[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap] few days ago I decided to view once again the famous movie by Visconti “Il Gattopardo” (usually mistranslated as The Leopard, but better rendered as “The Wild Cat.”) The movie is a faithful rendition of Giuseppe di Lambedusa’s novel published posthumously in 1956 and dealing with the 1860 events in Sicily leading to the unification of the whole Italian peninsula by Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Things were supposed to get much better for the unified Italy; in reality they got worse. As Tancredi puts it in a conversation with his uncle, the prince of Salina, “ we need to change everything so that nothing changes.” In fact little changed in Southern Italy except an exchange of monarchies.
In effect, the aspirations of Garibaldi to found a republic were thwarted and a new King, the northern Italian king of Savoy Emmanuel II was promptly installed. Rome became capital of Italy some ten years late in 1871. Barely thirty years later, worsening social conditions forced one million southern Italians to emigrate. One of those was my own grandfather Emmanuele, born in 1877, barely seventeen years after Italian unification. My great-grandfather Francesco must have been a teen-ager at that time. All his three sons Emmanuele, Domenico, and Pasquale emigrated to America at the turn of the 20th century.
My father was born in America in 1912. In 1922 my grandfather, his wife Maria and his five children (four boys and one girl) return to Italy. There two more boys were born. He buys and lives with his family in a grandiose beautiful 19th century villa, and sends four of his seven children to university. In 1954 my father returns to his native land (New York) where he dies in 1968 at the age of 55. He had five children: I, the elder, followed by four sisters (Maria, Rosaria, Anna, Sandra). These are the more biographical aspects of this narration on involuntary emigration.
What prompted this article, however were sundry reflections prompted by the viewing of the above mentioned movie. I paused to reflect on the courage that must have been summoned to simply pick up and go to America on a steam-boat, with no urban skills, professional or otherwise, without an education, without knowing the language or the culture of the place they were emigrating to, aware of the obstacles and difficulties they would encounter there; willing nevertheless to work long and hard in order to provide a better future for their families. We now consider them heroes of sorts to be praised and emulated, who paved the way for our own achievements, but I doubt that they thought of themselves as such.
Just as in Lampedusa’s novel, my reflections went backward as historical and personal reminiscences, but also forward to present day America where there are presently some twenty million Italian-Americans, either descending from the original wave of Italian immigrants , or arriving a bit later in the century. They consider themselves Italian-Americans; that is to say, people who have made a bridge between two cultures; who are often bi-lingual and bi-cultural, who have by and large have integrated themselves to the host culture and because of such integration are actually better citizens than those who are monocultural, in better touch with American diversity and much better able to understand fellow citizens from other ethnic backgrounds. For, all considered, the only true genuine American is the native American; the rest of us are all descendant from original immigrants. Unfortunately we were not always gracious and grateful guests of the native Americans.
But to come back to the present day immigrants, quite often they present themselves as imitators of their great-grandparents or their grandparents; as courageous immigrants who one fine day decided to pick up and go abroad to find adventure or try their luck. This is often proudly mentioned when they return to the place they came from for a temporary visit. They tend to claim that they are following in the footsteps of their grandparents. But are they? Let’s see.
I often meet this type of new immigrant whom I like to define as neo-immigrant. I even have a few of them, arrived in the last few years, in my own family. But when I compare them to my own grandfather or father, I realize that there is something quite distinct about them. Let me list those differences:
1.In the first place, their trek to America is no longer dictated by economic necessity. They are usually well off; in fact, the more well off and willing to invest their money in America, the easier it is for them to obtain residency status and even citizenship. Such is not the case for poor migrant workers or poor immigrants.
2.The motivation, more often than not, is not so much the desire to work hard and plan a better future for their children, but a desire to change life style, or because the American life style is considered more glamorous and attractive
3.One discerns a rather condescending attitude toward the host culture which sometimes is misguidedly considered inferior. It’s almost a turning of the table around: it is the hosts who ought to be grateful for their arrival. In other words, their effort to integrate themselves to the host culture sometimes leaves much to be desired.
4.One notices little appreciation for the great cultural diversity existing in America and the desire to contribute to the symphony or the mosaic that is American culture, that is to say, there is little appreciation for a genuine multi-culturalism cemented by certain ideals enshrined in the American constitution, such as inalienable human rights.
5.What one senses in the attitude of those neo-immigrants arriving here from countries who are already prosperous in their own rights is the same rather selfish and self-interested attitude, the same lack of distributive justice of the well do toward the disadvantaged in their own country. Its global international economics on full display.
