by Kristin Chang
“We are all immigrants”: the rallying cry of (white) liberals protesting against the Muslim Ban and other xenophobic and anti-immigrant executive orders our federal government is currently brewing. The problem is, of course, statements like “We are a nation of immigrants” only reinforce the romantic myth of multiculturalism in the US, in which (apparently) all Americans of all colors are all just immigrants who get along, a “melting pot” narrative that conveniently proves the unity of a homogeneous “immigrant” identity.
But this blatantly erases the presence of indigenous people, as well as the land and lives stolen by white settler-colonists. White settlers who invaded, settled, and colonized America were not “immigrants” – that conflates immigration with genocide. And to deem all Black people in America “immigrants” is to revise, sanitize, and erase a history of slavery. Labeling slave labor a form of “immigration” conveniently absolves whiteness of its colonial violence.
And what about migrant labor from Latin America, Chinese railroad workers, and refugees from Southeast Asia and the Middle East? Do they count as “immigrants”? What defines immigration, exactly? Is it voluntary migration? But what is “voluntary” in a world made unlivable by US military intervention and colonization? After all, the US-Mexican border is a colonial construct formed by the US military, and it is the US that has systematically exploited and desolated Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Meanwhile, the systemic criminalization and exploitation of migrant laborers, when they do “voluntarily” come, doesn’t exactly make for a system in which we are all just equally “immigrants.”
To revise history and erase colonial realities: that’s the only real accomplishment of this slogan. It’s not so much one that’ll rally change and resistance so much as it’ll preserve our current colonial narratives. As long as white people can call themselves (and all of us) immigrants, we can be “multicultural” without deeply examining the differences in power and position among us – and the histories that created them. Ultimately, if we examine history, we’ll realize that the only truly “voluntary” people in America are white, and they’re the ones that must bear the responsibility of their actions, past and present and future. Whether that’s resisting laws with actually effective messages or dismantling deeply-rooted systems and borders to decolonize the world for the rest of us.
Kristin Chang is a staff writer at Even If Your Voice Shakes. She is from California. She studies languages, cries over poetry, and invents alter-egos-of-color for Wonder Woman. She is located at softchink.tumblr.com. If you liked or learned from this article, please consider paying her: cash.me/kristinxchang.