Immigration & racism in the U.S.

Following is a speech delivered by Ruth Vela delivered on Dec. 11 to the US/Cuba Labor Exchange conference held in Tijuana, Mexico. Vela represented the International Action Center of San Diego and the youth group FIST—Fight Imperialism, Stand Together.

Immigration, like racism, has strong roots here along the border between Mexico and the United States. And it seems that each time the United States has an economic problem that they can blame on immigrants, they do.

This past year they have done so yet again in an effort to distract the North American public from the problem of the ongoing war in Iraq and shift the focus instead to the “illegal” immigrant “problem.”

For those of us who live in San Diego, this racism was most felt this summer with the arrival of the California Minutemen to our area. There, along the border, they set up their campsites and lights and—armed with their machetes and rifles—set about to ” the Border Patrol in “protecting” our borders.

I was lucky enough to be part of a group of youth that went up to their camp at night in an effort to alert our people who might be trying to cross that the Minutemen were near and the area was unsafe. Also, our night visits were meant as psychological torture for the Minutemen, whom we woke with our songs and chants. We spoke to them of the maquiladora workers and of the importance of socialism. And they in turn responded by pointing their guns at us, cussing and yelling things that sounded like they came out of the mouth of Hitler himself. They told us that instead of being out there bothering them, we should join the Army and go to Iraq to defend our citizenship and freedom.

Well, I thought to myself, these guys aren’t just crazy. They are stupid. But then I remembered that I had heard the same things that they said but with different words in other places, like school or the grocery store or at work, and I realized that the real danger of groups like the Minutemen is that they are the physical manifestation of the beliefs of a government that needs to devalue and degrade a group of workers that is indeed very necessary, but to them, very much disposable.

In reality, then, the Minutemen just add danger to an already deadly border crossing. In 1994 the North American government initiated Operation Gatekeeper. Since then they have spent millions of dollars on the continued militarization of the border. The fence itself is actually a triple fence in most areas and runs from the base of the Otay Mountains all the way into the Pacific Ocean and is lit every night with the brightest of stadium lights. The Border Patrol is armed with the most advanced heat and motion sensors, military-style helicopters and infrared binoculars.

Since the initiation of Operation Gatekeeper, over 4,000 people have died trying to cross the border! And yet people continue to cross and will continue to cross as long as they continue to suffer! The workers of Mexico and South America suffer, female and male maquiladora workers suffer, families with lack of health care and decent housing suffer, hungry children without access to education suffer—and that is why people will continue to cross in droves so that they might suffer a little bit less on this side.

What remains for us to ask ourselves, however, is why the North Americans protect their border with such fervor. It can’t be because it is not convenient to them to have immigrant workers in their country, and we do not believe them when they say it is in the interest of protecting their citizens from terrorists. No. We know that the only thing that they are truly interested in protecting is their profits.

In the end, the border patrol, the INS, the border itself, the Minutemen and Operation Gatekeeper are all one and the same, all the same bunch of trash! They are all merely the tools that this capitalist government uses to assure the free movement of capital while barring the free movement of labor.

Historically, the government of the United States has used racism to protect its profits and not only against immigrants but also against its own citizens.

This year the world saw the devastation caused on the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina. And the world watched as the United States turned its back on its working class, leaving the poor and people of color to suffer the most from this catastrophe. Many who survived the storm later died of hunger and dehydration just as so many immigrants have on the border! The poor working class people of the Gulf Coast were victims of the same racism that allows for one person to die trying to cross the border each day. And it is that same racism that motivates the ongoing occupation and oppression of the people of Haiti, Colombia, Palestine, Afghanistan and many others.

It seems impossible that a person could die of dehydration, hunger or cold in the richest country in the world, the one that steals from the whole world, the one that attacks any country that stands in its way, the one that up to now has spent over $250 billion on an unjustifiable war in Iraq that is seemingly endless.

The U.S. government has the audacity to steal tax dollars from its workers, who have more in common with the “terrorists” and “insurgents” that they are supposedly being protected from than they do with the government that claims to be protecting them. What the government should do instead is put its focus on protecting people from dying of cold and hunger. But the U.S. government is not capable of putting people before profits.

The world watched when, after Katrina hit, Cuba graciously offered aid which the U.S. government was too stupid to accept. And now, months later, countless families still have no place to live. Yet the most revolutionary governments continue to offer aid, with the people of the U.S. in mind. Now, thanks to the generosity of Venezuela, poor families in cold areas such as Massachusetts and New York will have the fuel needed to heat their homes this winter.

It might seem difficult for some to understand this type of solidarity. It reminded me of a young man I met while in Venezuela this August for the World Festival of Youth and Students. During one of the gatherings he asked me if it didn’t make me feel bad to have so many people have so many bad things to say about the United States. I told him no, that I felt that all of their complaints were justified. Then, I asked him if it didn’t make him feel bad to see his country so full of so many people from the U.S., and he said, “No, we understand that in the United States the government is not the same as the people.”

It is this revolutionary understanding that is going to give us the strength not to continue to suffer side by side but instead struggle together. Just as and because racist imperialism has managed to contaminate every corner of the world, the working class of every country must unify and begin to see itself as one force!

There is a saying of Che Guevara that says something like “a victory of any country over imperialism is a victory for all of us.” Let us celebrate then the victory of Venezuela, because it is all of ours. Let us celebrate the shining example that is Cuba.

And let us also celebrate the revolutionary act manifested yesterday in New Orleans when the streets were taken and people marched through this city with the knowledge that it was theirs and with this act denounced the racist government that has always, always, always treated people of color as if they were inferior. Let us celebrate their rising up, for this too is a victory for all of us!

The month of October saw another victory for our class when Black workers marched on Washington for the Millions More March. At this historic event Minister Farrakhan reminded those in attendance of the importance of not scapegoating immigrants, and he made it a point to name each and every one of the modern-day states of this country that were stolen from Mexico. This is of great significance because it is an example of the same revolutionary understanding that is being demonstrated by Cuba and Venezuela.

And these are the steps that will lead us to the type of solidarity that will allow the working class to recognize its strength on a world level and unite to once and for all shut imperialism down!


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