Gringos Talk Back: Part One

By Greg Moses

The Gringo Vigilante article has hit a bad nerve, and complaints are flowing in. Which is just the kind of thing we like to see. Lots of opportunity to listen and respond about civil rights issues today. This is a live one. Below are three emails to start with. But first, something I ran into while researching my replies:

As I was writing up the immigration story below, a report coming out of the Center for Immigration Studies argues that anti-aging effects of immigration will be modest.

Immigration in an Aging Society: Workers, Birth Rates, and Social Security (April 2005) By Steven A. Camarota

I didn’t find the study prior to publication of my little pro-immigration romp. Although the study would have dampened the tone of my “fountain of youth” effusions, it remains a credible conclusion to draw that the anti-aging effects of immigration trend in the beneficial direction. In other words the more immigration we have coming the younger we get as a nation, even though overall it is difficult to affect the large momentum of the aging trend.

Much of the discussion in the immigration study is misleading since it dwells upon the anti-aging effects of past immigration.

In the year 2000, immigrants who had arrived since 1981 were on average 33 years old (compared to nonimmigrant average of 36). But post-1991 immigrants were on average 28 point something years old. As time goes on, the difference between the average age of immigrants and nonimmigrants widens.

At the present time says the study there is not much difference between the average ages of immigrants and nonimmigrants. Which sounds so irrelevant that you have to wonder why they took so long studying past immigration in the first place.

The article does offer evidence collected from federal sources to address the pertinent question of anti-aging effects in the future. As with aging, so it goes with social security. The more immigration the better with similar modesty of overall results.

But what’s more important about the study is that practical effects of immigration one way or the other hardly surpass marginal to modest impacts. Which means that if one can not find in immigration a panacea for aging demographics, one can hardly blame immigration for severe structural ills either.

* * *

So far, mail is running 100 percent negative. One email from New York simply accuses me in the subject line of being “Another Liberal Idiot!!!” without any message attached. No doubt the author of the email sees enough liberal idiots in New York that the characteristics become self evident. And there are many days when I do miss that crowd. But imagining New York without robust immigration? Maybe it is simply the experience of walking the New York streets that guides my pro-immigration instincts. Dylan in his memoir calls New York City capital of the world. You couldn’t say a thing like that without immigrants. By the same token, I dream that San Antonio could become capital of the Americas.

Of course there is no way to put shipping lanes through San Antonio, so maybe Houston has to be the going chance for Texas. It is already a city with international flair.

* * *

Another email cites some interesting things to consider. At least the author takes some time to provide evidence:

  • The Wall Street Journal says we should open the border, because the immigrants will work for a “reasonable” paycheck.
  • The border watch people blames the EMPLOYERS for the immigration problem.
  • How can workers unionize if they get undercut?
  • Japan seems to do well without cheap labor
  • Should rich people not do their own laundry?
  • The combined effect of these items I take to support some kind of labor nationalism by pointing out that American workers would be in a better bargaining position as an island unto themselves. And I can see the logic. It does have some force to it. But labor nationalism is a volatile game to play within an American context. The weakness of American labor results in large measure from racism. And racism in an American context is difficult to untangle from labor nationalism.

    The minutemen vigilantes claim all kinds of ways not to be racist. They claim to be only 92 percent of European descent. But then they post long diatribes against the Southern Poverty Law Center and Morris Dees. Their explicit message of “law enforcement not racism” has functional consequences not so simple to contain.

    From an international perspective of human rights, it would be best if there were labor planning forums organized around robust worker power. I know that’s not happening. But the proposal at least establishes a conceptual approach to the problem of Mexico-USA labor relations which have to be thrown into a complex 500 year history. In the context of the American Southwest, immigration is a family issue in the sense of involving parties that have long and intimate acquaintance.

    Or to use another analogy, the USA-Mexico border runs like a track through your typical Southern order of things, with Mexico on one side of the tracks and USA on the other. It fools no one to pretend that the inequalities between the two sides of the track result from entirely independent histories. Therefore it remains for me incredible to argue that any human solution can be confined to either national framework.

    I don’t have any opinions about whether the rich should do their own laundry. Elton John once said (I believe to David Frost) that laundry represented a kind of emotional threshold issue for him because of his rampant wealth. One thing he had to work out as part of his general recovery was an ability to do his own wash. It had for him a kind of Zen value. I hope I’m not taking the point too seriously, but I would think that a progressive answer to the laundry question would depend on the labor conditions of the hired help.

    BTW: Hope you enjoyed your visit to Texas, Sir Elton. It couldn’t have been better timed. Congratulations on your engagement. (Editor takes break to vacuum bedroom.)

    * * *

    A third email asks: “Such bizarre racism is quite unbecoming of a “progressive.” I understand that it’s cute and fun to characterize the Minutemen and by association all of White America as “gringos,” but think: when the Hispanic population outnumbers the gringos in America in 50 years, will your charming little race-based comments about White people as illiterate, greedy, and inherently evil be taken so lightly? When will the racism line reverse? I don’t understand this latent hypocrisy in your essay.”

    Hmmm. I guess cute and fun come close to describing the intended tone of the article. But racism? I consider the article to be anti-racist. Whether the tone will hold up in fifty years is a good question — thanks for asking — and precisely the reason that I implore the borderland vigilantes to reconsider their posture at this point in time, while it is possible to lighten the still somewhat playful charges of idiocy, illiteracy, and greed.

    * * *

    Oh look, more negative emails coming in. Stay tuned.

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