History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
(Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon)
The artist portrayed began her life in Vietnam (her name will remain unpublicized with respect to the sensitivity of her precarious status as a foreigner). Her mother, impoverished, and widowed, survived the streets of Saigon before emigrating. One day, a shell from an American bomb crashed through the roof of her brother’s attic, where she stayed as a recent migrant from Cambodia. Only once again in her life in Southeast Asia would she endure such an abrupt upheaval, the day her husband died unexpectedly, when she was thrown out of the home of her married family.
As the uneducated, fifteenth daughter of a Cambodian migrant family, her life in a Vietnamese-Chinese family was fortunate. The intensity of this uprooting with her daughters aged eight and nine would not resurface in her life again until the day she left her country. Her eldest daughter grew to become a nurse, and later led her abroad. Before leaving, she found an orphaned child in the restroom floor of her hospital. At five years of age, that child accompanied her new family to North America. Now, she tells her story, from New York City, where she is forced to “visit” her husband, for six months at a time. What follows is a verbatim interview with the artist:
I find myself in a very loving and mutual married life, accompanying my husband in the United States, our chosen city of New York, where he can excel creatively and professionally. I really want to accompany and be with him to support him. We spent two years prior working very hard together for his permanent residence sponsorship [in Canada], and now that we’re able to travel into the States, I again was taken aside by U.S. Customs and Immigration, where this is the first time they limited my visit to two months, because they suspected I would illegally work. They, “suspected I had other intentions to visit,” when clearly my status is married, and visiting my in-laws wasn’t good enough to let me though, and hence was the last straw, which broke a piece of my soul, because I am a law-abiding Canadian citizen who single-handedly sponsored my American husband, and this is how I’m treated by U.S. Immigration.
I vowed at our wedding day that I would do anything it takes, and make any kind of sacrifice needed to be with my husband to see all of our creative endeavors through to completion, but I feel conflicted inside because as an artist and as a self-made successful artist I am compelled to be independent in every aspect of my life, especially immigrating to the country of our choice. I feel that I should be the one in the driver’s seat, to be fully responsible where I choose to live and thrive next, and that no body of authority should be able to limit my human right to my migrate. That’s a travesty to humanity. So now, I’m limited six months’ travel, and I don’t intend to work illegally in the United States, but it is detrimental to my creative soul that I can’t support myself because the law says I’m not allowed to on my own, that I have to go through all this bureaucracy, and red tape, and being approved, when clearly my Canadian citizenship isn’t enough. It’s despicable.
Truly, her story cannot be compared to the fate of child migrants from Central America today, who endure the life-threatening saga of coyotes (traffickers), the desert, and ICE. Though, there are similarities, as a child migrant from a country formerly occupied, and invaded by the United States. As an accompanied child migrant among a working class family, she gained her Canadian citizenship. Despite this triumph, her adult life is again marred by recurrent themes of nationalist oppression. As a professional musician, simply traveling to the United States for the purposes of family unification raises another example of a deeply ingrained oppressive infrastructure within U.S. Immigration.
As family reunification is one of the primary reasons for immigration, especially in reference to the current crisis of child migrants to the U.S., many migrants bear the brunt of an inhospitable host country as foreign nationals without rights while attending their family in the U.S (Meng and Worden, 2014). Clearly, the issue is not solely based on legality, nor on economics, but on the momentum of a draconian sociocultural history. Among today’s global citizenry, the immigration, and mere visit, of artists and intellectuals to the United States presupposes one of the greatest modern ambiguities: the relationship between commerce and art. At times, the artist, compelled to survive, as to grow, meets this blaring, timeless contradiction head-on.
Another artist further exemplifies this struggle, even more starkly. Her name is Margaret Randall, a U.S. citizen who was deported from her country of birth because she published dissident writings. “I think they were trying to punish me for having had the audacity to live in places such as Cuba and Nicaragua, or having visited North Vietnam during the war. They didn’t like it that I had disseminated information hard to come by in the corporate press,” said Randall, in a 2013 interview with the CounterPunch (Valentine, 2013). In 1984, the U.S. government ordered her deportation, based on the publication of her oral history books of interviews with Southeast Asian, and Central American women.
