Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Migrant workers, east and west

There is an excellent article in this month's issue of Mother Jones by Charles Bowden on the passage of illegal immigrants into the United States--the best I've read, but then I'm no expert on the topic (unfortunately, you'll have to buy the magazine at new stands, as it's not available online).

Bowden captures the sheer scale of the immigration and its toll on immigrants through a series of vignettes--huge dumps of clothes and backpacks at spots in the desert where migrants change into "American" attire given them by coyotes, the dangerous train-hopping of Central American migrants on their way to Mexico and then the U.S., the crime-ridden Mexican border towns that send dozens of trucks to the border daily, and the (strangely human and sympathetic in his account) ranks of Minutemen fanatics who wait at the border, binoculars and weapons in hand.

Reading the article I couldn't help but think back to the situation of China's migrant workers.

Of course, the issues are quite different: the plight of China's migrants is made all the more cruel by the fact that they are, after all Chinese citizens; the Mexican and Central American migrants face a hostility from ordinary citizens in the United States that dwarfs that faced by their Chinese counterparts (although police brutality is something they must endure in common); and the cultural tangles each group finds itself wrapped up in are, of course, incomparable.

Nonetheless, it seems like if there was ever a rights issue where Americans and Chinese could sit as equals without any talking-down or defensiveness or high-flying ideology on either side, the rights of migrant workers would be it.

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