Wednesday, June 23, 2004

MIGRATION-U.S.: Latinos or Chaos

MIGRATION-U.S.: Latinos or Chaos

Latinos or Chaos

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Jun 23 (IPS) - If all the people of Latin American origin were to disappear from the United States, where they represent around 14 percent of the population of 290 million, chaos likely would ensue.

Such is the theory behind the plot of the new film ''A Day Without a Mexican'', which denounces discrimination against Latinos and the attempts to slow the growth of this segment of U.S. society.

In ''A Day Without a Mexican'', which premiered in U.S. cinemas in May and will hit the big screens of Latin America in August, all Latinos disappear from the southwestern state of California, home to one of the biggest Latino populations in the United States. They simply disappear.

The upshot of their vanishing is that the rest of the Californians are left without waiters, cooks, schoolteachers, bricklayers, farmhands, domestics and other essential workers.

''Mexican'' is used in the film to refer to anyone from any Latin American country or of Latin American origins.

''In the United States, everything that is south of the border is Mexican. People ask in what part of Mexico they can find Venezuela,'' Sergio Arau, the director of the film and himself a Mexican, says with a note of irony.

According to José Márquez, a young Mexican who recently returned after living a year in California, many in the United States want the Latinos to leave ''because we bother them, they look at us with scorn and even make fun of us.''

''There is so much discrimination there. That's why I came back'' to Mexico, Márquez told IPS. The young man worked cleaning offices in the United States. Now he is working as a concierge in an apartment building in Mexico City.

Arau says that ''the fantasy'' of many people in the United States ''is that everyone who is not like them will disappear.''

In some way, people in the United States are afraid of the Latinos, and out of the mix of that fear and ignorance emerges racist hate, said the filmmaker.

In March excerpts of the new book, ''Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity'', by influential political scientist Samuel Huntington were released. Already a controversial figure for his predictions of a ''clash of civilisations'' between the West and Islam, he now says the U.S. identity is threatened by immigrants from Latin America.

The thesis of Huntington's book, which has come under fire from other academics who say it lacks supporting evidence and has a racist bent, is that the Latin Americans do not integrate into the larger U.S. society, but rather cling to their own customs and values.

Following a strategy begun in the 1990s, when the U.S. government began building walls along its border with Mexico in an attempt to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, the U.S. border patrol this month launched special operations in California to detain undocumented Latinos.

The border patrol round-ups -- in which agents used appearance stereotypes to determine who might be an illegal immigrant -- has led to the arrest of more than 400 people, which prompted the Mexican government to make a diplomatic complaint, charging that the strategy is discriminatory.

Some 14 million of the approximately 40 million people living in California are of Latin American origin, and of that total, 10 million are Mexicans. According to a study by the University of California, more than half of the babies born daily in that state have Latino parents.

In California and other states where there is a strong Latino presence, legislation has been proposed in recent years to limit the rights of immigrants, such as denying or reducing their access to social services.

''There is discrimination against Latinos and it is in full view, but there now so many that the politicians love them, especially when elections are near, like now,'' Paulina Torres, a researcher at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, told IPS.

In November the U.S. voters will elect a new president. One-third of the Senate seats and the entire House of Representatives are also facing elections.

The U.S. National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials estimates the number of Latino voters in the upcoming elections could reach seven million, which is six percent of the total electorate.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported on Jun. 14 that the Latino community -- those born in Latin America or of Latin American origins -- in the country numbered 39.9 million in a population of 290.8 million.

This means the Latino population grew 13 percent in relation to figures from 2000.

According to that agency, the Latinos, with Mexicans comprising 65 percent, are the social group seeing greatest population growth in the United States: 4.5 million people in the last 39 months.

The Census Bureau says that ''whites'', including ''white Latinos'', continue to be the largest segment of the U.S. population, at 197.3 million. But demographic projections indicate that by 2050 whites will represent a similar portion of the overall population as today's ''minorities''.

The growing importance of the Latino community in the United States is not only recognised by politicians and officials in that country, but also by their counterparts in Mexico.

Mexico's President Vicente Fox last week presented the Mexican Congress with a bill that would allow emigrants living in the United States to vote in Mexico's 2006 presidential elections.

If the bill is passed, people who do not live in Mexico could represent 15 to 20 percent of the total voting population in those elections.

To seek support for the bill and to build ties with Mexican emigrants, Fox visited several U.S. cities with significant Latino populations.



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