By Taina Longin
On January 12, 2010, exactly 8 years ago from today, many perished in a moment of violent bellowing turbulence and falling concrete rubble over vulnerable bodies. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti and its people near the capital of Port-au-Prince. That day, 200,000 lives were lost, the incident still haunts Haitians as the worst catastrophic natural event in our island’s history. Over 1.5 million were displaced and in temporary housing such as tents. Globally, many people were sympathetic by the tragic and immediate loss of life on the island. They were also aware and active in providing for the the immediate need, among many things, for water, power, shelter, and emotional support. Billions were donated to charitable foundations. With the donated charitable gifts from immediate global support, thousands of first responders arrived on the threshold of the island with multiple independent plans of action. After all these plans were accomplished, and active support subsided, and the threat of cholera from UN Peacekeepers have caused people more harm. Many Haitians left the island with nothing but the dream of finding work to provide for the hungry family members in want of stability. One state government openly extend a sympathetic invitation to Haitians surviving the disaster after many parts of the island were unlivable: their livelihoods were obliterated, their homes destroyed and family members perished. Two other states discussed only the emigration after it had already began. Now in 2018, 8 years after the disaster. How have these Haitians acclimated to life in those foreign countries. How has the experience of Haiti’s people living in other countries effected their sense of belonging and after eight years, is Haiti ready for a large influx of its people pushed back home?
Three countries presented themselves as sanctuaries for Haitian people with different approaches. On one end, in Senegal, the country has accepted a group of 163 students who were given the opportunity to continue their education. Senegal created a structure for them to be able to thrive in the common French-speaking country. During Brazil’s booming economy in the early 2010’s, the country’s increased economic standing gave a chance for artisans and industrious Haitians to cross the Caribbean Sea and seek work to better their livelihoods and the lives of their families. Many Haitians who experienced the earthquake trauma of 2010 sought haven in the United States for the of the American Dream and new opportunity under TPS.
In the West African country of Senegal, there was an immediate hospitality and good grace given to the Haitian people by the state. As many Haitians suffered the aftermath of utter destruction of the natural disaster, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal shared with the international community that the country’s citizens were descendants of Africans. He proclaimed that “Africa should offer Haitians the chance to return home. It is their right […] to repatriation on the African continent”. The president promised a flight to West Africa, housing and shelter if few Haitians come and if more do, fertile land will be provided to them. Since 2010, Senegal has offered Haitians full scholarships to complete their studies when Haiti continued to rebuild. Overall, 163 Haitians were given room and board and a completely funded education in Senegal’s top university. Though the country lacks economic stability in Senegal, its hospitality knows little bounds. As a majority Muslim country, many Haitians have thrived in the learning environment. Though most Haitians are Catholic and Senegalese are mostly Muslim, the common French language has brought them together. Today many of the students have ingrained into Senegalese life and aspire to produce something worthwhile for the American people. Though their arrival was a celebration of African pride, not much has been documented about their accomplishments.
In 2010, 4000 Haitians began to move to Brazil. Known for its economic climb as a burgeoning power and as the World Cup and Olympics approached, many Haitians braved the treacherous migration through the Amazon to reach places such as São Paulo in order to find work given to undocumented people. Many gained factory work and told their families back home in Haiti to join in on the plentiful work. Now there are enclaves of Haitians mostly in São Paulo. As the market approached a steep decline, Haitians being the lowest in the hierarchy of workers, were the first to be let go. Now many find themselves without any work and have either returned to Haiti or are in search of work in other South American countries. Currently 400, temporary visas per month are being produced for Haitians to travel to Brazil but there is no clear benefit of transmittance, money sent to family back home. Brazil government has recently began creating policy for the large influx of Haitians with the Association of Haitian Workers.
On November 20, 2017, the sitting president of the United States made a clear and sudden official statement proclaiming the end of TPS for Haitians immigrants. This includes ten nationalities in which their protection status will end, most notably the large populations of people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The termination of TPS for Haitian has since extended to its final day July 22, 2019. This means over 45,000 Haitians under protection after the 2010 earthquake (and beforehand for other reasons) must vacate the states by summer of 2019. Understandably, immediately following the statement, many people were at risk of psychological and physical upending of all they’ve known for a considerable amount of time. They now have 18 months to plan their exit back to the island they haven’t known as home for almost a decade while in the States. They have no certainty of safety, food, or resources. Haitians in the states are on the streets protesting for an extension of TPS. They fight to stay in the country they’ve grown to love, raise their children, and call home.
