Academic journal article Social Justice

Arizona: A Reflection and Conversation on the Migrant Rights Movement, 2015

Academic journal article Social Justice

Arizona: A Reflection and Conversation on the Migrant Rights Movement, 2015

Article excerpt

Arizona is Ground Zero. Everything happens here. What other states can learn from Arizona is what we've learned--how to survive each and every day after being attacked through these racist laws. Just resisting and fighting back--Sandra (human rights activist, 2015)

SINCE THE PASSAGE OF THE NOTORIOUS SB 1070 IN 2010, ARIZONA HAS BEEN THE center of critical attention in the national media, public opinion, and popular culture. The city of Phoenix has become synonymous with anti-immigrant/ migrant sentiment, and bold, law and order--driven conservative politicians who vie for the spotlight with a perpetual stream of sound bites calling for stricter border enforcement and the removal of undocumented migrants who are always assumed to be Mexican. Captured in the public imagination are the bodies of brown people who are continuously defined as migrants, as not belonging, and as a people who need to be policed.

As a 10-year resident of this state, I am frustrated by the constant erasure of the people who live here and work everyday to challenge the dominant narrative presented by the state legislature and the media's carefully selected sound bites. In this essay, I share some of the stories of these Mexican/Chican@/Indigenous people whose counternarratives have been systematically ignored and whose long histories of struggle for labor rights, rights to a just education, and rights to living without fear are tied to a memory of a time when the US/Mexico border as we know it today did not exist. I choose to cluster these identities because in the subsequent narratives all individuals self-identify differently; their identity relates to their experiences, their ways of being in the world, and their ways of understanding the world. Some identify strongly with the nation-state of Mexico, others with a politicized Chicana/o experience that is both bilingual and bicultural, and others as Indigenous or native to both the land and continent. This article is not about unpacking particular identitarian positions as much as it is about beginning the conversation from their self-defined identities. Moreover, the international demarcation along the United States and Mexico has differentially affected workers, families, and communities in its 167-year history, both limiting and forcing migratory movements that have continuously forged new social, political, and economic relationships.

However, this essay takes as a point of departure more recent, emerging movements of Mexican/Chican@/Indigenous resistance and struggles for social justice that have developed in response to the changing climate of fear in the last decade, movements that should be on the frontline of our contemporary understanding of Chican@/Mexican@ social movements. The widespread anti-migrant, mostly anti-Mexican, sentiment in Arizona can be attributed to six-times-elected County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been instrumental in creating an environment of hostility, fear, and hatred. He has gone so far in his fear tactics to say, in his 2008 autobiography, that there is "a growing movement among not only Mexican nationals but also some Mexican-Americans that the United States stole the territory that is now California, Arizona and Texas, and that massive immigration over the border will speed the reconquista [reconquering] of these lands, returning them to Mexico" (as cited in Anti-Defamation League 2012). Arpaio also asserted, "No other group except the Mexicans, and other Hispanics as well, has broken the immigration laws in such astonishing numbers" (ibid.). This kind of misinformation and oversimplification of migratory movements across Arizona's southern border, with no mention of economic policies such as NAFTA or other economic push factors, has dire consequences for Mexican-origin communities. Local politicians have strategically built a climate of fear and dehumanization of Mexican/Chican@/ Indigenous migrants and, in many ways, have been quite successful at codifying it into law and popular consciousness. …

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