10.4.12 Links Roundup

It’s not like Saracho goes around pretending to be Mexican-American. In fact, the article noted her ambivalence toward being called a “Chicana,” and stated clearly that she describes herself as a “green-card-carrying Mexican citizen.”
Still, it hurt when, a few paragraphs later, the co-founder of a Latino Chicago theater company made this damning observation: “She’s the first really viable local Latino playwright we’ve had.”
Ouch! In a state with 1.6 million Mexican-Americans and in Chicago, the city with the fourth-largest Mexican-American population in the country, we had to wait for someone to immigrate to become the shining beacon of artistic hope for the fastest growing minority population in the country?

“Zoe is an incredible actress–I think that she’s a fine actress. I think that there should be some work done, like a prosthetic nose would be helpful and definitely some darker makeup. If Forest Whittaker can become darker in “The Last King Of Scotland” then I believe Nina should be treated with that respect. She was very adamant about her color about her nose about her shape and her self and there needs to be some homage paid to that.”

To mock real Indians by chanting like Hollywood Indians in order to protest someone you claim is not Indian at all gets very confusing. Even more so because early Americans spent centuries killing Indians, and then decades trying to drive any distinctive Indianness out of the ones who survived. Perhaps we’ve come a long way if Americans are now going around accusing people who don’t look or act Indian enough of appropriating that identity for personal gain. But in fact, the appropriation of Indian virtues is one of the country’s oldest traditions.

Indians — who we are and what we mean — have always been part of how America defined itself. Indians on the East Coast were largely (but never completely) deracinated, and tribes like the Delaware were either killed or relocated farther west. At the same time, their Indianness was extracted as a set of virtues: honor, stoicism, dignity, freedom. Once, in college, an African-American student shook his head when I told him that I was Indian and he said he was jealous. Why? I asked. Because you lived life on your own terms and would rather have died than become a slave. That sentiment — totally at odds with the reality in which many tribes were indeed enslaved and a few owned slaves themselves — seemed a very wistful expression of what being an Indian meant.

By using “illegal” instead of “undocumented” or another term, the Times and AP are implicitly privileging the way in which the federal immigration bureaucracy defines immigrants over the way immigrants define themselves. Too frequently journalists and scholars accept these definitions out of hand without questioning them. How, why, and by whom are these definitions created? As law enforcement agencies that justify their yearly budgets and very existence by the number of people they apprehend, detain, and deport, do the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have a vested interest in defining immigrants as “illegal”? Do government-contracted private prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America and its shareholders have a vested interest in defining immigrants as “illegal”?

Instead of asking whether “illegal immigrant” is “the right” description, the more important question is what is the best description? Most of the commonly used descriptors are imperfect and inherently problematic in one way or another. Aside from “illegal” and “undocumented,” other terms such as “out of status,” “illicit,” and “irregular” are clunky and confusing. Almost all are too capacious. “Unauthorized” may be the best of all the flawed options since, unlike most of the other terms, it describes immigrants’ relation to the state without denigrating them.

The thing is, Homeland has a race problem. Brody is both white and the only sympathetic Muslim on the show. It isn’t lost on him that his al-Qaeda contacts seem motivated by opportunism and greed, while Brody himself is motivated by the killing of a child he loved. Regular Muslims, by contrast, are depicted as people prone to mob violence who can be easily manipulated by their rulers. The site of angry Muslims burning Israeli and American flags outside the U.S. Embassy is one example from last night’s episode – and in light of recent violence against U.S. diplomats in Arab countries, this was not a neutral plot point – not even if it was written before the recent real-life killings of U.S. diplomats in Arab countries.

In the end, the reactions that people like Brody and his daughter, Dana, express in response to Islamophobia in the U.S. are meant to reflect on their basic human goodness, but these conceits do little to trouble stereotypes about Arab- and Persian-American Muslims. It all gets filtered instead through a lens of whiteness.