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)