Most recently, Washington Post reported that the president has expressed comments singling out blacks and latinos. He has recently received backlash for comments on in the Oval Office about a number of African countries, El Salvador, and Haiti. Growing frustrated when some lawmakers discussed immigrants from previously mentioned countries the president specifically stated: “why are we having these people from ‘shithole’ countries come here?”. He then continued by noting that the US should instead be more open to people from countries like Norway and Asian countries who help the US economically. These statements display clear leaning towards ethnocentric policy from the Trump administration. There is no doubt of Trumps’ distaste and racism towards blacks and latinos. It also sheds insight on the if the Haitians fighting for a chance to stay in this country due to their homeland’s instability may be ignored completely. These comments have received sour responses from lawmakers and infuriating response from immigrants across the country, understandably making it known inherent bias of Trump and the people behind him will severely impact people under TPS.
Haiti has endured two large hurricanes since the earthquake. Hurricane Matthew and Irma caused substantial mudslides, runoff, and construction damages. Now, still many are living in tents, Haitians on average still make $2.10/day, and the infrastructure, despite the help of billions in relief funding are not all stable. Though a new Haitian president has begun to create initiatives on developing agriculture in Haiti, Haitians to be sent home after TPS’s expiration mostly had just enough send to their families back home as transmittances. Yet there is no definitive assurance that Haitians being ousted of the states under TPS would have anything but struggle and suffering to gain. Haitians in Senegal have experienced hospitality and the gift of education. Haitians in Brazil had arrived to a land of promise but as the country’s economy took a decline, many realized that the returns were low. In the US, Haitians face expulsion by the current administration. Regardless of what obstacles are projected at Haitians, the people are resilient and will continue to move forward and fight for status.
By Taina Longin
Over the years, I have experienced a transformation in thought, behavior, and emotion. I’ve had the chance to learn about my hair, my ancestral traditions, and grown in conviction about my body being mine to portray as I see fit. I have now understood that the male gaze doesn’t define who I am and how I present myself to the world. In truth, along with many young women, I placed an immense value on how males viewed my body in my formative years. After ten years within the Natural Hair Movement, I increasingly have developed my self-image independent from others’ perception of me. I felt freedom to change my appearance, the way the hair on my head and body grow, the different ways I express my style and personality. No one has enough influence to change the way I see myself. I also accept that others will do as they please with their own body and with their own hair. Over the years, there has also been a fluctuation in how I have been perceived by the people around me; I allowed myself to subconsciously connect with my ancestors and accept the certain attributes I chose not to change. There were many unexpected changes within my story from the movement being considered a more obscure “Afro-centric” trend of natural beauty to a very striking mainstay and economic powerhouse. I found that one of the objectives that I inadvertently learned during my stake in the Natural Hair Movement is my influence within a collective of other black women and our very own economic power.
My progress in self-knowledge accelerated in the summer of 2008. A few months after my “big chop”, I had more time to explore my hair — hair I’ve always had but never learned how to care for it. Gone were the days of multiple ponytail braids, barrettes, and ribbons I sported in Haiti as a little girl. I no longer wore a perm and felt a bit uneasy about the learning curve of taking care of my hair unaltered by chemicals. Without the corrosive chemicals, I slowly found that I began to limit other very toxic products in my life. I looked up “how to take care of “natural hair” online. In one of the very few links, Nappturality members shared scores of knowledge on African-derived concoctions. I became aware of raw African black Soap. This soap made washing my short hair an ease. After living in dorms for two years, I had sublet an apartment that summer, my first time living alone. I took some of that opportunity to experiment with homemade recipes of fair trade shea butter I ordered online. The products were made in Ghana by other black women that have known about it all of their lives. I felt that I had missed out on this common knowledge and was purposefully miseducated. I had part of my childhood in Haiti and some in the States; in both spaces I used petroleum-laden hair grease, pomade, Pink Lotion, and Mane n’ Tail products marketed to black women with problematic and toxic ingredients. I realized that my mother and aunts might have been miseducated as well. I then found “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America”. This book on black hair history opened my eyes to the amalgamation of African hair tradition, compartmentalized European ideal standards of beauty, and the politics of simply existing with a black body. It sickened me to know how experiences of self-hate entrenched expectations in my family and culture without my people’s knowledge or full awareness.