As she recounts, she was deported “…under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationality Act. It declared some of my writing to be ‘beyond the good order and happiness of the United States’ (the actual language of the Act).” The fact that she, in most instances, merely conveyed indigenous women’s perspectives in their voices exposes the double-edged sword of U.S. Immigration policy on her deportation. Evidently, U.S. Immigration, as an institution, is both inherently opposed to its public intellectuals, and to global minorities, whose very identity has been twisted in American political rhetoric as dissident.
Decolonization begins with a realization, whether personal or public, through art, writing, music, activism, or simply the incipient thought. There are certain inalienable rights and freedoms required for human beings to live, grow, and contribute meaningfully to their communities, and livelihoods. Decolonization is a process by which those rights and freedoms are reclaimed, and reasserted through independent action. As child migrants struggle to survive amid the strife of transnational oppression, the decolonization of immigration occurs when the rights and freedoms of migrants, as equal human beings, transcend nationalism.
As millions upon millions of migrants have entered the lands now known as the United States since the American Revolution, so settler society has manipulated, exploited, and promoted these successive waves of migrants to its benefit. The U.S., as it exists today as an unsurpassed global power, need not import migrants in the same way as it once did, due to the ability to manipulate trade abroad. However, in that political and economic intervention, whether surreptitiously as in Venezuela, or overtly as in Iraq, people are forced to migrate to find work, or in more precarious instances, asylum.
Working within the capitalistic economy, as globalized primarily by U.S. economic and political interests, is predicated on social stability, especially labor purposed for the international economy (to which most economic activity today is purposed). When, for example, a previously stable condition is shattered, people are employed to pick up the pieces. In the meantime, knowledge is lost, media propagandized, and the workers, and the intergenerational working class as a whole, remains ignorant as to the designs of the people who own, and operate the stability, as the recurrent destabilizations of the economic infrastructure. In that cycle of order and chaos jobs are created to renew the self-serving economic modus operandi of the wealthy few who remain in control through socioeconomic subjugation, then politicized job creation, national security, and immigration enforcement, among other political and economic motives based on extremist nationalism. Yet, there are none so valued in this hierarchy as those who create chaos. For this reason, militarization, and enforcement is inveterately prioritized over humanitarianism in U.S. domestic, and foreign policy.
This desire for godlike powers of creation is precisely why free-market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters. Non-apocalyptic reality is simply not hospitable to their ambitions… Believers in the shock doctrine are convinced that only a great rupture - a flood, a war, a terrorist attack - can generate the kind of vast, clean canvases they crave. It is in these malleable moments, when we are psychologically unmoored and physically uprooted, that these artists of the real plunge in their hands and begin their work of remaking the world (Klein, 2007).
Not only by deportation, but also through the strategic acceptance of migrants, U.S. Immigration policy has enacted its greatest sting operation of all time. Entrapped to adhere to the American Dream, people increasingly urbanize within the Global South, as internationally to the North, and in the process shed millennia of traditional life ways in order to assimilate to Western value systems, economically, socially, and culturally. This sociocultural entrapment of migrants adds, even more so, to the multigenerational assimilation, and to the advancing of the settler-colonialist way of life.
For example, populations in post-imperialist states are targeted, such as across the continents of Africa, the Americas, Asia, or Oceania. Most independent nation states in the Global South have inherited foreign curricula, as a legacy of colonial occupation, and so wrongly educate their people as to American history, as with their Indigenous, pre-colonial past. In their incidental ignorance, such people will emigrate, and not to return their experience, education or wealth within the local context of their origins, but share the American immigrant’s popular delusions of freedom, independence, and capital.
As concerns the repercussions of the immigration debate within the United States, the mounting costs of ineffectually confronting the root of the issue merely provides an oppressive political platform to the settler-colonialist perspective. The immigration debate is one of the most common means for the colonial-settler identity to exert its subjugation, and displacement of Indigenous peoples. When the settler “protects” its people from migrants, this amounts to an overt imperialistic assertion, which further reinforces the colonialist as the primary settler, and rightful owner of the land.
Grace Meng and Minky Worden. (2014). Torn Apart – Families and US Immigration Reform. Human Rights Watch.
Douglas Valentine. (September 6, 2013). Poetry and Revolution: An Interview with Margaret Randall. CounterPunch.
Naomi Klein. (2007). The Shock Doctrine: An Excerpt from the Introduction. NaomiKlein.org.