March 2017

A Short History of the World with Immigrants in Mind


Alejandro López


 “We are all bound by the ties of love. …Scientists tell us that without the presence of the cohesive force amongst the atoms that comprise this globe of ours, it would crumble to pieces and we would cease to exist, and even as there is cohesive force in blind matter, so must there be in all things animate, and the name for that cohesive force among animate beings is love.  We notice it between father and son, between brother and sister, friend and friend…where there is love, there is life.”  — Mahatma Gandhi


To my knowledge, when human beings are born, they come into this world without any legal documents clutched in their tiny little hands. Instead, their very beings are enough to command not only respect but also even reverence for the miracle of life that they and all other living beings embody. We are all born with the same needs of being cared for, protected, nurtured and welcomed into a family, society, species and planetary web of life or ecology. 


For eons, human beings have done whatever was necessary for themselves and their progeny to survive. Our distribution throughout the five continents of the world and nearly every inhabitable island is proof enough that, instinctively, our ancestors followed large game, plentiful fish and, since the agricultural revolution approximately 10,000 years ago, flocks of domesticated animals, copious water flows and arable landscapes with periods of reliable rain or snowfall. At that time there were no national boundaries, wire fences or walls to stop necessary migrations, and certainly no documents that people needed to produce for bureaucracies.


Since the relatively recent advent of sea navigation, modern weaponry and standing armies, European kingdoms and later, nation states, ventured out into the four corners of the world and conquered, colonized and often plundered the riches and resources of stable non-European societies. Many of these societies were culturally and spiritually wiser, kinder to the environment and inherently more sustainable. 


In the wake of colonization, entire peoples, notably tribal Africans, were sold into slavery and forced to provide the muscle for the fledgling Industrial Revolution that resulted in the amassing of goods and capital in the hands of a few, like never before. Invariably, this small but powerful segment of the population also tended to run the governments and pass laws benefitting their own interests rather than those of the population at large, let alone of its ethnic minorities, as is still pretty much the case today. Yet other peoples were enslaved, not so much in the fields, but rather in factories, as still happens in many Third World or developing nations.


Five hundred years ago, vast regions now occupied by México and the United States were the domain of hundreds of tribes including the densely populated and culturally sophisticated Mayans of the Yucatán, as well as the more sparse, freedom-loving plains tribes of the central U.S. The fact that México was conquered and colonized by the Spanish and North America was similarly conquered and colonized by the English and French is not the only factor that shaped the future of these two dissimilar nations, which share a 2,000-mile border and soon, perhaps, a wall.


While the United States eliminated nearly every vestige of this continent’s indigenous past, including millions of people by brute force, México, a far more populated region, absorbed both the Spanish and African peoples into its bloodstream and cultural life while switching to the Spanish language and many European-derived institutions. It is estimated that just a half-million Spanish and a comparable number of Africans came to México during the colonial period. Since then, immigration from other parts of the world has been negligible.


As a result of this historical process, México’s population is highly indigenous and still recovering from the holocaust of the conquest in which millions of Native people perished and deeply rooted cultures were demolished. Its generally hard-working, kind and long-suffering people are also recovering from centuries of repression at the hands of despotic rulers and wealthy landowners, from the bloody revolution of 1910, invasions by other countries, and from the severe economic downturn of recent years. 


The people of the United States, overwhelmingly descendants of European immigrants during the time of the Industrial Revolution in northern Europe, have experienced a far greater set of advantages. Except for the Civil War, they did not suffer a disruption as great, long lasting or traumatic as the Mexicano people. Instead, Americans, heirs to Protestantism and the Protestant work ethic, felt themselves ordained by God (Manifest Destiny) to push their rule of law from coast to coast in an effort to control commerce in the North Atlantic, throughout the Pacific, the entirety of the continent, and subsequently, much of the world. It did not matter if, in its drive to do so, it militarily appropriated one-half of México’s territory (including what is now New Mexico), whose resources, including human, it immediately began to exploit.


In the last two decades, much of México’s rural campesino population has been displaced and rendered obsolete by the torrents of imported corn and other staples that come from the United States as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But even before that, large multinational corporations exploited much of México’s and the rest of Latin America’s wealth. 


To complicate matters even more, the majority of Mexican states and urban areas stretching from Acapulco, Guerrero to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and from Guaymas, Sinaloa to Monterrey, Nuevo León, have, in the last 10 years, been riddled by extreme violence. This is due to turf wars being carried out by drug cartels intent on controlling the lucrative trade routes into the U.S., whose appetite for drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana appears to be boundless. Significantly, the arms that cartels use to eliminate their rivals or anyone who gets in their way are supplied by marketers in the U.S. who care not how their lethal merchandise is used, as long as it turns a profit. As can be seen, the fate of these two neighbors is inextricably bound together as it was even before the arrival of European powers, when the culture of corn, chocolate, parrot feathers, clay pots, turquoise, and bows and arrows knew no boundaries.


