imperial queue

The rhetoric that demonizes anti-Latino and anti-Asian immigrants is disturbing not only for what it says, but more so for what it does not say. By portraying immigration to the United States as a matter of desperate individuals seeking opportunities, it completely disregards the aggressive roles that the U.S. government and U.S. corporations have played— through colonialism, imperialist wars and occupations, capital investment and material extraction in Third World countries and through active recruitment of racialized and gendered immigrant labor— in generating out-migration from key sending countries. As Joe Feagin reminds us, “recent immigrants have mostly come from countries that have been substantially influenced by imperialistic efforts by U.S. corporations and by the U.S. government around the globe.” This portrayal of immigration stigmatizes the immigrants as desperate, undeserving, and even threatening, and delinks contemporary immigration from past U.S. corporate, military, or governmental actions abroad.

As I watched this spectacle of border making, I was reminded of my own bordercrossing experience. In 1975, when tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees, including my own family, arrived in the United States, the majority of Americans did not welcome us. A Harris poll taken in May 1975 indicated that more than 50 percent of the American public felt that Southeast Asian refugees should be excluded; only 26 percent favored their entry. Many seemed to share Congressman Burt Talcott’s conclusion that, “Damn it, we have too many Orientals.” Five years later, public opinion toward the refugees had not changed. A 1980 poll of American attitudes in nine cities revealed that nearly half of those surveyed believed that the Southeast Asian refugees should have settled in other Asian countries. This poll also found that more than 77 percent of the respondents would disapprove of the marriage of a Southeast Asian refugee into their family and 65 percent would not be willing to have a refugee as a guest in their home. Anti-Southeast Asian sentiment also took violent turns. Refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in many parts of the United States have been attacked and even killed; and their properties have been vandalized, firebombed, or burned. The antirefugee rhetoric was similar to that directed against Latino immigrants: Southeast Asians were morally, culturally, and economically deficient— an invading multitude, unwanted and undeserving.

- Yen Le Espiritu, “Homes, Borders, and Possibilities,” in Asian American Studies Now (2010) 

No matter how many times you save the Empire, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid. “I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for- for ten minutes?!”
—  Imperial Agent
  • Vector: Agent! I almost thought that Ardun Kothe man talked you into not liking the Empire.
  • LS Agent: No, Vector. The Empire may have some problems, but it’s our home. Our team. And if you don’t want to root for your team, then you should get the hell out of the stadium.
  • Vector: *fondly* Right.
  • Agent: *proudly* Go Empire.
  • Vector: Go Empire. *awkwardly* Go Oroboro Nest.
  • Agent: *fondly* Yes, go Oroboro Nest.
  • Imperial Agent: Okay, I think he knows more than he’s saying, so we need to seduce information out of him. Who knows anything about seducing?
  • (silence)
  • Imperial Agent: I’m going to need outfits. You all have to go and find or make me seducing costumes, okay?
  • (timeskip)
  • Vector: Ghost!
  • IA: No.
  • Lokin: Hat rack!
  • IA: Aw, come on.
  • Temple: Fruit viking!
  • (Imperial Agent enters the room naked in a viking helmet made out of a watermelon and a cape, holding fruit seductively)
  • Imperial Agent: Do you have any…secrets you wanna tell the fruit viking? ‘Cause fruit vikings loooove secrets.

…A series of events unfolded within the expanding context of the United States imperialism that contributed to the migration of workers from Puerto Rico to Hawai'i. In 1899, Hurricane San Ciriaco devastated more than half of the island of Puerto Rico. It left thousands of Puerto Ricans, who were dependent on subsistence farming, destitute and in search of work. Meanwhile, the Chinese Exclusionary Act, adopted in the United States in 1882, prohibited Chinese workers from entering any part of the United States. Consequently, recruiters of the Hawai'i Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) began to look for non-Asian experiences sugar cane cutters from domestic territories. Puerto Rico was considered a prime territory for cheap, non-Asian labor, and the annexation of Puerto Rico, Hawai'i, Guam, and the Philippines by the United States in 1898 facilitated the transfer of Puerto Ricans from one U.S. territory (Puerto Rico) to the other (Hawai'i). 

