Covering Immigration: Popular Images and the Politics of the Nation

By Leo R. Chavez | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Immigrants outside
the Imagined Community
of the Nation, 1994–99

Identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when something assumed to be fixed, coherent and stable is displaced by the experience of doubt and uncertainty.

K. Mercer, “Welcome to the Jungle”

A watershed moment in the public debate over immigration was the 1994 election in California. On 8 November of that year the voters of California overwhelmingly passed Proposition 187, which was to, in the words of its supporters, “Save Our State” by denying “illegal aliens health care, education, and other publicly-funded benefits” (California Ballot Pamphlet 1994; P. Martin 1995). 1 The Proposition 187 campaign signaled what Kitty Calavita (1996) has called a “new politics” of immigration, one based on “balanced-budget conservatism. ” Most of these provisions were brought to a halt by the court on the grounds that regulation of immigration was a matter for the federal, not state, government.

Six magazine covers appeared in 1994, beginning with American Heritage's March issue. The cover featured a photograph of the Statue of Liberty, her entire body visible above her pedestal, the buildings of the city discernible through a hazy sky. Noticeably different is that the statue's arm is not holding a torch. Instead, the photograph has been altered so that her right arm is held horizontally, finger pointing away. The unwelcome gesture is underscored by the text: “Go Back Where You Came From: Since the very beginning, many Americans have wanted this to be our immigration policy. Is it starting to happen?” Importantly, the Statue of Liberty is facing east; her right arm, therefore, points south, indicating that the place to “go back” to for the immigrants she is addressing is to the south. She is not pointing straight ahead, that is not back to the east.

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