Former Marshall resident Paul Fenn told me about a cartoon produced by Otto Bauer 100 years ago in Austria. In this image, two Viennese laborers, unemployed, huddle over a barrel fire. In the background, Croats and Serbs, forced into the country like Mexicans and Central Americans into the United States and Middle Eastern and African refugees into Europe, huddle around their own fire.
One unemployed Austrian says to the other, “These dogs have come here and taken our jobs!” The other says, “No, they are the victims of the empire like us. We have to help them go home.”
There is no answer to immigration without a rejection of empire. We cannot honestly accept Syrian refugees and tolerate our government bombing Syria into the ground (and, take a deep breath and hail Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama’s bombing of Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia). We claim virtue when we accept the refugee, but tolerate the vice of making his home uninhabitable. The former functions as a get-out-of-conscience-free card for Americans.
Locals tell me how wonderfully rich Mexican immigrants have become as servants in West Marin. Fair enough, this is Mexico. Former Mendocino County resident Ulysses S. Grant said the Civil War was divine retribution for the wickedness of the wars of aggression that seized California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico. But does the prosperity of a handful of immigrants here in our pretty paradise excuse NAFTA and the wholesale destruction of small and medium-scale agriculture in Mexico? What about the Mexicans I knew in the kitchens of the Midwest—working 80 hours a week washing dishes, with no nice climate, no vistas, no surfing, and only average cheese to eat? Their parents were farmers destroyed by NAFTA. Are they happy to be displaced?
Rightwing political popstars are dominating the debate on immigration. We liberals just hide in our uniform enclaves, squeaking, “We love everyone—just as long as they don’t settle here. That’s what Oakland is for.” Then we visit their ethnic restaurants, pile into a partial zero-emissions vehicle and set off on a playdate. We discuss their hummus the next day, smug in our consumer cosmopolitanism.
I suggest a move beyond this fatuous and fake tolerance and into a direct anti-war, anti-global trade movement. California is a funny case. But in order to help the displaced peoples of imperial wars, the dishwashers of Duluth and ourselves, we must help our immigrants go home, and make those homes livable. That means reversing global trade treaties and ending our wars, the head and tail of the American imperial Ouroboros.