Between 1900 and 1901, 5,000 Puerto Ricans left the port of Guánica to immigrate to Hawai’i. It was a long and difficult journey. The first stop of the trip by sea was to New Orleans; the second, by rail, was to San Francisco. The trip was longer than they were told, they were not given proper clothing and medical attention promised on the way to Hawai’i, and the travel conditions were crowded and unsanitary. As a result, almost half of the Puerto Ricans escaped en route… Not only did Puerto Ricans escape and refuse to get back on the ship in California, but the first act of protest of those who continued on to Hawai’i was to seize control of the vessel that was to transport them to other islands in Hawai’i…

Although Hawai’i was a territory of the United States when Puerto Rican immigrated there, in the early part of the twentieth century it was still not a democracy. Hawai’i was managed by an oligarchy of five elite families who controlled it as if it were their personal fiefdom. These families constituted the HSPA. Members of the HSPA were enraged by the negative publicity and by what they considered audacity of the half-starved Puerto Rican peasants to protest their treatment. They implemented numerous strategies to control them. One of the successful strategies they had tried on earlier group was to promote a negative social image of Puerto Ricans as aggressive, and to stereotype them in the local newspaper as temperamental knife wielders. The HSPA also exploited existing differences among the various ethnic groups and invested considerable resources in creating and perpetuating animosities among the workers…

The HSPA used the strategy of scattering ethnic groups throughout the archipelago to prevent them from deriving power in numbers. Although he workers toiled alongside other ethnic groups in the field, they were housed in segregated quarters on each planation, a tactic put in place by the HSPA to keep workers under control and in competition with one another. As Michael Haas notes, ‘One of the ways that the plantation owners fostered interethnic conflicts was by intentionally recruiting Puerto Rican as ‘scabs’ to break up successful union strikes carried out by the Japanese workers in the early part of the twentieth century. Moreover, in contrast to the Chinese and Japanese workers who immigrated before them, Puerto Ricans did not have a government official in Hawai’i to represent them. This may have occurred because once they left, the Puerto Rican government did not want them to return; they were perceived as part of the overpopulation problem that the U.S. government officials had proclaimed in 1899… 

- Iris López, “Borinkis and Chop Suey: Puerto Rican Identity in Hawai’i, 1900 - 2000,” The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives 

I love how Rebels has not only given us a diverse cast of heroes, but also a bunch of really cleverly-structured villains.

The Inquisitor is an alien, but any general alien prejudices are lost on him because he’s so powerful and important. Also, his alien appearance is going to increase xenophobia throughout the Empire, because he is so creepy and unsettling that no one is going to be sure how to treat nonhumans. Do his powers come from the same sources as the Jedi, or is it just because he’s an alien? Is he even an alien, or some science project? What is he?

Agent Kallus is a man who has worked his way up through the ranks by being ruthless and brilliant. By simply learning that a helmet was switched on and that an escaped prisoner was listening to their conversation, he is able to pick up that they will be headed to Kessel, because they discussed that. His traps have worked every single time he hunts down the Rebels, they’ve just always proven too elusive. He’s conducted genocide and enjoys the thrill of the hunt, to the point where he challenges one of the last members of that almost-extinct species to a duel. He feels no remorse, because he is fanatically devoted to the Empire. 

Minister Tua, though, does not have any interest in–or stomach for–genocide and the cruelty of the Empire. She embodies the positive, bright side of the Empire, and wants only to keep people safe and to further its glory. But don’t think that this means she’s soft–she’s still willing to collect disruptors and to proudly announce the production of new war fighters. She wants to see criminals punished, but not out of a sense of cruelty–she simply wants justice. Her Empire must be formed from order, and it cannot exist while terrorists run around. She has worked her way up to her position through many years of study and dedication, and she will not let anything threaten her or the system.

Rudor made a name for himself by killing a lot of enemy pilots, but his skills seem lackluster–no doubt his “heroics” were simply him picking off the weak and unlucky. We still need to learn more about him, but he embodies how picking on the defenseless can elevate one to a high rank.

Which brings us to Aresko and Grint. They’re nothing more than bullies. The Empire turned over the command on Lothal, and they happily volunteered to take their places. Stupid and uncaring, filled with no true understanding of what makes a soldier but their own brute force, these two were hindrances to the Empire’s machine–but they were loyal enough to maintain their superiors’ approval, and intimidating enough to keep their inferiors in line. Unfortunately for them, they are also the most expendable members. They just rose up to fill in an empty space, but when the situation began to change and efficiency was demanded, they were crushed beneath the spinning cogs of the machine. And they will be replaced, continually, by more and more effective men, until finally the system works.