To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chicagoboyz has a post up: Blinded By His Narrow Focus. It's about an article the blog author read, that seems to extrapolate conditions in a county in California to the rest of the country.

I started to comment on it and then realized that my comments were running too long, so I decided to park them here.

I lived in Memphis, TN from 1982 until last year. When my daughter was in first grade - that would have been in 1993 or so - there weren't very many Hispanics in Memphis. Her class studied Mexico during multicultural week. One of my coworkers, a Mexican-American, was kind enough to speak to her class and answer questions about Mexico because no one in the school had any direct experience. By the time she finished elementary school, there were a few Hispanic children in some of the classes. Not long after, a third to a half of the school was Hispanic. (This was a parochial school.) Memphis experienced a big demographic shift, during which we saw some things we were not used to seeing, including Hispanic-looking people standing around outside Home Depot. (I never inquired as to their immigration status.) Billboards, flyers, newspapers in Spanish appeared and then increased in number too. No one planned this or decided it should happen, it just happened

My point(s)?
1 - Nothing, NOTHING is static. It never was. Memphis was never frozen in time. The Hispanic demographic shift was visible because of the Spanish-language stuff, and the schools suddenly had to add a lot of ESL classes, sure. But busing for desegregation happened, white flight happened, etc., long before this. Also waves of immigrants from countries where they were fleeing oppression, so that certain parts of town began to see Vietnamese restaurants and grocery stores, and various things of that nature. You can't really pick a moment in the past and say "this is the real Memphis". The only constant is change, right? Xenophobes and other people who can't handle change are going to have heartburn but they can't stop the process.

2 - Nothing stays put, either. Today Marin County, CA, tomorrow Podunk, OH. I should say "nothing people-related". El Ninos aren't going to suddenly start causing drought in Texas and flooding in California. But there's not a wall up between California and Ohio so even though the article might not speak to conditions today, the blog post author might re-read it two or three years from now in a different light.

But I keep thinking about cells. Cells have membranes, not walls, so that things can move in and out of the cells as needed for the cells to survive. [Edited to add: some non-animal cells have walls, of course.] The movement in and out is strictly controlled. If a cell membrane is destroyed, the cell no longer has integrity and it can't function any longer. I think eventually the world will be like one big cell. This process started happening with pre-Roman Empire trade routes and really started accelerating with steam ships and railroads and trans-continental air travel, and the internet by which we can read newspapers in other countries and have conversation with their inhabitants; and NAFTA and free trade and all that other stuff. But we're not there yet, and I wonder what kind of cell membrane the USA really needs. Maybe I'm a xenophobe but I wonder if we've let our membrane weaken prematurely.*

When I think about all the illegal immigrants who come here to find work, and why it is that they can find it (because employers can sidestep OSHA regs and labor laws if they know their employees won't complain) I wonder about capitalism. I wonder if it's true, as Marx(?) said, that capitalism requires an underclass. First the US had slaves, then black people without civil rights, then when black people got the same rights that white people had, suddenly we needed a new class of people without rights. Is that it? Or is it not necessary except for those capitalists who want too much profit and are willing to break the law to get it? I bet Fred Smith and people of his ilk aren't hiring illegals, and they're not hurting. I've had to show proof of eligibility to work at every job that I remember filling out paperwork for.

Still, it seems that we must somehow want these people here, and in the status they have. If we truly didn't want them, we'd send them out and close our borders, right? Instead of discussing whether, for instance, they should get driver licenses and pay in-state tuition. But since they are here, why is it so hard for those who are self-supporting and law-abiding (as far as they can be) to be regularized? Is it just the usual lumbering monster of bureaucracy, or an inherent flaw in our political system? I wish I knew.