While perusing message boards and online forums, I learned of other recipes derived from West Africa. I later learned of Whitney White’s YouTube page, Naptural85, she shared simple recipes with oils, raw African black soap, and raw unrefined shea butter. Raw African black soap was now my body wash and sometimes face wash after finishing the last bits of my bottled liquid soaps. My face glistened when I followed a wash with a drop of vitamin e oil and any acne began to dry up. My skin loved this ancestral treatment. I felt free; I was no longer a victim of basic elements of nature. Like many black girls, I was forbidden to go out in the rain, even with an umbrella, if I had just gotten my hair permed. As a child, maintenance in chlorinated water was covering my head with a swim cap over a heaping handful of conditioner streamed through my hair by my mother. At last, I could let the sudden Florida rainfall on my hair without my mood and especially my mother’s mood changing sour. As I learned more, I purchased mostly indie brands. I used the money I saved little by little to travel in the summer of 2009. I no longer needed plenty and regular supply of plastic bottles for shampoos and body washes. I became accustomed to cutting small blocks of raw African black soap from a large brown speckled loaf. With the new knowledge I had acquired, I would quickly put back on the shelf those products I used ritualistically since childhood after one quick reading of the label.
Over time, I began to learn that many products specifically formulated to be marketed to black women have toxic chemicals. I used the internet as a constant resource for information on chemical compounds included in the beauty products that I used regularly. As I read more, I aimed to pick up products that reflected simplicity. I actively avoided over-produced and loaded items in hair products and body care. I began to use tea rinses and heavy oils to replace the moisturizing effects of conditioners. I washed my hair with raw African black soap, rinsed my hair with cooled tea, then used heavy raw unrefined shea butter and oils to keep my damp hair soft and supple for days. I adopted this reductionist routine and sought simplification.
I now understand that women, in particular, have been sold to the huge campaign of commercial beauty products (not to mention apparel, toiletries, seasonal home decor, and even menstrual products). In 2008, While searching for natural products that fit my values, it had been really difficult to find items that weren’t full of artificial ingredients. When I looked up the toxic ingredients, many were correlated with cancer. There were products that claimed to moisturize on its label, yet, the second ingredient on the back was alcohol. Increasingly, the market has improved on the quantity and quality of natural hair products. These products are marketed to women with natural hair that seek natural ingredients in what they use on their skin and hair. I have divorced the idea that I need to be a “product junkie”, well-stocked with hair and skin goods, to be deemed beautiful. I have challenged my role in my assigned gender that dictates that I should have long straight hair that fits with what media deems as standard beauty. Many other black women experienced this with me and many did before me online on sites like Nappturality, with books, and through fellowship with other black women. Through my research, I’ve been introduced to women creating content for other black women who seek it. Women such as Nikisha Brunson of Urban Bush Babes, Dawn Michelle of Minimalist Beauty, Francheska Medina of Hey Fran Hey contribute their recipes and opinions.
Before Instagram sponsored content, natural beauties, black natural hair conferences, and Youtube product giveaways, there were black women sharing recipes and traditions solely for the purpose of sharing knowledge within our community. Though the variety of options now are astounding, helpful, and useful, I prefer simplicity. When in need of convenience and specific styles, I support quality indie brands products free of animal ingredients often from Quemet Biologics and Oyin Handmade. I reflect back on how my mother found good hair stylists; she simply asked other black women with beautiful hair who’s work it was. And as we have done before, in this interwoven network of black womanhood, I want to continue to support my own. These include black hair salons, black women’s hair bundle businesses (if hair sources are ethical), black-owned indie hair care. Black women have immense purchasing power. We not only need to be aware of this power but also realize that supporting other black women is supporting ourselves. Economic power is often misunderstood as solely wealth accumulated through corporate work, stock exchange and trading. I claim economic power as being aware of simply the exchange of resources. I often ask myself, for what purpose is my money being used for? I have been doing this throughout my life as I’ve become aware of the socio-economic power I have in my pocket. When it comes to natural hair and the many products on the shelves, I choose what I want as a consumer with every single dollar as one vote. I want products that do not have ingredients that have parabens. I also do not want those products to replace those parabens they advertise on the front with other detrimental items on the ingredients list that I don’t yet understand as harmful. I do not want products that put me at risk of any adverse health effects. I want products that are safe, effective for what I am using it for, and improve upon the health of my hair and skin. I want to know that I am supporting my community and fueling my belief that #blacklivesmatter by including the edict that black entrepreneurs matter, black business matters, black independent livelihoods matter, black women matter, and black bodies matter. I want #blackgirlmagic to not only encompass the physical beauty of black womanhood but the holistic power of black women in all aspects of life.
