Category Archives: immigration

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The Forgotten Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters

By Guest Contributor Ellen D. Wu, cross-posted from Nikkei Chicago

Sus Kaminaka was a zoot suiter: one of the many young people in 1940s America who embraced a distinctive, working-class urban aesthetic characterized by flamboyant fashions and irreverent comportment. Kaminaka and other hipsters sported pompadours and ducktail haircuts, “drapes” consisting of broad-shouldered, long fingertip coats tapered at the ankles, pleated pegged pants, wide-brimmed hats, and watch fobs. They also loved to party. Jazz, jitterbugging, lindy hopping, drinking, casual sex, and “cool” were just as integral to the lives of zoot suiters as their characteristic dress.

Sus Kaminaka was also a Nisei: a second-generation American born to immigrant Japanese parents and raised in the farmlands of California’s Sacramento Delta region. Planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, Kaminaka enrolled at a local agricultural college to study truck crops.

But President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed on February 19, 1942 and authorizing the secretary of war to “prescribe military areas… from which any or all persons may be excluded” completely upended his ambitions. Ostensibly region- and race-neutral, the order targeted Pacific Coast Japanese Americans. Forced to leave school, home, and community, he soon found himself in the Stockton Assembly Center, one of the 16 temporary way stations for the 120,000 Nikkei (persons of Japanese ancestry) en route to longer-term concentration camps.

On incarceration, Kaminaka’s worldview changed entirely. Previously intent on earning his college degree, a goal he now considered hopeless, he dropped out of his center’s adult education program. Once “proud of living in the best country in the world,” Kaminaka abandoned the idea of registering for the franchise. “I don’t think I was too interested in voting anyway because I didn’t know what it was all about and my vote didn’t mean a thing,” he shrugged. Deciding that hard work was an exercise in futility, he instead “concentrated on having fun like [he] saw the other kids doing.” Before the war, he used to regard Nisei girls as “something sacred” and “never had any dirty thoughts [about] them.” But in Stockton, he shed his “nice boy” reputation. He signed up with an eight-member “gang,” and spent his days and nights chasing young women and going to camp dances. It was during this time that he also acquired his first zoot suit.
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Racialicious Review: The Citizen

Khaled Nabawy in a scene from "The Citizen"

Khaled Nabawy in a scene from “The Citizen”

By Guest Contributor Nour Soubani

The recent independent film, The Citizen, raises a number of important questions related to identity, belonging, and representation that are relevant and challenging to many American communities at large today.

Ibrahim, a middle-aged Lebanese man, wakes up one day and actualizes his dream: he wins a ticket from the Green Card Lottery to come to America. He lands in New York on September 10th, 2001, and befriends Diane, an attractive white American woman who is just escaping an abusive relationship. The next fateful morning is the September 11th attack, and the rest of the movie follows Ibrahim’s experience as an Arab Muslim in a post-9/11 New York City, the relationships he builds with Diane and those who both support and villainize him, and his interactions with the law.

 Ibrahim, although not a legal citizen, is painted as the ideal American: He helps the homeless, works an honest job, and intervenes at a crime scene to save a man’s life. Although he looks distinctly Arab, and some suspicion is raised that he is related to one of the hijackers, there is a clear assertion throughout the movie that Ibrahim is completely disconnected from the evil terrorists who attacked the United States, and from the Middle East as a whole. In fact, multiple times throughout the film he expresses how grateful he is to leave Lebanon, to come to America and pursue “the American Dream”, and to leave behind his penniless and unsuccessful life. While the protagonist’s morals and values are virtuous—this was enough to make the audience fall in love with him—his character functions with a subtle undertone that reinforces a binaric hierarchy between the U.S. and the rest, one that inevitably places America at the top. Ibrahim comes to the United States to make something of himself; the storyline implies that this was inherently not possible where he came from, nor were any efforts to do so valued and encouraged. He is portrayed as an exception to the rule—a respectable, mannered, responsible and hardworking individual, who, with these admirable, individualist traits, clearly does not belong in the Arab world. The character of Ibrahim—while well-intentioned—in fact plays into Orientalist notions that otherize the Middle East, creating an unknown, inferior entity out of it that inherently does not hold the same purely “American” values that cause Ibrahim to succeed.

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Not Your Model Minority: Asian Americans and the Immigration Fight

By Guest Contributor S. Nadia Hussain, cross-posted from Hyphen Magazine

Gregory Cendana arrested in Washington DC during Oct 8th’s action for immigration reform. Photo by Soyun Park/AAPI Immigration Table.

