The May 1 Demonstrations: Historic Turning Point?

By Peirce, Neal | Nation's Cities Weekly, May 22, 2006 | Go to article overview

The May 1 Demonstrations: Historic Turning Point?


Peirce, Neal, Nation's Cities Weekly


It's long been inevitable: a 21st century North America of increasingly mixed peoples, the great rivers of Anglo and Hispanic population mixing and flowing freely along with Asian and African-American tributaries. Globalization, Internet-era communications and people yearning for opportunity all point to a time of melting of national borders, delayed only by anti-terrorism protections.

Still, history may well record May 1, the day hundred of thousands of legal and undocumented Hispanics and their allies turned out in the massive, unified pro-immigrant demonstrations across the continent, as a critical turning point.

Suddenly, a more human face was put on striving immigrants, perhaps "illegal" under law but quintessentially American in their personal aspirations. And direct support of already naturalized, voting Hispanics, America's fastest-growing voting bloc, was dramatized.

Also clear from May 1: how hopelessly out of tune with new reality the House of Representatives was with its immigration bill to hunt down and deport millions of today's illegal immigrants and to construct huge Berlin and Israeli-style walls along the Mexican border.

It's true, there are aspects to illegal immigration--exploitive and violent coyotes, tunnels, death on the desert--that we all abhor.

Not to mention the disgraceful wages (plus zero benefits) some U.S. employers force on intimidated illegals.

But a radically different picture emerges if one focuses instead on new people-to-people and cultural ties, the emerging economies and opportunity scenarios emerging along America's flank to Mexico and broader Latin America.

In San Antonio, one hears about "mestizo," the idea of borderland regions "fusing north and south" in a new cultural synthesis in which "differences are not destroyed, hidden or ignored."

Our Citistates editorial team, preparing a series for the San Antonio Express-News, expected to find San Antonio's future defined by its ties to high-tech Austin, Texas, just to the north. But instead, people focused on deep social and economic ties to Monterrey, Mexico, plus fast-rising NAFTA trade passing through border cities. There's a new trans-border culture, where hamburgers meet salsa and mariachi bands play at high school football games.

In a project in South Florida--Miami-Dade County, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach--we anticipated continued focus on the region's historic crops: tourists and housing for retirees.

Instead, we found South Florida's brightest new frontiers in expanding trade ties to the Caribbean and Latin worlds, including film, Internet and broadcasting opportunities, as Miami exploits its position as de facto cultural capital of South America. And small wonder: with its polyglot of peoples, contentious, turbulent, creative Miami and its South Florida neighbors are like a "dress rehearsal for America. …

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