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Superman Is An Immigrant, Too - Luckily He's White


The costume worn by Christopher Reeve in the film "Superman IV" stands on display for auction in Beverly Hills on March 30, 2012 California.

In light of the of ongoing immigration reform debate, it would be rather convenient if a superhero could fly on in and save not only the day, but our stalling immigration reform. Unfortunately, though, we don’t live in the DC Comics world – which means Marco Rubio will continue to refuse answering questions about whether he supports his own immigration bill while also demanding increased border enforcement, and GOP Congressmen will continue to call immigrants “bank robbers.”

But Define America, an organization that seeks to bring new voices into the immigration reform dialogue, is connecting our disappointing, languished immigration reform debate and the DC Comics world. And they’re doing it by summoning one of America’s most cherished superheroes: Superman.

In the spirit of Superman’s internal struggle to understand who he is and where he has come, Define America is asking Americans to send in their ‘Superman’ story, a story the organization has dubbed “The American Way.”

The campaign’s Tumblr explains why:

Born on Krypton, he came to this country with the promise of Hope – the symbol he bears on his chest. Many of our families also have a history of immigration. We share Superman’s hope and we continue his fight for truth, justice and the American Way.

Even Google’s brief description of the newly realeased  movie Man of Steel highlights the same “American Way” story:

A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind.

Superman, clearly, is a fitting candidate for pro-immigration’s poster child. Even his last encounter with his parents, as their precious homeland ignites in flames, is reminiscent of the classic immigrant hope and dream: Placing him inside the small pod that will travel through space and to Earth, his parents say: “Goodbye my son, our hopes and dreams travel with you.”

“What is the hope of the immigrant than at core a promise that it would be better in America? That no matter what your situation is, it will be better [in America],” Comic-book writer Mark Waid told USA Today.

Superman’s good fortune, though, often goes unnoticed. He was extremely lucky to have landed on the predominately white-ruled U.S. as a white-skinned, human-looking alien. It would be an interesting conundrum to wonder what would have happened if the same man, with the same super-hero powers, had landed on Earth as a brown-skinned or black-skinned man, and whether he too would have been called an “illegal alien” (a term that fits white Superman much more accurately than it does undocumented immigrants).

(Oh, but of course, his writers never would have dreamt of that – it wouldn’t have made any money!)

Now imagine if this colored Superman were to land in the U.S. today. What would we think of him? My amateur guess is that there would be a serious problem with this colored man’s ‘potential terrorist’ powers (just like how so many government officials warn us of undocumented immigrants being “potential terrorists”)

Then again, he could have been born a (colored) woman, and that would have been a whole another story. (Superwoman would have had an especially hard time getting legal status in the U.S. compared to her male counterpart according to a new report.)

But, as a white and handsome Clark Kent, Superman assimilates just fine. He doesn’t even have to think about applying for any sort of lawful residency, visa or citizenship (the lucky guy!) But, today, his fantastic powers might have granted him what the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) calls an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability,” a title that allows for an immediate priority visa for residency.

But not all immigrants have these “extraordinary abilities” or powers — most are thrust into the only opportunities they have: picking strawberries, taking after the children of absent mothers and fathers, cleaning toilets and building the kinds of homes they’ll most likely never be able to enjoy. In fact, most of these immigrants aren’t allowed the opportunity to be or become “super.”

So, in endorsing a campaign that highlights a white-male ‘super’ immigrant, we face the possibility of alienating those who aren’t so ‘lucky.’ Not everyone arrives to Earth in a safety-sealed pod. Some have to cross rapid rivers, gapping mountains and deserts with scorching and freezing temperatures. And, unfortunately, many die on their way.

While the campaign has been great at raising dialogue around this complicated issue, and inviting an array of individuals to participate and tell their “American Way story,” we, as viewers, fans and participants must remember that Superman’s white skin and gender gives him a very privileged immigration experience. The campaign, therefore, needs to be approached with a vigilant eye. 

It would still be nice, though, if we saw a more fitting immigrant hero fly on in and save the day (let’s shut that Marco Rubio up, please!).

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