Contrastingly, advertisers of large white-owned corporations are increasingly responding to this growing self-love and knowledge by including black women in their advertisements. The intention is not empowermen but tapping into a market that spends a lot on hair. Black women too can support each other though exercising purchasing power for the benefit of other black women and the black community as a whole. Instead of benefiting large white-owned corporations marketing to black women, we can generate more economic solidarity within our community by investing in black people and their creations. How beautiful is empowering than supporting one’s own community of women through a self-love movement? We all know that supporting black women means that we’re supporting black community as a whole. According to an IMF profile, women in general “make institutions more representative of a range of voices” and women provide benefits for children “as a result of more spending on food and education”. Over all, women with economic power provide “greater provision of public goods”. Black women entrepreneurs are sure to spread the wealth to the black men and children in their lives may it be their fathers, mothers, partners, brothers, and their kin.
Furthermore, power also translates to autonomy and self-expression. Self-named “Naturalistas” such as Mahogany Curls, creates beautiful hairstyle ideas for other black women. Meanwhile, Fro Girl Ginny’s “Nia the Light” social media influencing gathers black women in different parts of the world to create unity and to sustain the Natural Hair Movement. This movement is beyond a trend. With the recent media troubles of Dove and Nivea, it is known that corporations often falter in including women of color in a good light. Corporations join in on the movement solely for profit and hardly for the health, wellness, and unity of black women. These corporations also exploit the buying power of black women. Even SheaMoisture, a brand originally created by a black woman has encountered scandal with a lack of representation in a recent ad. Many black women on social media commented on the lack of tact and representation in the brand’s shift to a wider white market. With $1.2 Trillion in spending power for black people over-all, women have purchasing power (including influence) of 70–80%. Influence in the sense that when a woman isn’t paying for a product with her own dollars, she is often the influence behind someone else’s purchase. This means black women as a community have approximately $960 billion at their disposal. Nielsen’s research breaks down the statistics thoroughly. With this purchasing power, we are able to change how products are made, what we spend on, how much money is directed towards the community resources that matter to us the most, and if the owners of the products we use are black-owned.
Before many corporations joined into the Natural Hair Movement and the #blackgirlmagic that ensued, we were here as black women with more knowledge of our roots. I have experienced an overwhelming transformation of thought and behavior from a seemingly trivial decision. I discovered that I could save on financial resources on the things that mattered more to me by making my own recipes with bulk West African ingredients and now supporting many favorite local brands such as Beijaflor Naturals and Soul Ingredients. Once again, here I am, 10 years after beginning my journey within the Natural Hair Movement. As other black women are repeatedly disenfranchised, we are also notoriously resourceful in fulfilling our own needs. We are able to change what we consume as a whole. No matter the restrictions, despite passing trends, we can build each other and our entire community up.
By Taina Longin
After countless hours in the salon chair, getting my hair curled, primped, and straightened over my teen years, I felt overwhelmed. Like many young black women, after high school, I needed to decide what I would be doing with my hair. Over the years, my mother had purchased every deep conditioning treatment and Dominican blowout. She permed my hair herself, bought everything one would need to transform the curls and kinks to a dramatic bone straight that the boxes advertised. My hair flowed past my shoulders with shine and the gleam of health. I was grateful. I felt like a woman. This is how black women looked like on the perm product boxes, the media, and around my hometown. The hair on my head was “bad hair” and their’s was rectified: straight, silky, and long. I grew to understand it as a natural transition for me to appear as those images. I have memories of my Haitian mother beaming when she picked me up from the salon after hours of waiting, washing, and straightening. I temporarily treated the problem. In two week’s time, I was to go through the process anew. I had no prospects on a hair stylist the summer before my freshman year of college. If it was only for the sake of “good hair”, I decided to forgo the risk of scalp burns that I may have caused if I had completed the process on my own. I did not yet know that I was in the process of a collective reclamation of black beauty. After ten years in the natural hair movement, I have learned to reconstruct my beliefs.
