Earlier in June we saw a preliminary glimpse into the possible trajectory this presidential administration may take with the “migration crisis.” Let us be abundantly clear first: Migration itself is not a crisis. It is a process that many people undertake when the lands they are on do not provide for peoples’ material necessities. Migration itself is not a state of crisis, but rather a reflection of circumstances that lead folks to look beyond place of origin to meet their needs. In the popular imagination, it is only a “crisis” when the people who are on the move are deemed undesirable.
With this larger process of sociocultural “othering” in mind, I must say that although I was not surprised, I was still nonetheless taken aback by the poor framing of the issue — the “crisis” rhetoric and the out-of-touch way the federal government addressed the issue with the vice president’s trip to Guatemala and Mexico.
Vice President Kamala Harris was blunt in communicating, “I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come.” This recent comment comes in sequence after the vice president victim-blamed a Central American nation back in April for widespread poverty, lack of opportunities and “the issue of extreme weather conditions and the lack of climate adaptation” while further noting “corruption and the lack of good governance; and violence against women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ people, and Afro-descendants.”
What left a sour taste in my mouth, besides victim-blaming, is the outright lack of historical context, assumption of poverty as being a natural state and the lack of nuance and structural analysis. This, of course, in a speech that preached delving into “root causes” of migration.
Nowhere in the speech did I see any acknowledgment of the social, political and economic hegemony that has long historical roots in the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 and subsequent policy stances that sought to exploit Central America. Neither is there a mention about U.S. government complicity in violence through “gunboat” diplomacy at the turn of the 20th century or the funding of military governments in the area under the guise of “anticommunism” during the Cold War era.
The response was beyond clueless and lacks grounding and understanding of generational trauma. Migration in this context mixes up both historical events and circumstances in ways that continue to punish people. Migration will not stop simply with the directive “no.” People don’t make the decision lightly or often, even after internal displacement or internal migration occurs in their country of origin.
Little comes from blaming people for seeking a dignified existence.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle.
Read more of the June 23-29, 2021 issue.