*To continue the membrane analogy - one could look at immigration or at occupation, as a kind of endosymbiosis. The idea of endosymbiosis is that some of the organelles in eukaryotic cells - mitochondria, chloroplasts in plant cells - started out as prokaryotes that moved into other cells either as parasites or as food, and because the larger cell offered some protection and the smaller cell offered energy, it stayed around and reproduced with the larger cell. There's some evidence to support this (mitochondria have their own ribosomes, which are like bacterial ribosomes, and they have their own DNA, which is configured like bacterial DNA, not the X and Y of eukaryotes' nuclear DNA). These things have evolved so that you can't independently culture the mitochondria or the chloroplasts; they can only function as part of the eukaryotic cell. The point is that it doesn't matter now whether the prokaryotes that gave rise to these organelles started out as food or as parasites; they are a vital part of the eukaryotes either way. In the same way, it hopefully doesn't matter whether an American's ancestors came here for a better life, or fleeing famine or oppression, or were brought here in chains - they should be able to both contribute to the "cell" and enjoy the "cell's" benefits, and see themselves and be seen as part of the larger whole. This is hopefully true of our Hispanic immigrants as well. They change us, we change them, and we all benefit.

Adapt or die, right?


Mrs. Who said...

Excellent, excellent analogy. Making me ponder my thoughts on immigration policies.

Nancy said...

Very well said. I'm glad I read this today.

Sloan said...

I think your cell analogy is very descriptive. And to carry it a bit further: there are osmotic gradients at work that enable the cell to carefully balance the concentration of substances (electrolytes, for example) inside the cell, relative to the outside. Upset this balance, and all sorts of wacky things happen.

Those of us who advocate immigration reform are not advocating a non-permeable membrane; that way lies certain cell death. We're just advocating the proper functioning of these "passive transport" systems so that the cell (our country and its economic and social support systems) does not become overwhelmed.

I may be a chemist, but I do love biology. :-)

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Sloane, thanks for the enhancement of my analogy. I think the passive transports are going to have to be more deliberate on the national scale than on the cellular scale.

Maybe Planet Earth is just one big fractal....

Tigger said...

"But since they are here, why is it so hard for those who are self-supporting and law-abiding (as far as they can be) to be regularized? Is it just the usual lumbering monster of bureaucracy, or an inherent flaw in our political system? I wish I knew"

I don't think it's that hard to determine the issue here. You're advocating the legalization, or at least the 'fast-tracking' of legalization, of a specific group people who've already broken US law to get here. Basically you will be rewarding bad behavior with what they wanted in the first place. Sort of the equivalent of awarding a squatter rights to the house he refuses to leave. I mean, he can fix the shingles, he'll mow the lawn, and the real owner has more than enough room to give the squatter 'living space' so what's the problem? Sure, he's filed suit to have him removed, but if we REALLY wanted him gone, he'd be gone. So that fact that he's still there means someone must want him there. So why not let him stay? He can help out around the house and the real owner can carve out a piece of the land so the new guy can build a house of his own.

And what reason do we have to give them legal status now? Are they somehow exempt from waiting their turn simply because they were born physically closer to our border? Are we to give any thought to the millions of people who have been waiting for visa's for years the right way? Or is a big middle finger enough as we say 'well, these guys made the effort to actually BREAK our laws so we should deal with and legalize them first'?

Do you honestly think that by legalizing the ones who are here that you would in any way deter others from coming AFTER this legalization process is complete?

Can you tell me why we won't be doing this same thing again in 20 years like we did in 1983 for the last 'last time' we bulk legalized millions?

What you're advocating is the perpetuation of a process that's broken. Legalize, fail to enforce the border, wait 20 years, and repeat.

This really seems logical to you?

Laura(southernxyl) said...

If I thought "Tigger" wanted to engage in conversation, I would take the trouble to respond. Instead, I'm pretty sure this is just a driveby from a person who can't really back up what he says and doesn't want to try.

rightsaidfred said...

I think tigger has a valid point: amnesty without border enforcement just encourages more illegal immigration.

Our illegal cohort is here in overwhelming numbers, and there is little debate about the long term consequences. Though not the cause of our health care or mortgage default problems, there are indications that they hastened or made worse these problems.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Rightsaidfred, if you or tigger wants to have conversation about this, that's fine.

Right now all of the illegals live in a shadow world. They're here, but they're under the radar. Either widespread deportation OR amnesty ought to be better than to continue as we're going - don't you think?