The shock of migrant kids-in-cages on our border with Mexico is surfacing tough questions if you’re willing to look back at our history and ahead to an emerging world disorder. The issues run deep: why borders in the first place? Borders that our investment money and military power fly over anyway, often to extract the resources of poor countries and make sure the poor people stay put? Why is citizenship in country X an inherited privilege that can’t be distributed, in the country a burden that can’t be escaped? When finance and Facebook, food, trade, disease and the weather are all global systems, who’s ready to say: I’m a citizen, first and last, of the world? Who manufactured the immigration crisis.
East Boston, on the rim of Boston Harbor, is where we take the temperature, check the flavor, of the melting pot: the point where the first Kennedy’s came ashore from Ireland, then Italians from Abruzzo who made Eastie their own, then Central Americans from Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras in the present day. In Trump time, the scare words in East Boston are ‘gentrification’ – meaning displacement by wealth, and ‘immigration,’ meaning: how did you get here, let’s see your papers.
Patricia Montes – herself from Honduras a decade ago – welcomes the vulnerable at the Centro Presente office on Central Square. First thing you’d notice: The poster villain on the wall of her office is not Donald Trump. It’s Barack Obama, in a mocking retake of his vintage HOPE image. The new caption says: 1 million, 600 thousand deportations. Then, all caps: Obama, stop tearing our families apart. What bothers Patricia Montes as much as anything is fact-free sort of fake-innocent ignorance among many of us Americans.
Matthew Cameron, an immigration lawyer who practices on the dock in East Boston, helps us understand the larger political picture. We first learned about his work and his perspective in an essay he wrote for The Baffler last March:
The immigration system I keep hearing about from pundits and politicians (all of whom should know better) is almost entirely unmoored from actual fact. It seems to be a chimerical pastiche of the one we had before Ellis Island closed, the one we had just before the moon landing, and some sort of rosy Tomorrowland fantasy in which visas would be awarded to the undocumented if only they would do it the right way. This is not the system I work with every day.
Our other guests—Atossa Araxia Abrahamian and Rana Dasgupta—both have books in progress on the strange ways the world works to serve capital that goes everywhere and people who are supposed to stay home.
Abrahamian is a model of modern mobility: Russian and Armenian family roots, she had addresses growing up in Canada, Iran, Switzerland and now New York. Her first book, The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen, examined the twin themes of cosmopolitanism and inequality in our global system.
Rana Dasgupta is another widely traveled writer, admired for his novels, like Solo, and his non-fiction anatomy of India’s modern capital, New Delhi. His latest take on our global system–as laid out in his Guardian essay on the “the demise of the nation state”—counters conventional wisdom. Dasgupta believes the nation state’s real power, its tax base and responsiveness have been undone over recent decades by the supremacy of international money which makes its own rules and turns its back on the results, including the migration “crisis” at our Texas border with Mexico.