Three weeks later, I found myself in my dorm room after moving into my university. As I combed through my shoulder-length sew-in weave in the mirror, I felt it tight on my scalp. I thought, underneath, that my braided natural hair was flourishing. After weighing in how the cost of the hair maintenance added up quickly, straightening my hair seemed illogical. I chose to save money to travel in the near future. Over time, those tight coils that used to materialize after a wash day became impressive mainstays under braids and weaves. I escaped a demanding routine and felt liberated. I was, however, in hiding. I felt ashamed of my crown. I bought into the rhetoric that my hair was essentially unkempt. Synthetic and human hair covered up the tresses that needed constant maintenance. Each time I would replace the purchased hair, my fingers lingered longer in my own natural hair. I had not managed it often, thus the follicles that grew like roots emerging from my scalp felt foreign.
At eighteen years old, I chose to cut the permed tips of my hair when I went home for winter break in 2007. Three times the stylist asked me if I was certain — not quite confident that I wouldn’t be upset at her after I saw the effects of her deed. My “big chop” entailed cutting right above the mark between where my natural hair ended and my straight perm began. I nodded and agreed to a transformation. I watched as long pieces of hair shed and cascaded to the floor. My eyes veered down during the anxiety-provoking process. When I slowly glanced up to look at myself in the mirror, I felt hideous. I perceived my face as too masculine; I often thought that I had betrayed my gender. I still believed a woman was meant to have long silky hair. Upon seeing my afro when I got home, as typical of my Haitian father, he asked me why I “messed with my hair”. I defended my choice but felt a bit insecure. Although I have curves, I sometimes was mistaken for a man. From behind, I was called “sir” — even while wearing a dress or form-fitting clothes. This strange behavior was a testament to how many men perceived womanhood to be limited to the superficial appearance of long hair. I had learned over time that long straight hair was the ideal and that womanhood was inexplicably and irrevocably tied to it. I felt out of place in popular spaces like bars and clubs. It seemed that every other black woman around me wore long flowing weaves. I was gawked at as I walked into professional white-centric settings. Despite not speaking about the subject much amongst each other, my black natural-haired girl friends had experienced similar reactions.
When before I saw my hair as just one thing or another, good or bad, I was now aware of a whole spectrum of nuances inspired by black women sporting their natural hair. Physically, I felt admired when I had straight permed hair. I had the appearance of expected glamour and I was proud that it was my own. I found that the portrayal of womanhood was familiar to many men living in this particular corner of the United States. I was well aware of the performance of my gender. A flick of my hair and the ends caressing my back I perceived as signs of my female nature. I felt glamorous. Glamour, as I’ve been taught, always equated to silky hair with length. The longer it was, the better job I was doing at being a woman. I enjoyed when someone I was seeing would look at my face then my hair and smile as if I held his expectations. With a long weave, I received, even more, attention from men. My hair had large waves that fit in with the images I saw in advertisements and commercials. I was seen as more attractive, I realized that I wore more makeup. My style transformed a bit to match the conspicuous nature of my hair. Everything I wore was a little more eye-catching. In my routine, everything else I would put on matched the style of the weave I wore. I would notice a drastic change in how I felt about myself and was hungry for more attention when it was time for the weave to come off.
I donned braids mostly in the summer. Other styles, like straightened hair, would not last long in the Florida humidity. Weaves sometimes felt uncomfortable. Braids, along with extensions, provided a respite from maintaining my tresses. I felt a child-like familiarity with them. I saw myself as practical. During the times I wore braids, I realized that I was addicted to the attention I received from fitting into the traditional beauty standards. I did not get as much of what I was accustomed to. The diminished of self-esteem conveniently slipped my mind when I began to wear a weave again. With braids, I moved around my day to day activities with a more carefree approach. I had only two things to take care of: in the morning, I needed to maintain my scalp’s health for the three to four weeks with oil, in the evening I wrapped my hair with a scarf — preventing a night of tossing and turning in my sleep to ruin the braids. With each style, I followed a script, ignorant of the fervent and unsustainable rehearsal for this grand performance of my own black female form. It was warped in European perception and underneath it was the black female desire to beautify and transform herself. The growing challenge of accepting myself came about through one seemingly trivial decision of cutting the strands of hair that didn’t fit me anymore. It weighed me down; the decreased psychological weight accelerated change.