Now, considering the above observations, it seems to be that the label of immigrant or even neo-immigrant is not wholly appropriate. When those neo-immigrant talk of “the land of opportunity,” I am afraid that what they often mean is the land of opportunism, pure and simple; opportunities, that is, in the realm of the material and the financial with little regard for the intellectual and the spiritual and the ideal. At least so it seems to me. These latest neo-immigrants arrive here not by steam-boat but by first class air travel and not to work hard, but to make money and live a glamorous life-style, the ultimate goal of one’s life.
Now, the case can be argued that such was also the attitude of the first generation immigrants, but then, those first immigrants to the US, like my grandfather, made sure that their children learned the language and the customs of the new country, received a good education, and appreciated the ideals of their new country while enriching it culturally, so by the second or third generation they could rightly call themselves Italian-Americans, or Greek-Americans or Polish-Americans; solid bridges had been built between the two cultures and civilizations. One does not sense such a scenario from the current well to do neo-immigrants on the make on the luxury ship called globalization.
American (And Global) Oligarchy Rapidly Moving Towards Monarchy
Many people do not realize that the proverbial “noose” of civil rights, civil liberties and property rights are rapidly coming to an end, in large part because of the unholy alliance by and between government and the global oligarchs (international banks and major corporations).
For example, people don’t realize that current U.S. federal law permits all banks and credit unions (such as Chase Bank owned by CEO Jamie Dimon) to close any account, at any time, and for any reason, even when their own employees commit fraud, make mistakes, commit unethical acts or otherwise screw the banking customer over for personal or political reasons, and that customer then files a legitimate complaint.
The financial institution is not required to divulge the reason(s) for account closure to the customer.
Now, when a business account is closed by a bank, the bank can (and will) retain the funds in the account for 90 to 180 days in order for checks, debits, chargebacks, etc. to post to the business account before the bank will mail the business customer the remaining proceeds from the account.
However the account holder is of course not allowed access to their own hard-earned funds at all.
What this means is that these banks and credit unions have been given a universal right to steal any and all monies placed within their coffers by anyone at all, which can then be “confiscated” for any reason.
It is even so absurd that these banks and credit unions, even after they have seized or stolen your money/property, do not even have to give you a reason, and can then ban you for life from ever getting your money/property back.
This same reasoning applies to nearly all of the major businesses and corporations, wherein due process has gone the way of the extinct “dodo bird.”
This is what it means, when an administration (in this case Republican) talks about “bank deregulation.”
In many ways, Democrats had the right idea over Republicans when they created and enacted such banking regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), recently gutted and decapitated by the Trump Administration and his coterie of bought and paid for Republican conservatives.
The problem is that the same global Oligarchs and International Banking Cartels that controlled the Democrats, and enacted even more stifling Communist type regulation to further control, cull, and choke off the American (and global) population (think Obama’s “Operation Chokepoint”), simply use Republican “deregulation” as another mechanism to screw over, steal from, and rob the working and middle class, by allowing these international banking cartels, credit unions, and corporations to completely do whatever they want, to anyone, for any reason, in the absence of any regulation.
Herein lies the rub, and there has to be a middle ground, but only if the American people (and their global population counterparts) push back and vociferously tell their elected leaders to take legal and equitable action against these global thieves and criminals.
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered the Second World War. A war of horrors, it normalized the intensive, barbaric bombing of civilian populations. If the Spanish Civil War gave us Guernica and Picasso’s wrenching painting, WW2 offered up worse: London, Berlin, Dresden to name a few, the latter eloquently described in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House Five.” Against Japan, the firebombing of Tokyo, and above all the revulsion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki radiated a foretaste of ending life on the planet.
Reparations demanded from Germany had led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and a thirst for revenge. Thus Hitler demanded France’s 1940 surrender in the same railway carriage where the humiliating armistice was signed in 1918.
If the war to end all wars — its centenary remembrance a month ago — killed 20 million plus, the successor tripled the score. Disrupted agriculture, severed supply chains, fleeing civilians, starvation and misery; civilian deaths constituting an inordinate majority in our supposedly civilized world.
One of the young men baling out of a burning bomber was George H. W. Bush. He was rescued but his crew who also baled out were never found, a thought that is said to have haunted him for the rest of his life. He went on to serve eight years as vice-president under Ronald Reagan and then four more as president. Last week he passed away and was honored with a state funeral service in Washington National Cathedral.
His legacy includes the first Iraq war and the liberation of Kuwait. While he avoided the hornet’s nest of ethnic and religious divisions in Iraq itself, the war’s repercussions led to the Clinton sanctions and the deaths of half a million children. The UN representative overseeing the limited oil-for-food program, Irishman Denis Halliday, resigned in disgust. Not to forget the infamous answer by Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Asked by Leslie Stahl if it was worth the lives of 500,000 children … more than that died in Hiroshima, she answered: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” (CBS 60 Minutes program, May 12, 1996).
