An Upturn in Struggle
ATC: Would that be more likely if there were another wave of immigrant rights marches?
DB: That would certainly help. We have to make the demands visible. And the marches certainly did that. And it would be a really good sign this year if the May Day marches were widespread and had a lot of people in them. But I don’t measure the strength of any movement just on the basis of how many people go out into the street on one day.
I also think we’ll see how sophisticated the immigrant rights movement is in terms of being able to propose an alternative to what is coming at us from Washington. We already know now what the proposal is from Washington and surprise, surprise it’s the same as the one that’s been on the table for the last three years.
But I see a growing unanimity and a growing maturity in the immigrant rights movement and in certain sections of the labor movement about what an alternative really is. Legalization, repeal employer sanctions, end the militarization on the border. We’ll see whether or not that alternative becomes an actual bill in Congress. But I think it’s possible. I think that there is enough support for it around the country. It’s just going to take a lot of fighting to do it, that’s all.
ATC: As a final question, one of the really powerful things about Illegal People is the personal accounts of migration and work experience and political activism. How much was that a starting point for how you wrote the book?
DB: Well, that’s what I do as a journalist; I go out there and I interview people, I try and tell their story. And I think the challenge for doing the kind of journalism I do is to listen really carefully to what people say, and to help people tell the stories of what has happened to them and what they have done about it. I think that people are not just passive victims. They also have very creative ideas about how to act in a way that fights for rights and social justice.
Then I try to connect that with these larger questions, and so the book has both of these elements in it. It kind of goes back and forth the whole time, so we’ll tell the story of Luz Dominguez, at the Woodfin Suites Hotel in Emeryville, and then talk about employer sanctions and how employer sanctions works and where it came from and who wants it.
In a way, the part of doing this that I really enjoy the most is being able to talk to people and to hear what they have to say, and trying to reflect that in the writing. It’s closest to what I used to do as an organizer, because that’s what good organizers do. You spend a lot of your time listening to people and then trying to figure out how to interact with what people are telling you in a way that helps to build organization to change people’s situations.
And I also like hearing about people’s family history, because ideas come from somewhere, right? For example, Luz’s compañera, Marcela Melquiades, talked about her father having been a union activist in Mexico City, and about where she got her ideas on social justice. Those are the kinds of things I try and listen for, and that also help to give people multiple dimensions.
It’s hard to do that as a journalist, because you are always fighting against space limitations. I really enjoyed the book because there was space to present people as the more complex human beings that they are, even within the context of having a book that’s essentially about politics.
Just given the C.L.R. James Award for best book of 2007-2008 by the Working Class Studies Association:
Illegal People — How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants From Beacon Press: http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2002
For more articles and images on immigration, see http://dbacon.igc.org/Imgrants/imgrants.htm
See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US
Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)
See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)
David Bacon, Photographs and Stories