Fear — The Engine of Politics

Although little discussed by major political figures, there is an acidic undertow in the eternal sea of politics.

This subterranean issue is immigration, especially from Mexico, and the Latin South.

Such voices suffuse the airwaves and the blogosphere, and can reach a fever pitch.

At their core is a profound fear, of a dark, brown flood, washing away all that went before of America.

As long as there has been a United States (and, in fact, a good while longer), such a fear has found expression in the American psyche.  The first Congress rushed to pass a Naturalization Act that limited citizenship to white people.  Law books are thick with precedents deciding who is (or isn’t), white,  and by such a judgment, millions of people were turned away from the U.S. because they hailed from India, China, Syria, Palestine, or even Turkey.  Many such cases shifted like tectonic plates, using various definitions of whiteness, to accept, or reject, a given applicant.

The point is, people that were determined nonwhite one year, could be found white a few years later, either by the shift of a vote, or the change of a judge.

And, despite the Sturm und Drang, despite the hyperventilation on the net, today’s browns are tomorrow’s whites, for how could it be otherwise when millions of Latin Americans  hail from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula of Southern Europe.

Of course, there are millions of Latin Americans who are descendants of African and Native American tribes.

In the early 20th century, Italian, Jewish and similar immigrants were derided as threatening, foreign sources of a kind of contagion.  Their languages and customs stirred up fear and profound xenophobia among American nativists.  Indeed, as the movie "Gangs of New York" revealed, U.S. born Irish fought tooth and nail against immigrant Irish, proof, if an is needed, of the illusions of nationality.

That fear that throbs beneath the radar of race and politics is long standing and cyclical.

Like that of yore, this too will pass.

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