On October 8, Gregory Cendana, the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) was arrested, along with two hundred other activists and eight members of Congress in our nation’s capitol. In photos from that day, he is seen being led away in handcuffs with a pride flag tied around his neck like superhero cape and a handwritten t-shirt — with the words “Not your Model Minority” scrawled on the front. Cendana is Asian American and his actions that day stood as a testament to the diverse communities that are impacted by the lack of immigration reform.

Immigration is often framed as an issue impacting mostly Latino populations. According to the Pew Hispanic Center — though the modern immigration wave from Latin America has made up 50% of US immigration, migration from Asia makes up a substantial 27%. Outside of Mexico, the leading countries of origin of immigrants are India, the Philippines and China.  Asians make up 13% of the US undocumented population. The US Office of Homeland security estimates that as of 2009, the largest undocumented Asian populations are 270,000 immigrants from the Philippines, 200,000 from India, 200,000 from Korea and 120,000 from China.

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Images: Encampment for Deported Immigrants, Tijuana, BC, Mexico

By Guest Contributor Brooke Binkowski, cross-posted from Brooke Binkowski.com

Volunteers from Angels Without Borders offer free haircuts to people living on the campsite in Plaza Constitución in Tijuana, Mexico. All images by Brooke Binkowski.

In early August, Mexico’s government destroyed the encampments in Tijuana’s riverbed after the notorious “El Bordo,” where homeless people had been living for years, became international news. A tent city soon sprang up nearby, in Tijuana’s Plaza Constitucion, and has housed homeless migrants, largely deportees, since.

Of these deportees, almost 40 percent have lived in the United States for several years and identify as at least partly American; at least 5 percent identify as indigenous Mexican and speak very little Spanish; many need mental health care or addiction treatment, and nobody wants to be there.

The encampment is administered by volunteers from Angeles Sin Fronteras, Angels Without Borders. They offer food, a temporary place to stay, bathrooms and makeshift showers, and free haircuts to those looking for work.

There are very few places that offer such services for the homeless and the “segun deportados,” the twice deported, who have absolutely nowhere else to go. The ones that do exist subsist on very little support from the Mexican government.

Everywhere, handwritten signs are tacked up that read: “No militarizar la frontera” – Don’t militarize the border.
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More Than 200 Immigration Advocates & Lawmakers Arrested During Demonstration

By Arturo R. García

Saturday’s March for Immigrant Respect & Dignity was indeed a prelude to a bigger demonstration on the National Mall on Tuesday that drew thousands of protesters calling upon lawmakers to stop slacking on the promise of comprehensive immigration reform.

But while the protest was officially non-partisan, it also saw Democratic members of Congress join in, most notably Reps. John Lewis (D-GA), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Al Green (D-TX), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who also spoke during the event.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) is arrested during the course of an immigrants’ rights protest at the National Mall in Washington D.C. Image via Twitter.

“Arrest number 45,” Lewis quipped on Twitter, while Rangel also tweeted throughout the day, posting his own thoughts and video from the scene.

“Part of my job is to try to draw attention to appalling conditions that Americans are going through, but that for me doing something dramatic may allow a critically important issue to languish,” Ellison later told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Sending out a news release, I didn’t think, would work.”

The advocacy group United We Dream estimated that more than 200 people were arrested while taking part in an act of civil disobedience during the demonstration, which was spurred by congressional inaction following the Senate’s passing of a new reform bill over the summer. Though both immigration supporters and the White House were behind the legislation, it ultimately stalled in the Republican-heavy House of Representatives.

That partisan bias showed again on Tuesday in criticism from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who said, there was “something odd about House leaders like Nancy Pelosi protesting on the Mall to get jobs for illegal aliens and pushing legislation to reduce job opportunities for U.S. citizens.”

Voices: March For Immigrant Dignity And Respect

By Arturo R. García

About 3,000 people attended the March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect in San Diego, Calif. All pictures by Arturo R. García.

On Saturday, thousands of immigrants and immigration advocates took to the streets across the country for the national March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect, a renewed call for U.S. lawmakers to stop dragging their feet on heavily-promised immigration reform. In San Diego, the event drew at least 3,000 people by police estimates, a mix of religious, labor, education and nursing groups from multiple communities.

In English: “Obama, where is the reform?”

