Identity and Immigration

This week’s class discussion on Latino immigration to the United States was probably the most personal for me so far.  As a descendent of Mexican immigrants who grew up in California, I’ve always been surrounded by this topic, both consciously and subconsciously.  What struck me about our readings and discussion was the role that identity plays in immigration and its politics.  In the readings we can see first- and second-generation immigrants struggling with different identities – that of their home countries, that of Americans, of different generations struggling with different political and socioeconomic environments. In Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poems we see immigrants trying to find their own working identity in America, with their own hopes and dreams vastly different than how their neighbors see them.  Identity is both how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us, both of which influence immigrants.  I have always been proud to be part Mexican-American, although this identity can be difficult to wield in Southern California when tensions surrounding immigration run high.  I see myself as part of a family lineage that is proud of its roots and traditions, even if they have changed from the traditions that my great-grandfather brought with him when he illegally crossed into this country.  Others see immigrants and their descendents – whether they have been in the country for generations or a couple weeks – as a problem to be dealt with and a blight on the economy.  How can we engage people on different sides of the issue in meaningful and respectful talk?  How can we get people to even begin to think about changing their minds or how they see people?  What role can and should museums play in this dialogue?  These are some of the questions that I have after this week’s class discussions; I know they are not easy to answer – if there even is a right answer – but hopefully just thinking about them and discussing them is a good start.

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