De la Isla: Gingrich was wrong; We are all invented people

HOUSTON - Newt Gingrich caught well-deserved flak for referring to Palestinians as "an invented people." While pandering for support of the Republican presidential nomination, he took his shtick to The Jewish Channel, a cable TV station. There he disavowed the legitimacy of a Palestinian homeland in the interview.

The most insightful refutation to what he said may have been that of The New Yorker editor David Remnick, who simply remarked, "We are all an invented people."

Indeed, who isn't an invented people?

The very notion of nation-state was an invention and is not an act of nature. It serves as a place to call home for humans who want to live by a social contract there. In fact, the idea of nationhood, as we know it, has only been around for about 500 years. In human terms, that's a very short period of time.

Because of the incendiary emotions nationalism generates, mixing or sorting people, borders, diasporas and migrations requires maturity, understanding and explaining, not more fiery rhetoric.

Recently Texas A and M China expert Dudley Poston opined that he expects unauthorized Chinese immigrants to begin displacing those here from Mexico and Central America. Border arrests of unauthorized migrants are at a 40-year low. This declining migration trend is expected to continue into the foreseeable future due mainly to demographic changes and improvements south of the border. The emerging trend was foreseen as long as five years ago.

Poston says there are 10 million unemployed rural and urban Chinese who will be drawn to networks of about 300,000 of their countrymen already here. This appraisal, an inconvenient truth, hasn't received its deserved, reasonable attention.

Much of the reason for that, he explains, is that public opinion is stuck on believing a fiction instead of basing opinion on actual evidence. In the United States, "there's so much sentiment against the Mexican population, even though many of them ... have been living in our country for three or four or five generations. There seems to be a more favorable view toward Chinese people ... A lot of that is because there are so few of them. That might change as their population grows larger."

New stereotypes about "undocumented" and "illegal" migrants, replacing Mexicans with Chinese, could build up to new unintelligent speculation that fear-mongers can exploit.

In other words, just as we have an invented domestic problem focused on a Mexican population, we can look to a future where we will have an invented Chinese population. That's how it works. It reads like a cheap political novel.

We would have a whole other public discussion if we had opinion leaders on this subject looking out for the public interest and not pandering to nationalism so much.

Today's conversation would be more in line with how we can encourage labor to places (i.e., farms) and sectors (i.e., construction) that experience periodic labor shortages of domestic workers, instead of stigmatizing our own native and resettled populations. Lacking that kind of understanding on a mass level leads to dysfunctional attitudes, like what award-winning filmmaker Valerie Kurh, a Sikh American, calls "perpetually foreign." Imagine, perpetually foreign at home.

Still, I don't think when Remnick criticized how Gingrich used "invented people" he went far enough. Yes, we are all invented people in the sense that words and culture are the devices that unite and separate us.

But they are the same ones that people of good will use to remake us. In that sense, we can recreate our populations for the pursuit of a fair and good outcome based on the original social contract.

For starters, that's done by disavowing negative pandering and not letting the grinches get away with foolish ideas.

(Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at joseisla3(at)yahoo.com.)

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