The American Dream vs. the "Other" Dream
In addition to the hundreds of thousands that marched yesterday in New York, Washington, Atlanta, San Francisco, the big cities, in Garden City Kansas, two hours from my home and the heartland of white republican conservatism, 3,000 people marched, a number that may look small but in this part of sparsely populated western Kansas, in a city of 30,000, that's 10% of the population.
Reports from east coast cities say that Spanish has become the official language of the protests--not just for the millions of Latin American migrants, but for the migrant community in general, with Chinese and Senegalese people taking the microphone top say "si se puede!"
La Jornada, Mexico's leftist daily newspaper, reports a huge gathering in New York of the older immigrant community--Irish, Italian, German, Jewish, Chinese, Polish, Russian, and more--with the new immigrant community--largely Mexican, Central American, Korean--but now as all New Yorkers. A huge contingent of Mexicans left from Washington Square, to meet the Korean contingent from Queens, the Philippine contingent that left from Wall Street, the Chinese contingent that met in Chinatown in downtown Manhattan, the students that came from everywhere...¨
"We are the United States"
"Invisible no more!"
"If you throw us out, we'll come back!"
The US is another country today, but it is not all sweetness and light. To shouts in the streets of "immigrants built this country!" one African American man shouted from his porch, "no, black people built this country!" In some cities organizers requested that people put down their "home" country flags and carry American flags. Doubtless there is a certain cooptation by Democratic party, an attempt to harness this movement for their own purposes, an attempt to channel creative, liberatory energy into pragmatic electoral patriotism. It's doubtful they will be able to—so many of these people have already learned to disobey, to walk away from representative structures and toward what they can create themselves. The more worrisome part is that these marches and this movement turn into a defense of the "American Dream," a perpetuation of the myth that individual opportunity in a bustling “free” economy is going to liberate anyone. What we need in the US is an “Other” dream, a collective, contextual analysis, as the Zapatistas have done in Mexico, of what the enemy is, who are its managers, how does it function, what is our strategy for fighting it, and finally, what is it we want! In a place where people don’t know which flag to fly, perhaps we are in position to construct a community that doesn’t rely upon a flag for its collective imagination or cooperative power. One that has commonality as a political project to be created instead of what has been, in the history of sovereignty, a contract of submission.
But such a project can’t be constructed by immigrants alone, nor by the African American community alone, nor by activists or students or environmentalists alone. It is like Sup Marcos has insisted to so many sectors in the Other Campaign in Mexico: it does not matter how strong, how brave, how noble our distinctive struggles, if we remain separated, we will all be defeated, and so totally defeated that there will be nothing left.
Imagine if the Latino community talked to the white rural farmers of the Midwest, if Arab and Asian communities met the Chiapan, Oaxacan, Guerreran communities en route toward the north, if New York talked to Garden City, if those that live in trailer parks could talk to those that live in inner-city tenements…
That will be our “Other Campaign,” a political project that is a community. But the idea of a “nation of immigrants” will have to reject sentimental nonsense of the melting pot, of the assimilationist nostalgia of an (American) dream that has never been anything but a myth at best and more frequently a nightmare. It will have to create something literally unheard of, unprecedented, something truly other that comes from the decision and desire of a new collectivity.