Cracking the Myth that “Since We All Are Descendants of Immigrants
Here, We All Start on Equal Footing”
by Nicole Knighton, June 2016
As a Professor of History, the Coordinator of Latin American Studies at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts, and an active participant in Latin American solidarity, Aviva Chomsky takes on the complicated task of dissecting the common myths about immigrants in America. In her book “They Take Our Jobs!” Chomsky breaks down the overall negative attitude towards immigrants, the myths that are often believed and spread, and pokes holes in each of their distinct fallacies. Although popular belief is that since all of our ancestors were immigrants from some part of the world, we all have equal beginnings and opportunities, Chomsky proves this belief is terribly and historically incorrect, especially for people of color, from the time of early settlement and the forceful takeover of indigenous people and their land, to the negative treatment toward hard working immigrants today.
The sole objective of the first English settlers was to conquer land, riches, and of course, people. Their mission was to spread the Anglo-Saxon race far and wide by any means necessary. In the 1890’s, the settlers sought to not only preserve, but expand their reign “in the occupation of every foot of land […] and that wherever we can do so righteously, we should endeavor to increase its influence and its possessions” (Chomsky 93). This new prominence of the “Anglo-Saxon race” declared a firm stance of the superiority and domination over all other mankind. Their intentions were pristinely clear: “Non Anglo-Saxons were supposed to stay put and be conquered—unless Anglo-Saxons decided to move them around” (Chomsky 93). Anglo-Saxons saw fit that they were entitled to control every aspect of their new acquired world, goods and people alike. Fair skinned immigrants from Europe were generally not scrutinized or looked down upon. In fact, Chomsky blatantly states, “The law privileged white European immigrants from the beginning” (91). White populations migrating from European countries were not interrogated or discriminated against. Immigrants of color, however, and even the native-born population that was already occupying the land, were characterized as unequal subordinates. They were considered beings that needed to be dominated, transported, and exploited for their land and for their labor.
Mexicans are probably the most common brunt of labor corruption. America conquered 55 percent of Mexican land in the Mexican American War, thus granting the Mexicans within this land automatic citizenship. However this did not mean that these new citizens were to be treated equally: “Mexican Americans had been relegated to a stigmatized, subordinate position in the social and economic hierarchies” (Chomsky 96). Although these people were native to this very land that they lived upon, under new regime, the native people of this territory now found themselves measured as a minority within their own homeland. “Socially and legally, these new citizens who were not Anglo-American occupied a distinctly second-class status” (Chomsky 96). They were granted citizenship on conditions classifying that they still remain less than equal beings to the tyrants that fought and killed to take over the land. While being granted official and legal residency to their “new” country, it was still very clear that they were not going to be considered equal to the Anglo-Saxons that bullied them into doing so.
Ironically, although Mexicans were not deemed as noble or equal to the Anglo-Saxons, their cheap labor exertions were still extremely valuable to the economy. There was still a high demand for their low-cost labor and all of its productions, such as food. “Mexicans became the ultimate subject of labor force, especially for seasonal agricultural work” (Chomsky 99). Mexicans became the primary subjects of labor exploitation and corruption. The U.S. knowingly and willingly allowed immigrants from Mexico into the United States only to take advantage of their hard work with little pay out. In fact, “The 1917 Immigration Act […] also created explicit provisions for Mexicans to be exempted from these so that southwestern agricultural interests could continue to import them as temporary workers” (Chomsky 97). It was written into law to allow specifically Mexicans into the country solely for their work. The U.S. depended greatly on their cheap farming labor and would export them back dirty and broke when the season ended or the work was finished. Again, Mexicans were being used as tools rather than as people with rights and opportunities to earn and honest and living protected by law, simply because of their origin and skin color.
In 1924, the United States drew its defined line and closed its border legally. However, the government still continued to use people from other countries for their fruitful labor efforts. “The 1942 bracero program reaffirmed the role as Mexican workers to be imported and exported according to the needs of U.S. agribusiness rather than humans with rights” (Chomsky 99). The U.S. deliberately sought after Mexicans to work tirelessly and be sent off when the work was done, as if they were robotic manufacturing machines, rather than people with emotions, families, and rights of their own. Companies on the east coast brought in workers with temporary visas from the Caribbean to perform agricultural work as well, and once their work was done they too were sent back or their visas were expired, thus classifying them as illegal. This process was deemed fair in the name of profit. “As long as popular opinion accepted the division between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ the social structures of inequality—and the profits they facilitated—could continue” (Chomsky 101). As long as the profit margin was high, and the government as well as the public was in agreement of labeling humans as aliens, and illegal, their methods of exploitation and exclusion would be here to stay. The division of equal pay, treatment, and opportunities assisted furthering the division between people by their obvious skin pigmentation.
According to history, people of this country were never created equal. Whether immigrants came to this country voluntarily, involuntary, or out of necessity, the pigments of their skin determined their social status, opportunities, and overall quality of life. Much has changed since the post-colonial days, yet much has not. Africans were captured and forced to migrate to America unwillingly, yet their presence was treated with disgust and distain. Slavery has embedded negative attitudes towards African Americans long after slavery and segregation has been abolished. Since 9/11, people of Middle Eastern heritage have been greatly denied various opportunities without severe analysis. Mexicans are typically labeled “illegal” and are forced to work in the secondary labor market because of the rigorous and nearly impossible requirements to achieve citizenship. If we all are kin of immigrants, what then, by definition, is an American? The common notion that the world is becoming a melting pot may be accurate genetically speaking, but not necessarily true in terms of social status and equality. Although the mainstream belief is that we all are descendants of immigrants and thus all equal upon the same starting line, Chomsky shows that history has undoubtedly proved this myth is terribly false, especially for people of color, dating back to the days of slavery and segregation, to the disdained opinion of undocumented people living in our country today.
Chomsky, Aviva “They Take Our Jobs!” Boston: Beacon Press, 2007. Print