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Why Sebastien de la Cruz Should Be Respected and Protected

By Guest Contributor Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez; originally published at Feminist Wire

To be in proximity to any NBA franchise during a championship run, for lots of kids in our sports obsessed culture, is a dream come true, especially if you are from the city of San Antonio. That could be said for mini-Mariachi phenom Sebastien de la Cruz, who sang the national anthem yesterday for game 3 of the NBA finals. A former participant in the show America’s Got Talent, de la Cruz, in many ways, represents the city of San Antonio most perfectly. Of the 1.3 million people who call the city home, 27% are people under the age of 18 and 63.2% are Hispanic or Latino/a (2010). The Spurs or Los Spurs, as they are often affectionately referred to by their Hispanic fan base, are keenly aware of the diversity that makes up the city of San Antonio, the other major ethnic groups in the city non-Hispanic whites at 26.6% and African Americans at 6.9%. They have been successful at cultivating a fierce loyalty to the franchise that is mindful of these demographics. San Antonio is a huge Hispanic market hub that brokers commerce between the U.S. and Latin America, and the Spurs franchise intimately understands this, and goes to great lengths to have the city’s diversity and economic interested reflected in the city’s NBA team.

rs_293x473-130612175626-634._Sebastian_De_La_Cruz.6.12.13.JMDSo why are people outraged that 10-year old Sebastien de la Cruz sang the National Anthem in a Mariachi outfit? Simply put, because the figure of the Latino/a child citizen subject bounds with possibility, represents a position of vulnerability, and thus is a potential threat to the nation. Never mind that the city of San Antonio was part of the Spanish American empire until 1821, or that it was part of Mexico until the founding of the Republic of Texas in 1836, or that many of the individuals who fought for Texas Independence were Mexican. As hundreds of tweets referred to him as “the little Mexican kid” or the kid that “snuck in the country like 4 hours ago and now he singing the anthem” we see the vitriol and hatred that have become a response to the shifting demographics in this nation. Not surprisingly, many of the twitter haters were minorities or individuals with Spanish surnames, showing that there is a clear divide about immigration politics and minority communities. If people knew the history of San Antonio, and of Texas, they would know that Sebastien represents both the past and future of the state, one that is simultaneously American and basketball loving and yet tinged with a very real Hispanic past. This young man representing his multiple cultures and experiences were cultivated in U.S. schools, reinforced every time he says the pledge of allegiance, and takes the standardized tests required of school-aged children in Texas. So why is he any different? As the tweets suggest, he is brown, young, a threat, a potential criminal, and not worthy of protection. Instead, these rants against a Latino/a child represent the gendered and racialization of how moral discourses about childhood are not universal. Instead they are predicated on phenotypically ideas of belonging, whiteness, and gender. He is different, a child, and thus a vulnerable and easy target for hate speech.

As political scientist Andrew Rhenfield has argued, the UN Convention on the rights of Children demonstrated a need for “participatory institutions [to be] designed to further the interests of children, cultivate their political maturity, and mitigate the harm that giving power to the politically immature might cause.”[1] So while the UN policy is designed to protect the rights of all children, and hopefully foster their entry into planetary society as politically responsible and mature, one must state, that child citizen subject, Sebastien de la Cruz, as a brown Latino/a male child in the United States is not viewed as worthy of the same respect and protection because he, like other Latino/a children are viewed with suspicion. They are the focal point for all sorts of discourses about citizenship, be they the figure of the Anchor Baby, potential illegal immigrant, or undocumented children.

So while Sebastian sang his heart out on Tuesday night as a display of pride and the complex history in the making of San Antonio, others saw this as an assault on American values. Instead, I would urge the public to understand the social, political, and cultural factors that beautifully produced a moment like this at the Spurs game. They should also be reminded that the Harvard educated Mayor of San Antonio, Julián Castro spoke at the Democratic National Convention and has turned the city’s economy around. He, Sebastian, San Antonio, and the Spurs deserve our respect, even if we don’t agree with it, for they too represent some of the best things this country has to offer, past, present, and future.

 


[1] “The Child as Democratic Citizen,” 142

 

Table For Two: Man Of Steel

Hosted by Arturo R. García and Kendra James

Henry Cavill as Superman in “Man of Steel.” Image via filmofilia.com

It’s not that surprising that the latest Superman movie, Man of Steel, had a, well, super opening weekend. With the hopes of fans of not just this franchise but an eventual Justice League movie for DC Entertainment to assemble, the collaboration between Batman producer Christopher Nolan, writer David Goyer and director Zack Snyder had to deliver, and well.

And it did, financially. Critically? That’s another matter entirely. When outlets like Newsarama, which are usually DC-friendly, give the film a 3 out of 10, that points to how split the opinions have been on this movie.

Racialicious is no different, as our panelists came out of their respective screenings feeling differently about it. Heavy spoilers under the cut.

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