesoamerican or Maize knowledge – knowledge that is indigenous to this continent. It is this knowledge that is at the philosophical heart of Mexican American or Raza studies. Arizona is not alone in this insanity; Texas Education officials recently banned the inclusion of labor leader Dolores Huerta in Texas school curriculums.

Horne has long claimed that Raza studies preach hate, result in segregation and promote anti-Americanism and the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. The truth is, he has had a vendetta against Raza studies since Dolores Huerta proclaimed in 2006 at Tucson High School that Republicans “hate Latinos.” Horne, who constantly denigrates her as “Cesar Chavez’s former girlfriend,” has spent the past several years trying to prove her right.

As Acuña found out in Arizona, for some, having a different philosophical center, in and of itself, constitutes a threat to this cultural and political domination. More than that, it threatens the national narrative of having tamed a wild, savage and empty continent, of having conquered, exterminated and civilized “the Indians.”

Enter “Occupied America” and it upsets the carefully crafted myth and narrative of the United States as the land of freedom and democracy -- and for some, heaven on Earth.

Raza studies critics in Arizona are barely familiar with Acuña’s book. At best, they spar over its title and a few catch phrases (misinterpreting “La Raza” to mean “The Race” as opposed to “The People”) and attempt to denigrate an entire discipline on the basis of their ignorance.

Yet, at the core, the critics are correct. Ethnic studies indeed is a threat to the myth of America – the mythical America in which genocide, land theft, slavery and dehumanization are denied or are but mere footnotes. With such a denial, the concept of "occupied America" – an occupied continent – becomes unfathomable. The narrative of an empty continent, incidentally, is what permits the myth of “no occupation.”

The best Raza studies critics can do is attempt to dehumanize Mexicans and Chicanos. In their conjured-up narrative, Mexicans and Chicanos are neither legitimate Americans, nor legitimate human beings. Neither are they afforded the status of indigenous peoples. At best, they are mongrels, undeserving of full human rights. This dominant narrative is dependent upon this process of de-indigenization and dehumanization. Those of us who cannot be deported (watch out -- the next battle in Arizona will be over the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship) are welcome here, as long as we participate in our own assimilation or ethnic cleansing and are happily subservient and willing to accept this national myth.

That’s the definition of manifest insanity.

Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona


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