Carlos and Norma, (not their real names) fled the violence of their birthplace, a large city in central México, where bullets were flying around at their daughter’s elementary school when they went to pick her up one afternoon. One fateful day eight years ago, they left everything, including their home and jobs selling computers, and journeyed to northern New Mexico with just a few things in tow. 


After working for several years cutting meat at a grocery store and cleaning houses, they established their own food business. Today, they spend as much time working as they do helping fellow immigrants with advice on how to survive in a society that day-by-day is growing more hostile toward immigrants. By and large, the objective of these people is not to exploit the U.S. or its institutions, let alone to stir up crime; but rather, to survive, as did our ancestors who might have followed woolly mammoths from a once secure place to another of greater risks where the food supply might be more reliable. What these immigrants are willing to give in return is hard work, knowledge of the land, and good will, along with friendliness, generosity, humility and joie de vivre; a set of personal qualities essential to any healthy society, but which have largely disappeared from American life.


They are doing what any people would do under similar circumstances and certainly what the European-born ancestors of most Americans did during the last few centuries, during which they immigrated to the United States. To be sure, many arrived without a stitch of written evidence stating that they were the people who they said that they were, for many of them also came fleeing famines, wars, pogroms and repressive regimes.   


Today, I can say unequivocally that, as a result of the presence of people such as Carlos and Norma, my land is being farmed, my roof has been made secure, my car fixed and my native language—one of the principal historic languages of this region—is being shored up. When I interact with people such as Carlos and Norma, it never occurs to me to ask them if they have papers or how they got here, just as I do not ask the same of the Anglos whose provenance is more of a mystery to me than that of the more indigenous Mexicano. Instead, I treat them well, welcome them into my home and do for them what our shared humanity commands us to do: be kind, loving and compassionate.



Alejandro López, a native New Mexican educator, writer and artist, teaches Spanish to English- language speakers and English to Spanish-speaking individuals. López was the New Mexico coordinator of An Apprenticeship in Peace, a program of the National Indian Youth Leadership Project, which hosted Nobel Peace Prize laureates from throughout the world who facilitated community dialogues and forums on justice and human rights issues.




Immigrants in New Mexico

According to the Migration Policy Institute, New Mexico has about 204,000 immigrants, documented and undocumented, mostly from Latin America, who make up about 13 percent of the state’s total workforce. Using 2014 data, the Pew Research Center reports that New Mexico is among the top 10 states with the highest number of “unauthorized” immigrants in its workforce.


WalletHub, a company that studies trends in the economy and finance, compared the 50 states plus the District of Columbia across four key dimensions: Immigrant Workforce, Socioeconomic Contribution, Brain Gain & Innovators and International Students. New Mexico ranks 34th among states where immigrants have the largest economic impact and 25th for jobs generated by immigrant-owned businesses. The medium household income of the foreign-born population, at $32,489 a year, placed the state at 51st. The state also came in last for foreign-born adults ages 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher. But New Mexico is No. 1 for the foreign-born population’s homeownership rate, at 62.8 percent.


News Impacting Immigrants in New Mexico

In February, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stepped up raids at homes and workplaces to identify and deport illegal immigrants.


The police chief at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces said that his department wouldn’t seek authority to enforce immigration laws on campus.


The Santa Fe City Council approved a resolution reaffirming the city’s status as a welcoming community for immigrants and refugees.


Many restaurants, businesses and some construction sites closed for the day on Feb. 16 as part of a nationwide movement called “A Day without Immigrants.”


Hundreds of people packed the rotunda of the state capitol for the “Immigrant Day of Action” rally to demonstrate their alarm at President Trump’s immigration executive order.


New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas was among attorneys general from 16 states across the country that filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit opposing the new immigrant restrictions.


Potential Impact on New Mexico of a Trade War with México

Given the current tension between México and the U.S. over the possible construction of a border wall and the future of free trade, some are considering what the impacts of a trade war would be. WalletHub ranked New Mexico No. 4 on a list of states that would be hardest hit by a trade war with México. México is New Mexico’s largest trading partner for goods and services and is tied with Arizona and Texas for the highest percentage of exports to and imports from México as a percentage of the state total. New Mexico ranks fifth among states with the highest percentage of exports to México as a percentage of state gross domestic product (GDP), one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of the state’s economy.


Tres Hermanas Farm: Growing Refugee Futures

Lutheran Family Services-Rocky Mountains, a nonprofit human service and refugee resettlement agency that has been serving children and families regardless of race, religion, gender or age since 1948, has received a federal grant to start a refugee farming program. The project will break ground this spring in Albuquerque at the Río Grande Community Farm and another site.


Refugees will have access to land, tools, water, seed, workshops and mentors to grow food for themselves and their families. If they are interested in taking produce to market, the program will help facilitate the application process and market-day logistics.


With the current political climate there is a lot of uncertainty in communities, making initiatives such as this important for providing productive training, food and for building ties between new Americans and local communities. For more information, call Zoey Fink: 505.835.5527.




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