Images, Pejoratives, and Connections (Editorial)

By John Tanton
Volume 2, Number 3 (Spring 1992)
Issue theme: "Words, symbols, and roadblocks in the immigration debate"

In this issue of The Social Contract, we are pleased to present original material on the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty and its relationship to Emma Lazarus' famous poem; on the use of language in the immigration debate; and on the oft-overlooked connection between population, immigration, naturalization, and the demand for bilingual education and bilingual ballots.

Elizabeth Koed once again graces our pages with her essay entitled, A Symbol Transformed How 'Liberty Enlightening the World' became 'The Mother of Exiles,' in which she tells the story of how Emma Lazarus' poem came to be attached to the Statue of Liberty and how this changed its symbolism. Lazarus' poem is arguably one of the most politically potent documents ever written in North America, given its direct effect on immigration policy, and in turn the role of immigration policy as the de facto population policy of the United States. Her poem gives meaning to Shelley's dictum that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

Next, our Washington editor Roy Beck looks at the use of the pejorative xenophobic as a way to tilt the immigration discussion. Such terms are often used as motions for cloture - that is, as ways to choke off debate. There is a cluster of seldom-defined words often used in this fashion racist, nativist, nationalism, jingoism. They're used to pigeon-hole people and their ideas, and to avoid analysis on the merits. We plan to pursue this line of investigation in future issues.

Then we offer Gerda Bikales's testimony on the proposed renewal of the bilingual ballot provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Among other things, she asks the Judiciary Committee to make the connection between immigration policy and the language standards for naturalization, both of which are under the jurisdiction of this same committee, and the subsequent pleas for bilingual ballots on behalf of newly naturalized immigrants. We feel that naturalized citizens, who have presumably been examined on their language skills, should be able to read English well enough to vote in the language of their adopted country. Later this year, the Bilingual Education Act is also up for renewal.

Are there any connections between the demands for bilingual education and bilingual ballots on the one hand, and immigration and naturalization policy on the other? They seem obvious to this writer, but these topics are treated by Congress as completely isolated and unrelated.

Next, I think you will find of interest David North's Democratic Governments Why They Cannot Cope With Illegal Immigration, published here for the first time in English. Can we break through the barriers he sees without a heightened ethnocentrism, to use North's word? North would be loath to see this, but it's likely to come if the issues are not soon addressed - witness the recent election in France.

We wrap up this quarter's feature section with Wade Graham's second article for us, Mex-Eco? Mexican Attitudes on the Environment. This is an important issue depending on whether Linda Chavez (see my review of her book, Out of the Barrio) is right that Mexican newcomers are assimilating well to our values, or whether Timothy Matovina (see his Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. No Melting Pot in Sight) is closer to the mark. These two pieces follow Graham's article.

In addition we have our usual eclectic collection of reprinted materials which we hope will round out this issue and make it useful to our co-workers on immigration policy in Europe and Australia, as well as in North America.