Note the “we” in her answer. Who else does that include but our “I-feel-your-pain” Bill Clinton. Hypocrisy, arm-twisted donations to the Clinton Foundation while wife Hillary was Secretary of State in the Obama administration; her shunning of the official and secure State Department email server in favor of a personal server installed at her request and the subsequent selective release of emails. Well who cares about verifiable history these days anyway as the following demonstrates.
Yes, there was another anniversary this week for a different kind of war. This time in India. After securing freedom from the British, a secular tradition was proudly espoused by the patrician Nehru and the epitome of nonviolence, Gandhi. It is now in the process of being trampled in a war against minorities. The communal war includes the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat for which Narendra Modi was barred from the U.S., a ban lifted only when he became prime minister. He, his party and his allies have been also responsible for the destruction of the Babri Mosque. An organized Hindu mob tore it down on December 6, 1992; hence the shameful anniversary. Built on the orders of the first Mughal emperor Babur, its purpose was to cement relations with Hindu rajas by also sanctifying for Muslims a place holy to Hindus and held traditionally to be the birthplace of Rama — famous from Hindu epics for fighting evil with the assistance of a monkey god’s army … although one is advised to avoid close contact with temple monkeys when visiting.
As the first Mughal, Babur’s hold on India was tenuous and he actively sought alliances with Hindu rulers of small states against the pathans whose sultan he had just defeated. That affinity continued during the entirety of Mughal rule and one manifestation was frequent intermarriage with Rajputs. Several emperors had Hindu mothers including Shah Jahan the builder of the Taj Mahal. In the end, Babur’s fears were warranted because Sher Shah Suri did marshal those pathan forces and throw out his son Humayun, the second Mughal ruler. It was only Sher Shah’s untimely death during the capture of Kalinjar (a Hindu fort then held by Raja Kirat Singh) that made Humayun’s return possible.
The destruction of the mosque was a historical wrong if ever there was one, but then Mr. Modi has never been bothered by history. He is also not bothered that his party’s fairy tale revision of school history books is a scandal. For similar reasons, Indian history on Wikipedia is too frequently tarnished, requiring verification from other sources to be properly informed.
The wrongs of communities, just as the wrongs of war, can lead to repercussions unanticipated and cataclysmic. Yugoslavia is an example in living memory. Clearly, any ruler of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country contemplating a path of communal dominance must take note before he is hoisted with his own petard.
Author’s Note: This article first appeared on Counterpunch.org
Racism does not need racists
In my classes, I always try to make clear the difference between opinions and facts. It is a fundamental rule, a very simple intellectual exercise that we owe ourselves to undertake in the post-Enlightenment era. I started becoming obsessed with such obvious matters when I found out, in 2005, that some students were arguing that something “is true because I believe it” – and they weren’t joking. Since then, I’ve suspected that such intellectual conditioning, such a conflation of physics with metaphysics (cleared up by Averroes almost a thousand years ago) – which year by year becomes increasingly dominant (faith as the supreme criterion, regardless of all evidence to the contrary) – has its origins in the majestic churches of the southern United States.
But critical thinking involves so much more than just distinguishing facts from opinions. Trying to define what a fact is would suffice. The very idea of objectivity itself paradoxically originates from a single perspective, from one lens. And anyone knows that with the lens of one photographic or video camera, only one part of reality is captured, which quite often is subjective or used to distort reality in the supposed interest of objectivity.
For some reason, students tend to be more interested in opinions than facts. Maybe because of the superstitious idea that an informed opinion is derived from the synthesis of thousands of facts. This is a dangerous idea, but we can’t run away from our responsibility to give our opinion when it’s required. All that we can and should do is take note that an informed opinion continues to be an opinion which must be tested or challenged.
On a certain day, students discussed the caravan of 5,000 Central Americans (at least one thousand of whom were children) fleeing violence and heading for the Mexican border with the US. President Donald Trump had ordered the border closed and called those looking for refuge “invaders”. On 29 October 2018, he tweeted: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”. The military deployment to the border alone cost the US about $200 million.
