Race and immigration
by Jean Damu
The massive shift of workers, fueled by free trade agreements, from throughout the Western Hemisphere to the U.S. in recent decades, has resulted in significant numbers of people of African descent actually being classified as Latino. Usually this is because they speak Spanish and may not think of themselves as Black. Often they are not considered to be Black by other Latinos.
The importance of discussing this apparent cultural collision is that within the U.S. immigration movement, leaders often do not clearly understand racism as it impacts upon immigration legislation on local and national levels, nor do they seem to clearly understand why, generally speaking, African Americans tend to be their most reliable allies.
Also, moves by President Obama to re-ignite the discussion to reform U.S. immigration policies and Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ PBS documentary series, “Black in Latin America,” have brought the issue into current public focus.
Another reason for developing this discussion is that within the U.S., there appears to be a growing movement to encourage people of mixed race ancestry – as many Black Latinos are – to define themselves as non-Black, which will ultimately serve to help render Blacks as increasingly invisible, further marginalizing them.
As a popular illustration of this racial dichotomy, consider the left side of the New York Yankees infield – third baseman Alex Rodriguez and shortstop Derek Jeter. They could be twins, but one is considered Latino while the other, Jeter, is an African American.
So perhaps the question is, how is it in the U.S. that race is the all important factor while in the “Latino” states, and for purposes of this discussion we are referring to the Spanish and Portuguese speaking states, race seems to take a back seat to class?
Within the U.S., there appears to be a growing movement to encourage people of mixed race ancestry – as many Black Latinos are – to define themselves as non-Black, which will ultimately serve to help render Blacks as increasingly invisible, further marginalizing them.
In order to understand this apparent cultural confusion, it is necessary to trailblaze our way backwards in time to the beginnings of European colonization and the creation of slavery in the West.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, when Portugal and later Spain became involved in colonizing the Western Hemisphere, the common people in those states were still legally and physically tied to the land. In other words, common people were required to work the land for subsistence and pay the surplus product they produced – whether agricultural produce or money – to the landowner class, whether that class was the church or individual men of wealth.
Those conditions meant that the masses of common people were tillers of the soil and, by and large, had not developed small business and craft skills.
When the Portuguese and Spanish Crowns sent forward colonizing expeditions to the “New World,” these expeditions were mostly comprised of soldiers and clerics, not the most suitable professions for building new societies.
Furthermore, Spain was quite lucky. The Spaniards found gold and silver soon after they debarked on American soil, further retarding colonial development because in the early stages soldiers were amply used to round up the Indians to force them to provide gold and silver.
Very few women ventured forth from Spain and Portugal to the colonies in the West. When efforts were put into motion to establish colonies, the Spanish and Portuguese colonists cohabited with the enslaved Indian and African women and it was from these pairings that resulted the mixed race populations that exist in the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies today.
There are other factors that influenced this process, such as Spain and Portugal’s proximity to Africa and the Moors’ occupation of Spain, but I argue that the economics of women’s social relationships were dominant.
We will return to this dynamic shortly....
Full article http://sfbayview.com/2011/race-and-immigration/