Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Niewert on Reconquista!

Reconquista! seems to me the lunatic fringe of Latino immigrants. For those who have never seen the word, it is simply the notion that a great chunk of the Southwestern part of the U.S.A. is rightfully part of Mexico, having been stolen in the past. As far as I can tell the idea has about the same traction among immigrants as the KKK has among their adversaries. The two represent opposite critical masses that are sinister and should be kept under control.

David Neiwert has a different take and he may be correct. I like what he says...

The belief that the Southwest is part of their historical homeland is a legitimate belief for most Latinos, and the marchers they cite seem to be expressing that point. They're also expressing the belief that this historical claim overrides the latter-day borders that would deny them their heritage. What's utterly absent is any claim that they intend to retake the Southwest for Mexico, which is what the reconquista theory is all about. On the contrary, they seem intent on becoming American - but they also are claiming they have a right, by virtue of their heritage, to become one.

That doesn't sound like an invasion to me.

If that is true it puts a very different construction on the theme than I have had. But more importantly, it flies in the face of those who would be using it to gin up hatred for immigrants. I have heard the shock-jocks having a field day with references to those they say want to "reconquer" America and steal away a big chunk of our country. Neiwert puts it into a historical perspective.

Listening to the reconquista theories, I am taken back, back, back -- back to those halcyon days when conspiracy theories were the entire raison d'etre of the far right of America's conservative movement. Which is to say, every day of the past half-century.

After all, the far right can't really exist for long without a scapegoat, an Enemy, on whom it can blame all the world's ills. It has always been so, and will always be.

In the post-Civil War period, it was the ominpotent threat of
"black rape" that inspired the American far right into a decades-long orgy of lynching whose effects remain with us today. In the first half of the 20th century, it was the "Yellow Peril." This was a conspiracy theory which held that the Japanese emperor intended to invade the Pacific Coast, and that he was sending immigrants to American shores as shock troops to prepare the way for just such a military action. James Phelan, one of the "peril" theory's chief advocates, explained in 1907 that the Japanese immigrants represented an "enemy within our gates." Advocates frequently cited a 1909 book promoting this theory, Homer Lea's The Valor of Ignorance, which detailed the invasion to come and its aftermath. Moreover, the larger "Yellow Peril" was framed as simply a wave of nonwhite immigrants who would swamp the existing white population if left unchecked. (See more here.)

Then, for most of the post-World War II period, the Enemy was those dirty Communists. This, of course, inspired an entire universe of right-wing conspiracy theorizing, particularly embodied by the McCarthy witch hunts and their offspring, the John Birch Society.

With the demise of the Communist threat in the late '80s and early '90s, right-wingers were left with no one to scapegoat in elaborate conspiracy-theory fashion -- except, of course, for Bill "New World Order" Clinton. But he was only good for an eight-year stint (though if Hillary resurfaces in 2008, hey, they've got another eight more years' worth).

They've really been in need of a more permanent conspiracy-theory scapegoat, and the foreignness of radical Islam makes it difficult to successfully concoct any theories that stick, other than Hannityesque smears identifying liberalism with terrorism.

But reconquista? Woo-hoo! Made to order!

Anyone who thinks the John Birch Society and others of their inclination are no longer around is living in a fool's paradise. I am personally aware of an active membeship among people I have met and served. Had they known of my political views they may not have done business with me, but I have always been careful to leave politics at the door when I come to work.

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