Monday, September 04, 2006

Maximumrocknroll #274 March 2006

When I was but a young lad I used to lie on my bed listening to Agent Orange and reading BMX Action and Thrasher, dreaming wistfully of California. Ahh, California: the endless smooth concrete of the sidewalks; the bountiful skateparks like the Pipeline and Uplands; the California of Bones Brigade videos and JFA adverts (I know JFA aren't from California but I associated their adverts with the lifestyle I coveted. I actually think I prefer those old Placebo ads to any of the records.) Every day would be spent carving a fullpipe in the desert with your mates, followed by the Black Flag/Minutemen/Hüsker Dü triple bill, and then if you were lucky you might cop a feel off some blonde-haired surfer vixen in the back of her VW van.
Eventually I did move to California in search of a better life and discovered that it wasn't the place of my daydreams. Still, I've definitely had it better than most. The California I imagined from TV and the rest of the media was indeed different from the reality I experienced, but I believe that there are some people who do live in that glamorous reality. There actually do exist people whose lives resemble an episode of 'The O.C.' (if you've never seen that, it's a TV soap opera revolving around the lives of rich, spoiled teenagers in a wealthy beach town in Southern California, and something of a guilty pleasure of mine.)
When people visit the US from Europe or Japan they often marvel at how cheap everything is here. Just as Americans have gotten used to being able to buy gas at artificially cheap prices, just about everything else we buy is subsidized by the low wages made possible by cheap overseas labor and a tacit acceptance by industry of illegal immigration. Oh yes, Republicans and Democrats alike will make noise from time to time about stamping out illegal immigration, but capital needs a steady flow of labor, and there's nothing it loves more than labor that's willing to work with few legal rights, no benefits, and below-market wages, and that won't make waves for fear of being deported.
Which brings us to the Minutemen. Not the seminal San Pedro band that you might generally expect to hear of in my column, but the loosely-organized bands of vigilantes that have sprung up in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and even on the Canadian border from Washington to North Dakota. Armed and dangerous, they have taken it upon themselves to patrol the borders and round up illegal immigrants, and have garnered publicity for videotaping migrant day laborers and those who hire them and reporting them to the INS and IRS. They've focused a lot of attention lately on the business owners who hire the day laborers, claiming that they are taking advantage of the workers when they ought to be hiring people legally and paying for benefits and healthcare and such like. I don't disagree with this, and I certainly don't think that people who hire illegal immigrants are doing so out of a sense of charity. But the fact that the Minutemen's tactics have served mainly to victimize people who are far below poverty level and are struggling to provide the barest of necessities for themselves and their families is mean spirited to say the least. They have denied charges of racism but such people always do. They want to be seen as decent people doing their civic duty to defend their way of life, but goad them a little and the teeth start to show. The terminology favored by anti-immigration activists is designed to elicit fear of some catastrophe or other. They often talk of a deluge of immigrants, of a flood of people coming over the border. I certainly don't equate the dangerous activity of trying to make your way from Central or South America to a new life in the USA, with the hazards of border guards, vigilantes, coyotes, exploitative bosses, human traffickers, foremen who routinely rape their female workers, with a flood. Anyone who risks these dangers - risks their life – just to provide a better life for their family, has earned, at the very least, better treatment from their new neighbors, if not the bare minimum of human respect.
As an immigrant (albeit a honky whose transition to this country went fairly smoothly) this issue is very close to my heart. I find that borders provide nothing but trouble. I don't like them and think it would be a better world if all borders were opened immediately. I have, however, noticed that not all borders are the same. As a youth I traveled back and forth across the border with England frequently. No one bats an eyelid although one's accent might invite comment, or a ten pound note from a Scottish bank might draw a suspicious glance despite being completely legal tender (Maybe the suspicion derives from the unlikelihood of anyone from Scotland actually having ten pounds.) Similarly, driving around Europe, the borders are policed, but for the most part, it's rarely more than a matter of routine. Workers from anywhere in the European Union can legally take their labor wherever they like within the Union (not that I'm suggesting that Europe doesn't have its own problems with immigration – the recent riots in France demonstrated their lack of egalité.) There's a palpable difference between borders (such as those between wealthy Western European nations) that aren't really policed or contested, and borders (such as the one between the USA and Mexico) that represent more than just the point where one country ends and the other starts. Drive along US 10 from El Paso, TX towards Las Cruces, NM, with the Rio Grande on your left and beyond it, the slum villages of Juarez, and it becomes clear that this border represents a life of wealth and opportunity that many will never see. It's a pretty barren expanse of land, no fences or armed guards that I could see, at least during the day, but the simple knowledge that the imaginary dotted line that can only be viewed on a map is there feels like violence. It feels like goading, like bullying, like a dare.
Like most problems, it's complex, and there are no quick and easy solutions that will satisfy everyone. Too many people have a vested interest in maintaining a façade of strict border control and resistance to immigration while turning a blind eye to the exploitation and modern-day slavery of those who do make it over the border. The American middle-class lifestyle of cheap consumer goods, cheap food and cheap gas depends on this exploitation, so it will probably continue until the masses become bored and disillusioned with the ease and luxury of their consumerist, TV-driven lives and turn instead to the betterment of society as a whole, and particularly the lower classes. So, probably in the next couple of weeks then.


I do realize that messrs. Boon, Watt, and Hurley named themselves the Minutemen ironically, after the '60s militant anti-communist group, who in turn named themselves after the elite Revolutionary War militias, but it is still jarring to hear the name I so closely associate with the band that could be our lives linked with something so negative and hateful. I've read that D. Boon wrote the following lyrics (to Corona) on a trip to Mexico. Note the use of the words "our South" to refer to Mexico. Sure, there's a border there. Sure, it's technically another country. But the people over that border are humans just like us, so it is exactly that – "our South," as much as we are their North. North America, South America, these are just words.
The people will survive
In their environment
The dirt, scarcity, and the emptiness
Of our South
The injustice of our greed
The practice we inherit
The dirt, scarcity and the emptiness
Of our South
There on the beach
I could see it in her eyes
I only had a Corona
Five cent deposit

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