Furthermore, I also felt free from the strict image of womanhood and the high-maintenance play of gender. While casually walking around off-campus, I often encountered people of color who approached me. Many black men would express that I reminded them of India.Arie. Some would say, Erykah Badu. Others would shout at me “Jill Scott!”, as they passed. I found it humorous that these three black women did not appear alike. Though these comments were unsolicited; I did understand the strangers’ intentions. To them, I shared with these artists similar presentation. I began to understand how socially nuanced the role of my hair was. My personal observations informed me of social norms; I took it as a challenge to be more aware of assumptions. I picked apart why certain types of men approached me. The hyper-masculine muscular black men no longer sought to meet my eyes. To white men, I was now completely invisible. I saw less of my black girlfriends with weaves. Not by my own volition, but due to a difference in interests and external presentation. Those who were now primarily focused on me identified as “Afro-centric“. Many of them called me queen. Initially, I felt like a fetish. As I was named a queen, it conjured up imposter syndrome. Who was I to be called “queen”? While passing by me, some men even stopped in their tracks, smiled and bowed. I didn’t know how to feel; this was unfamiliar territory.
After some time, I began to take the time to re-evaluate what I saw in the mirror. My reconnection to my roots by way of my hair was a transformation that I couldn’t have predicted. I made it a point to tell myself that I was free. I exhibited the presence of authenticity. I was now unencumbered with chemicals that pushed me to fit an unsustainable form. As a confident woman in flesh I felt otherworldly, I took pride and walked with assurance. The change in mindset led to an increased self-image. I thought: as I am, I am beautiful. Contrary to social expectations about my dramatic change in appearance, I didn’t need to alter part of my body with chemicals to be accepted. I chose my own course. My coarse hair didn’t define me either. It was only a part of my body. As I moved about, I ignored the stares, sometimes even relished in them. I carried the tresses passed down to me by my ancestors as my own legitimate crown.
I now understand that the male gaze doesn’t define who I am and how I present myself to the world. Freedom to change my appearance, the way the hair on my head and body grow, the different ways I express my style and personality, no one has the power to take my choice from me. My hair is maintained how I see fit and I move about in my environment unencumbered. I also accept that others will do as they please with their own body. Black women have a variety of styles that we sport on rotation and express ourselves through hair. I now know that glamour is only based on a cultural viewpoint. I do sometimes enjoy the western appearance of glamour; however, I no longer feel it so emotionally tied to self-esteem and attention-craving. My appearance does not dictate my sense of importance and value to others. I choose natural hair for the majority of the year, occasionally straighten it, and sometimes braid it to express myself. After ten years of growing to love my hair, there were many unexpected changes from a more obscure trend of natural beauty to a mainstay and economic powerhouse. There was also a change in how I was seen by the people around me. I allowed myself to subconsciously connect with my ancestors and accept the certain attributes I can change but choose not to. Even if much of society sees my hair as wild, uncontrollable, or unprofessional, recognizing the inherent beauty of my hair has taught me to love it all regardless.
By Taina Longin
Under the purview of the American government and it’s aim of eradicating malignantly infectious diseases, American politics has asserted and claimed to elevate the people entering the country and current residents to public safety. Though First Nations people were nearly all destroyed with smallpox upon the bloody forging of manifest destiny, in the late 1800’s, the concern instead was to eradicate this blister virus from the people who claimed America as theirs and those who wanted to emigrate. As the blood continuously seeped the soil of invaded land of natives, emigration, and pursuit of public safety was on the rise. Immigrants then and now bear a small but apparent immunization scar on their upper arm, one that signifies that they’ve received the smallpox vaccine. It is at least one of the litany of immunizations required upon embarking on a quest for permanent residency in the United States. Currently, one can easily notice the scars on the upper arms of immigrants from all over the world. The scar may become a topic of conversation when two immigrants encounter one another. It is an unparalleled common experience of change, ideological shifts, and physical movement. I happen to don this scar. I glide my fingers over the minute crevices with little memory of that childhood pain; almost with a sense of pride: I have transversed the ocean to be in a land my parents claimed as theirs and mine. Now, immigrants chastised by an overwhelmingly white ruling majority can easily become enmeshed into the milieu of systematic oppression. Each scar, unique on each respective flesh has a journey to dictate, one of pain, confusion, transformation, resilience.
