Thursday, June 22, 2006

Words Have Meaning

I was thinking about the illegal immigration problem that we seem to have with Mexico, and it occurred to me that there is one term that is used to great extent in all of the debate and discussion, while another term is only used occasionally.

Let's look at the situation. Nearly 10% of Mexico's population is living in the US, with a majority of those numbers being illegal immigrants. Most of them send money back to Mexico to the tune of $20 billion annually, if I recall correctly. It's the largest source of money in the Mexican economy next to oil revenues. As we saw during the rallies of the last few months, there are many Mexicans in the US who hold tightly to their identity as Mexicans, and there is even a movement, however marginal, to "take back" a portion of the American southwest for Mexico. At one point, the Mexican government even printed maps for the citizens on how to get to the US and where to go once inside. They stopped after it went public in the US. Many Mexicans still vote in Mexican elections, and some of their politicians have even taken to campaigning in the US.

Given all of that, what is the significant difference between calling this "immigration" and calling it "colonization"?

It seems like simply a philosophical question at first, but the implications for the debate are quite strong. A lot of people will look the other way at illegal immigrants because they're "just trying to have a better life." But colonization is looked at almost as an act of war. That, few will put up with.

Of course, many will reject the term outright. But which term is most appropriate? According to dictionary.com:
Immigrant: 1. A person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.
Colony:
1. a. A group of emigrants or their descendants who settle in a distant territory but remain subject to or closely associated with the parent country.
b. A territory thus settled.
2. A region politically controlled by a distant country; a dependency.
3. a. A group of people with the same interests or ethnic origin concentrated in a particular area: the American colony in Paris.
b. The area occupied by such a group.

So, share your thoughts. Which do you think is the most appropriate term?

2 comments:

Steve the Troll said...

It's immigration, Harold. It's a shared border. They don't have the resources to be imperialists. If they were into colonization, they would colonize latin America first.

I think the reason you have trouble distinguishing is because of the shared border. It's convenient for them to immigrate here because 1) there are jobs and 2) they remain physically close to their families.

Colonization has generally been about wealthy countries seeking cheap natural resources or labor. Your question seems like a silly one to me. Stick to chemistry.

Hal said...

Low on time, so I'll pick the low-hanging fruit.

I don't see how a shared border would make the difference between immigration and colonization. You'll have to unpack that one.

Physical proximity isn't in play here. There isn't much of that between Mexico and, say, Chicago.

As for cheap natural resources, Mexico sends us their poor and uneducated and receives back $20b/yr. That sounds like a good resource to me.

I mainly consider this a philosophical issue, because there's no chance that politician will ever address it in this manner. But I think it makes for an interesting question, because the line seems fuzzy to me in this instance.