Since one of my students insisted on knowing my opinion, I started off with the most controversial side of the issue. I observed that this country, the US, was founded upon the fear of invasion, and only a select few have always known how to exploit this weakness, with tragic consequences. Maybe this paranoia came about with the English invasion of 1812, but if history tells us anything, it’s that the US has practically never suffered an invasion of its territory – if we exclude the 9/11 attacks in 2001; the one on Pearl Harbor, which at the time was a military base in foreign territory; and, prior to that, at the very beginning of the twentieth century, the brief incursion of a Mexican named Pancho Villa mounted upon a horse. But the US has indeed specialized in invading other countries from the time of its founding – it took over the Indian territories, then half of Mexico, from Texas, to reinstall slavery, to California; it intervened directly in Latin American affairs, to repress popular protests and support bloody dictatorships – all in the name of defence and security. And always with tragic consequences.
Therefore, the idea that a few thousand poor people on foot are going to invade the most powerful country in the world is simply a joke in poor taste. And it’s likewise in bad taste for some Mexicans on the other side to adopt this same xenophobic talk that’s been directed at them – inflicting on others the same abuse they’ve suffered.
A critical view
In the course of the conversation, I mentioned in passing that in addition to the foundational paranoia, there was a racial component to the argument.
“You don’t need to be a racist to defend the borders,” said one student.
True, I noted. You don’t need to be a racist to defend borders or laws. At first glance, the statement is irrefutable. However, if we take history and the wider current context into consideration, an openly racist pattern jumps out at us right away.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the French novelist Anatole France wrote: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.” You don’t need to be an elitist to support an economically stratified culture. You don’t need to be sexist to spread the most rampant type of sexism. Thoughtlessly engaging in certain cultural practices and voicing your support for some law or another is quite often all it takes.
I drew a geometric figure on the board and asked students what they saw there. Everyone said they saw a cube or a box. The most creative variations didn’t depart from the idea of tri-dimensionality, when in reality what I drew was nothing more than three rhombuses forming a hexagon. Some tribes in Australia don’t see that same image in 3D but rather in 2D. We see what we think and that’s what we call objectivity.
When President Abraham Lincoln emerged victorious from the American Civil War (1861-1865), he put an end to a hundred-year dictatorship that, up to this day, everyone calls “democracy.” By the eighteenth century, black slaves had come to make up more than fifty percent of the population in states like South Carolina – but they weren’t even citizens of the US, nor did they enjoy even minimal human rights.
Many years before Lincoln, both racists and anti-racists proposed a solution to the “negro problem” by sending them “back” to Haiti or Africa, where many of them ended up founding the nation of Liberia (one of my students, Adja, is from a family which comes from that African country). The English did the same thing to “rid” England of its blacks. But under Lincoln blacks became citizens, and one way to reduce them down to a minority was not only by making it difficult for them to vote (such as by imposing a poll tax) but also by opening the nation’s borders to immigration.
The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French people to the American people to commemorate the centenary of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, still cries with silent lips: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” In this way, the US opened its arms to waves of impoverished immigrants. Of course, the overwhelming majority were poor whites. Many were opposed to the Italians and the Irish because they were red-headed Catholics. But in any case, they were seen as being better than blacks. Blacks weren’t able to immigrate from Africa, not just because they were much farther away than Europeans were, but also because they were much poorer, and there were hardly any shipping routes to connect them to New York. The Chinese had more opportunities to reach the west coast, and perhaps for that reason a law was passed in 1882 that prohibited them from coming in just for being Chinese.
I understand that this was a subtle and powerful way to reshape demographics, which is to say the political, social and racial make-up of the US. The current nervousness about a change to that make-up is nothing more than the continuation of that same old logic. Were that not the case, what could be wrong with being part of a minority group or being different from others?
You don’t need to be a racist…
Clearly, if you’re a good person and you’re in favour of properly enforcing laws, it doesn’t make you a racist. You don’t need to be racist when the law and the culture already are. In the US, nobody protests Canadian or European immigrants. The same is true in Europe and even in the Southern Cone of South America [the southernmost region of Latin America, populated mainly by descendants of Europeans]. But everyone is worried about the blacks and the hybrid, mixed-race people from the south. Because they’re not white and “good”, but poor and “bad”. Currently, almost half a million European immigrants are living illegally in the United States. Nobody talks about them, just like nobody talks about how one million United States citizens are living in Mexico, many illegally.
With communism discarded as an excuse (none of those chronically failing states where migrants come from are communist), let’s once again consider the racial and cultural excuses common to the century prior to the Cold War. Every dark-skinned worker is seen as a criminal, not an opportunity for mutual development. The immigration laws are themselves filled with panic at the sight of poor workers.
It’s true that you don’t need to be racist to support laws and more secure borders. You also don’t need to be racist to spread and shore up an old racist and class-based paradigm, while we fill our mouths with platitudes about compassion and the fight for freedom and human dignity.
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