At the turn of the 20th century, the smallpox scar had quickly developed a new sociopolitical identity. When lives were being lost in droves at the immediate effects of this voracious virus, the mark of the scar became a symbol of citizenship and social responsibility. Like today, immigrants were not allowed into the country without the immunization. The immunization also served as a point of entry to many institutions such as schools and workplaces.
During a major outbreak, people would be forcefully checked for that button-sized cicatrix indentation forged on the supple skin of the upper arm. If lacking that mark, deemed as more legitimate than vaccination paperwork, people would have to endure forced immunization and or held under arrest if refusing to show proof. Under the jurisdiction of the American government, countless documented citizens and immigrants were forced to abide by immunization laws. They were detained or quarantined if refusing to do so. Many disfigured their flesh with scalding wounds with a close likeness to the genuine immunization scar in order to keep themselves in safety. Not until the Biologics Control Act in 1902 was a new system legitimized; it rendered the federal government responsible for licensing and regulating vaccines. Strategy for sustaining public health became more of an act of education the public than force.
Through a parallel conviction of control inspired by this land’s history, the current administration supports a ban to decrease legal immigration to the United States by half in the coming years. The topic of discussion and superficial reasoning for suppressing and disenfranchising people is not of public health as immunization was, but economics. The underlying current understood by people of color is xenophobia, ethnocentricity, classism, and racism. Immigrants, particularly those targeted are Central American-born such as Mexico, DACA “Dreamers”, and people from majority-Muslim countries. They are considered much like persons infected were then. Objects to be marked, assessed, identified to safeguard the American public. Raids that overwhelmingly target Mexicans — eerily similar to those from the past — have been rampant. Trump has said, ”They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,”.
There has been a growing discourse on immigration and its perceived damage to the economy, public safety, and work-force. The presentation of the ban delegates the task of immigrant raids to ICE enforcers. These detention centers are scattered throughout the United States, totaling one hundred and twelve according to ICE’s map on the federal website. These centers are most concentrated near the nation’s largest cities. Santa Ana Detention Center, just over thirty-two miles south of Los Angeles, was featured on Human Rights Watch’s website on March 23, 2016. It is formerly maintained by ICE and now defunct due to countless protest primarily organized by Orange County Immigrant Youth United. Detention centers have been criticized to be a hotbed of injustice towards disenfranchised groups especially that of persons identifying as LGBTQIA. There are too many parallels between the raids of today and the former. The people detained in these small quarters with little rights and no proof of documentation have been tormented and quarantined from the American public as if they would infect the very fabric of American society. Trump has stated that “this legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.”
Along the same thread, the Muslim ban exalts a merit-based system to process who is can be accepted into the country. Preferential treatment would be given to people who have certain skills deemed as more valuable such as already being able to speak English and high education level rather than being related to people who are already permanent residents and citizens of the United States. This Wednesday, the subsequent revised Muslim ban, after the initial ban, takes full effect for 8 countries, primarily in Africa and the Middle East.
Many questions remain but few distinct ones insistently emerge from the contradictory practice of the constitution. Throughout American history, why has statehood been used repeatedly as a means of control and disrespect for basic human rights? One can claim with the pages of history behind them that status of statehood has only been created for the self-interests of white people. Over the short life of this proudly named democracy, national identity, and “default” American norms of people have been created and reinforced by those who benefit from racism, ethnocentrism, sexist, classist platform — forged on the construct of whiteness. What scar would immigrants need to forge on our skin to be able to be deemed as rightful the United States as our home? I would rather inquire: What is statehood but how we want to live and where we claim as our own? After all, the fragility of whiteness can no doubt be more fervently dismantled than the walls of borders.