In the South Park episode “Goobacks” (4.28.2004), the town is infiltrated by people from the year 3045 who have entered the nation through a time portal and are looking for work. The future is dismal; the economy is failing and jobs are very hard to find. The people of the future do not look like the citizens of South Park. They are a product of homogenization, a mix of all races displaying a yellowish-brownish-whitish color. Race is no issue in the future because all races have mixed into one. Their language has followed the same trend, and is a mix of all world languages. As the people from the future begin to find work, citizens of South Park become increasingly angry. They are losing their jobs because the immigrants from the future are willing to work for very low wages. Does this social commentary which South Park producers do so well surprise you?
It makes perfect sense to me. The episode aired in 2004, when immigration debates were becoming more and more heated. It is no coincidence that the future immigrants were called “goobacks” as they crossed through a time boarder found in the desert. This allusion to Mexican immigrants crossing the Mexican boarder into America reveals the contention surrounding this debate within American politics and society. The episode parodies The O’Reily Factor, where a conservative working class man and a liberal “hippie” debate over the immigrant problem. These conflicting view points are rooted in “an economic debate regarding immigration’s impact on America’s business and labor, and civic debate over whether immigrants represent a sound addition to the U.S. polity” (Jacobson, Root Too, 347).
Mr. Garrison is mandated by the school board to teach his class in both future speak and present day English. The boys are unhappy about his change, and feel that if the future immigrants are in the present time, they should learn to speak the present day language. Sound familiar? The current immigrant debate is closely connected to arguments surrounding language and used as ammunition in the assimilation argument. Some believe that if an immigrant is not “willing” to learn English, then they are rejecting American values and have intentions of creating their own separate nation within the country.
Matthew Frye Jacobson, author of Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America, discusses the current immigrant debate and its underlying truth that people fear “the browning of America”. Immigration patterns of the late twentieth and twenty first centuries have shifted from European countries to Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. Pride for the “nation of immigrants” displayed by so many white ethnics since the 1960s is changing to become selective and elitist.
As South Park’s ‘liberal hippie’ asked, “Your ancestors came to this country as immigrants. What right do you have to turn these people away?” To this question, many white ethnics turn to their ‘collective identity’ as Europeans who share the same values, customs, traditions – and the unspoken reality of whiteness. This nativist thinking is collective memory turned selective memory, as white ethnics forget the initial negative perceptions of Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants. As the faces of American immigrants include more faces of color, the historic narrative of white ethnicity is used as a social and political tactic in the perpetuation of racial hierarchy and white supremacy.