Puente is now, right now, organizing a campaign called “Trail to End Deportations”. Nice name, very catchy, sounds familiar… hmmm, oh yes, I remember. It is riffing off the Trail of Tears. That is some heavy shit. Wow. Taking on that kind of reference, making that kind of comparison, is a pretty audacious move. I wonder if that means it is an anti-colonial campaign, does it signal commitments on the part of Puente to oppose the militarization of indigenous lands, for instance? Two O’Odham people were shot by border patrol today, people are arrested, searched, harassed, life ways are disrespected, forms of cultural survival and inhabitation are violated, people are cut off from lands, sovereignty redefined as nothing unless it is the sovereignty of the United States. Puente are staging a media event crossing through a war zone. Where is Puente in this war, or does it merely serve as a backdrop for a campaign that can claim neutrality ? How neutral, exactly, when you appropriate this overtly?
Politically, it sure is important to ask what are the connections between the genocidal forced displacement westward of indigenous peoples in the so-called United States and the forced migration of peoples of the Americas northward in the wake of NAFTA? The logic of empire relentless unfolds upon peoples it seeks to subject, and these histories are different but not unrelated. It can be helpful in terms of solidarity-building, and in terms of educating ourselves politically, to learn about the overlapping ways that empire displaces, dispropriates, in order to conquer. Mistake number one is to fall into the logic of slogans, to simplify things and call them the same — they are NOT the same. When we honor both the overlaps and the differences, we take responsibility for our histories, and we build the collective capacity to push back.
Mistake number two is worse. If you are going to appropriate specific a history or struggle, a specific set of political conditions and oppressions, make DAMN sure you are not using that to advocate for perpetuating the same exact shit that created those oppressions to begin with. Building a politics from the perspective of the intersection should be about articulating the structural causes that link these oppressions, and building bridges to push back against the ongoing process of dispossession, removal, displacement and conquest that has always taken many forms, and has always been global. BUT that is not what is happening here. Here, that maneuver is at the very least a token appropriating gesture, and at worse it conceals the extent to which the organization has allowed itself to support policies that perpetuate the conditions of displacement. That’s sly, it’s self-serving appropriation. it’s uncool, it’s unethical, it’s dangerous.
A more nuanced look at the differences between people participating in these efforts, and the organizations that frame them and manage them in fucked-up ways (“amplifying their voices, is the term I believe) is here:
The author has deep knowledge of, and respect for, people doing this work, and also tries to (hesitantly) call critical attention to the ways the organization appropriates indigenous history. The desire to support people who are fighting despite great suffering is understandable, because real harm comes from lack of support, lack of allies who are there no matter what. But this does not mean we should turn a blind eye to the ways that immigrant rights has so often been leveraged to prop up colonial politics.