Anthropologist, scholar and Assistant Professor at Columbia University, Nicholas De Genova spoke this past Thursday at the U of A & I was excited to hear his discussion: "The Ghost in the Machine: Migrant Labor and the Homeland Security State."
An apt analogy, the title "Ghost in the Machine" reminds me of when Richard Rodriguez describes in Brown going to see Malcolm X speak and noting, "No one seemed to notice my brown in the crowd." Rodriguez points out that in a black & white discourse, brown is often excluded.
De Genova is concerned with problematicizing the notion of citizenship--post 9/11 & the Bush rhetoric of 'Everything has changed' has rolled back the privacy & freedom relating to citizenship--De Genova posits that we need only look to the treatment/experiences of "illegal" citizens to see into the future of our "legal" citizenship.
The two-tiered justice system is also a concern of De Genova because it further splits the binary of "legal/illegal" into "good-illegal/bad-illegal." The supposed "bad-illegals" are those terrorists lurking in the shadows, but the reification of the notion of the "bad" and "unlawful" illegal has resulted in the raids of meat-packing plants where the undocumented laborers are more often dispersed to other work places. Instead of know terrorists, hard working laborers trying to start over are harassed, punished twice for past offenses.
Relating back to the title, during the Q&A, there was discussion of how laborers are locked into meat-packing factory/warehouses during the night hours & released just before dawn. It was poignant to hear how the metaphor of living in the shadows has become a lifestyle forced on undocumented workers.
De Genova's discussion navigated through a complex system of opposing political ideologies & didn't attempt to give an easy answers, but ended on a message of hope, reinforcing that "Freedom is a practice that has to be exercised."
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