Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Aviva Chomsky: "Nos Quitan Nuestros Trabajos!"

Shop Indie Bookstores
The fact that I read this book proves that I am very smart, or proves that I am very dumb. I really wanted to read Aviva Chomsky's book "Nos Quitan Nuestros Trabajos," and I had it in my mind that this was the title of the English book. So I finally found it at the library, and requested it. It was not until I was walking home from the library reading the book that I realized that I had, in fact, ordered a book in Spanish. It's been almost two decades since I've read a book in Spanish, but I REALLY wanted to read this book, and the library didn't have it in English. So it took me almost three weeks to read a 170-page book

If you don't read Spanish, the title of the book is "They Take Our Jobs! and 20 Other Myths about Immigration." The book is broken into these 21 myths, though the trajectory of the book reads clearly, and it would be hard to just pick out a myth as a soundbite to help convince your anti-immigration friends. (Do you have those friends?) Chomsky covers all the common arguments you've heard, (immigrants take American jobs, immigrants compete with low-skilled workers
and drive down wages, immigrants don’t pay taxes, the rules apply to everyone, so new immigrants need to follow them just as immigrants in the past did, today’s immigrants are not learning English, and bilingual education just adds to the problem, immigrants only come here because they want to enjoy our higher standard of living) some arguments that aren't spoken aloud, but are very much part of the national debate, (the United States is a melting pot that has always welcomed immigrants from all over the world, since we are all the descendants of immigrants here, we all start on equal footing, today’s immigrants threaten the national culture because they are not assimilating) and dispels some common misconceptions (the United States has a generous refugee policy, the United States is a melting pot that has always welcomed immigrants from all over the world.) She also uses the myth framework to discuss conceptual issues bigger issues- my favorite part- like citizenship and immigration itself in chapters like "Immigration is a problem," and "Countries need to control who goes in and out." (Note: I did not translate these chapter titles. I can read in Spanish but it seems ridiculous to try to translate a book originally written in English, translated to Spanish, back to English again. I took them from the publisher's website.)

According to Article 6 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law." Chomsky uses this framework to flesh out an idea of US citizenship: if framers of the Constitution really meant white men, and gradually more and more segments of the population have gained rights, what does it really mean to be a "citizen"  in the US and what does it mean that the US does not follow the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that came out of the end of WWII? It's easy to say cynically that the US unilaterally follows whatever international laws the country feels apply, but there's a much deeper conversation to be had here, that Chomsky traces back to the beginning of the country, slavery, and all immigration since the first colonists. Not only does the US violate international treaties, restrictions on immigration and naturalization are ways around the 14th Amendment, she argues, which guarantees equal rights to everyone. Because the amendment doesn't specify who "all persons" are, or who can be naturalized, the government can and does take a narrow view of citizenship probably intended by the drafters of the amendment: a letter of the law interpretation.

Chomsky takes a fascinating look at the intersection of race and national origin/ethnicity: in most countries, she explains, these are related very closely. In the United States, however, assimilation is all about becoming white and English-speaking: an impossible task for all but those who have white skin. Whenever laws come close to giving rights of citizenship to non-whites, they must be changed to further exclude: Chomsky gives the example of an 1857 Supreme Court case that stated that descendants of Africans couldn't be citizens, therefore denying free blacks citizenship. Though Chomsky's book was written in 2007, one might also look to the current attempts at limiting the right to vote through Voter ID laws. Arguments against immigration and naturalization, are bolstered of course, by racists arguments that immigrants can't or don't assimilate. 

Myth 17, "Immigration is a problem," is a good one. Chomsky agrees: it certainly is a problem, but not like we think of it. It's a humanitarian problem, and the government has made it a worse problem. Immigration needs to be rethought, with an entirely different framework, including a new, more equitable global market and conceptualization of citizenship.  There's a lot going on in this book, and I can only recommend reading it in terms of the concepts and facts Chomsky introduces- I have no idea if it reads well, since I read it in my second language. It should be a short, fast read, though, and worth a shot.