Sunday, May 5, 2013

We're Just Here For the Resources

I wonder, when I hear about the interminable debate over immigration, to what degree stories like this, real or imagined, are in the backs of some people's minds.

Because of fishing and their ability to adapt, the Yakunin Clan lives comfortably in Alaska, able to afford large boats and trucks. Though Vasily Yakunin says his father and uncle knew nothing about fishing when they came to Alaska, the Russian fishing fleet today has a reputation for aggressive tactics and self-policing. Americans in the surrounding communities can share stories about the Russian fleet setting nets too close to other boats, ignoring calls from the Coast Guard, and only responding to help if it comes from another Russian.
There are a couple communities of the Old Believers sect of the Russian Orthodox church in Alaska, and part of the reason that they live there is that it's remote from the rest of the United States, and they can make a living there. They'd migrated through other places before settling there - they'd left Brazil for Oregon because it was easier to make a living, and Oregon for Alaska to avoid Americanization. And while a community of Orthodox Russians is a far cry from Latin American migrants, in the minds of some people that I've spoken to over the years, the overall intent is the same - come to the United States, avoid becoming a part of American society and culture, build a better life with the resources the United States offer and eventually, the fear goes, displace and marginalize the "native" Americans.

Of course, there is a precedent for this. Simply remove the quotes from the word "native" and capitalize the "N," and the narrative starts to sound familiar. And while many modern Americans are dutifully upset over the treatment of the native population that lived here before their ancestors arrived, they reaped the benefits of that poor treatment, and they aim to keep them. Even some Libertarians, who can be famously hostile to any threats to absolute ownership of personal property and real estate, have settled on a definition of ownership that implies that the Native Americans didn't actually own the lands they lived and hunted on, with the result that the wholesale appropriation that land by European settlers was perfectly justified.

The vagaries of American history have resulted in a fragmented population. And many of these fragments, for reasons of their own, tend to live in terror of being marginalized. While most of us have never encountered the worst effects of it firsthand, for many, it lurks around the corner, waiting to once again be the order of the day. As long as that fear lives, discussions about the role of immigration, especially en masse, into the modern United States will always have the specter of a hostile, avaricious or uncaring Other in them and a be tinged with a fear that the Other will do unto Americans as they have done before.

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