Covering Immigration: Popular Images and the Politics of the Nation

By Leo R. Chavez | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Immigration Orthodoxies
and Heresies, 1965–85

To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “as it actually was. ” It means to wrest a memory as it flashes up in moments of danger.

Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Geschriften

The year 1965 was a watershed year in American history. The nation's immigration laws underwent a radical revision, changing the way prospective immigrants were allotted visas. Out were the national origins quotas that, by design, favored European immigration. In their place, the new immigration law established a set of preferences defined by family networks and employment needs. Since 1965, changes have taken place in both the composition and total numbers of immigrants coming to the United States. As I discussed in chapter 1, the consequences of these revisions were perhaps unanticipated and unintended by the framers of the new immigration law. And not all of these changes, of course, can be attributed solely to the 1965 immigration law. Other forces have also been at work. The nation's economy, buffeted by an expanding global economy, has increasingly turned to flexible production and offshore assembly as a way of meeting world competition. Refugees by the thousands, or even millions, have been set adrift by conflicts in their homelands. And undocumented immigrants, or “illegal aliens, ” have become a mainstay of marginal and competitive industries—agricultural, poultry, meat-cutting, restaurants, etc. —in much of the Southwest, Florida, New York, Illinois, and an ever expanding number of local communities throughout the Midwest and South.

This chapter uses magazine covers as a window through which to explore the discourse surrounding these changes and their implications. The magazine covers serve, in this way, as a finger on the pulse beat of Amer

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