"We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us." –Sign held by migrants in April 9th march in Dallas, USA, 4/9/06.
[picture: Los Angeles protests 3.25.06]
"…and the indigenous peoples also…indigenous in all of the republic rise up again, not to ask to be recognized, but rather to impose their existence, as we have imposed our existence all of us that are from the bottom and from the left." –Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, Morelia, Michoacan. 4/6/06.
“None of the "social movements" of recent years has achieved in months of "struggle" what the insurgents of November discretely obtained in three weeks of riots: cuts to public assistance in the affected areas were suspended, funding for local programs was reinstated. All of this without making any demands. Demanding means defining your existence in the mutilating terms of those in power, it means conceding an advantage to the enemy... No one has the right to tell us that what we are doing is "illegitimate…If politicizing consists in a struggle of different legitimacies, of different ideas of happiness, our task from now on is to give means to this struggle with no other limit but what appears to us to be just and joyful.” –The Sorbonne Occupation Committee in Exile, Communique # 4, 3/20/06
In three months of the Other Campaign, at a little over the halfway point of the Zapatista tour of the Mexican nation, the one theme that has never failed to be mentioned, in city, town, and village, indigenous and mestizo, urban and rural, worker and campesino, is immigration. In many of the small towns of Puebla mostly women spoke, because mostly women lived there—their sons and husbands and brothers had migrated to the US. In Oaxaca an older woman told us that the only way to survive was to have at least one child in the US sending back money; one child was required; more might be necessary. In Tuxpan, Nayarit, one woman characterizes their town as childless, “How many mothers cry for their children who have gone north? How many men lament not having their children at home to help them?” A participant at a meeting of the Othe Campaign in Guanajuato said, in one of the most striking moments of analytical clarity and honesty, “If it weren’t for the remittances sent from the US, this country would be in civil war already.”
[photo: Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos talking with Braceros--the Mexican workers contracted to work in the United States to fill labor shortages during World War II.]
From the 1992 modification to Article 27 of the Mexican constitution allowing collectively held ejido lands in Mexico to be sold individually to the passage of NAFTA in 1994 and the subsequent exposure of the Mexican countryside to the global market, and back to the implementation of neoliberal reforms starting in the late 70s and early 80s, immigration from Mexico to the US has grown exponentially. Today Mexico is the second largest country-recipient of remittances in the world, following onlyIndia. In 2005, 20 billion dollars were sent from workers in the US to families and communities in Mexico, making foreign remittances the second largest source of Mexican income, larger than tourism and second only to petroleum. Immigration is not a new phenomenon, but the quantity and capacity of the remittance economy is—in the past 13 years, the amount of remittances has quintupled. Of an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US, half are Mexican. In 2006, 400,000 Mexicans are expected to cross over into the US to work, where it is estimated that 10 million Mexican immigrants already reside, or nearly 10% of the Mexican population.
It is not only on the Mexico side of the border where immigration is a principal theme. The immigrant marches in the United States over the past few weeks in protest of the criminalization of immigrants have been the biggest mobilizations that some US cities have seen in this century, in some cases, ever. On March 10, 2006, between 100,000 and 300,000 marched in Chicago, the biggest march ever seen in this city, larger even than the historic worker’s march in 1885 demanding an8-hour work day. On March 25th, 2006, more than a million people march against the criminalization of undocumented workers in Los Angeles, also possibly this city’s biggest march ever. And yesterday, on April 9, 2006, 500,000 march in Dallas, by far biggest protest in Dallas history. Also on March 25th, 50,000 marched in Denver, 3,000 in Charlotte, NC, 4,000 in Sacramento, between 500,000 and one million in San Francisco; and in previous weeks: 30,000 in Washington, 1200 in Trenton, 2,000 in Kansas city, 2,000 in Tuscon, 4,000 in Salem, Oregon. Tens of thousands of Latino highschool students have walked out of class in California, Texas, and other parts of the nation in recent weeks in protest of anti-immigrant reforms. The numbers for the mobilizations today, April 10, A Day without Immigrants, have not yet come out yet, but the massive immigrant mobilizations are historic by any measure, and, more importantly, undeniable evidence of a new political subjectivity, a new political community, a new gesture of the multitude.
What does it mean that some of the biggest marches in US history are carried out by recent immigrants? They carry Mexican flags and signs that say “We are America!” Others carry US flags and signs that say “Did the pilgrims have papers?” Where immigrants have taken over the streets, not to mention made their homes, in a country where they are usually considered “illegal,” how can we fail to see a movement that doesn’t just expand across borders but rather starts from the global, that has not just realities but desires that don’t fit in nation-state borders, that has already remade the world because it cannot be represented by any previous reality? Think of what we are currently participating in even just as El Kilombo Intergalactico: today Kilombo members in Durham join Latinos nation-wide on strike from work and classes in Durham, the city with the fastest growing population of Latin American immigrants in the nation; one of our members is in Paris witnessing an unprecedented social uprising that stretches from the November riots around race discrimination to the current massive student and young people’s mobilizations against a new youth employment law; another of us is following the Other Campaign in Mexico where people from every class, sector, and background speak of their globalized families and lives, of commonalities and affinities that do not follow borders, of political imaginations and collective dreams that do not fit in nation-state structures.
This is the world we live in. The conversations in the congressional halls of Washington and the conservative state and county capitals across the US about “what to do” with the flood of immigrant labor and the communities of undocumented laborers in the US mark a total disconnection with reality, the collective delusion that this is something they can decide to curtail or allow, something they can control and regulate. The question, rather, is what these workers, these millions of global subjects, will do with the local and national governmental “representatives” that imagine they still have the capacity to rule over these labor flows and these subjects.
Who are these now global subjects that maintain two economies at the same time without citizen rights in either one? In the last few weeks they have not only become suddenly visible, and suddenly loud, but suddenly and brilliantly political subjects in their own right, expressing an autonomy—a collective self-formation and political subjectivity—that does not rely on national identity, state recognized citizenship, or “legitimate” contract with the standing law of any controlling power or controlled territory.
It is vital, in the context of April 10--the massive migrant marches and the upcoming May 1 "A Day Without Immigrants" strike in the US, and the 6-month journey of the Other Campaign in Mexico, that we can theorize the migrant not just as a subject of lack. Migrants may move principally by force and displacement, but they also move by desire. And the communities and cultures they make and remake everyday do not rely upon assimilation into one nation-state or a homeland return to another. They constitute new forms of production and subjectivity that transform realities daily and demand an agility and hybridization of theory that matches their own movement.