Harvest of Empire: Juan González on His Landmark Book, Immigration & Consequences of U.S. Imperialism – Democracy Now!

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Some 7,000 people in a migrant caravan heading to the United States were dispersed by Mexican authorities this weekend as they approached Mexico City. Some of those seeking asylum told Human Rights Watch they had sought protection in Mexico but were dissuaded from seeking refugee status and were pressured to accept voluntary returns to their home countries. Many are from Central America, Venezuela and Haiti. Some had children with them.

Here in the United States, President Biden wrapped up the Summit of the Americas Friday in Los Angeles by unveiling a new plan to address migration in the Western Hemisphere that includes a series of so-called bold actions. This is Biden.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Twenty countries coming together to launch the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. With this declaration, we’re transforming our approach to managing migration in the Americas. Each of us — each of us is signing up to commitments that recognizes the challenges we all share and the responsibility that impacts on all of our nations. …

The Los Angeles declaration is built around four core pillars: first, stability and assistance, making sure communities that are welcoming refugees can afford to care for them, to educate them in their education, medical care, shelter and job opportunities; second, increasing pathways for legal migration throughout the region, as well as protections for refugees; third, working together to implement more humane and coordinated border management systems; and finally, making sure we’re working together to respond to emergencies.

AMY GOODMAN: The agreement was signed by over a dozen countries in the region, including Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, even though their presidents did not attend the summit. The only Central American country that refused to sign was Nicaragua, which was excluded from the gathering by the Biden administration along with Cuba and Venezuela.

The plan includes a commitment from the United States to resettle 20,000 refugees over the next two years, even as authorities say more than 200,000 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees approach the southern U.S. border each month. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, reports a record 234,000 migrants and asylum seekers arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in April alone. More than a quarter of the world’s migrants are in the Americas — some 73 million people — even though the hemisphere accounts for only 12% of the world’s population, this according to the International Organization for Migration. Millions are displaced in their own countries by poverty and violence.

For more, we spend the hour with Juan González, Democracy Now! co-host, journalist, professor at Rutgers University, longtime broadcast and investigative journalist. On Tuesday, he releases his new revised edition of his landmark book Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, originally published [in 2000], already a best-selling book and required reading in hundreds of colleges and high school courses.

Juan, congratulations on the reissue of your book. It’s great to spend the hour with you, not as co-host but as the primary guest of today’s show, with this epic work that you have added so much to in this latest edition, beginning on the issue of migration and how the U.S. treats migrants, asylum seekers, refugees on the southern border. Juan, take it from there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, Amy. Thanks for the opportunity to go a little bit in depth into this new edition of the book, as well as to remind folks about what was in the earlier versions.

I think the biggest thing that we have to understand is that this country has been grappling with what to do about immigration policy now for about 30 years and has not been able to come up with a refashioned immigration system in the United States. And every few years and every administration promises that they’re going to do something about an orderly flow of migrants into the country, but the reality is that there’s resistance and a huge battle over how migration will be governed in the 21st century, because we’re really talking about who gets to be an American in the 21st century. So it really is an issue of who can legally come into the country and have an opportunity to be a citizen and a voter.

And I think that what’s happened is that we really have not come to grips with, as the title of my book says, the “harvest of empire,” that the reason there are so many Latinos and people from Latin America coming into the United States is that Latin America was the start of the American empire. It was where the first overseas colonies of the United States came into existence. It’s where the United States constantly was intervening with its military forces, where most of the major multinational companies began to grow, companies like the United Fruit Company and others. Latin America was the incubator of the American empire.

And so, we are in a position — and we have been now for decades and decades, since really the end of World War II — we’re in the same position that the French are in regards to North Africans, that the British are in relationship to their former colonial empires of India and Pakistan and Jamaica, and that the Germans are in their tiny empire that they developed toward the end of the 19th century in the Middle East, that all of these former colonial powers are trying to figure out what to do about the fact that so many people from their former colonies have come to the metropolis. And that is the fundamental issue that all of these Western countries are facing: the actual change in the composition of their countries.

And when it comes to Latin Americans, it’s astounding. I started writing this book in the ’90s, and I even have been astounded by the continued growth of the Latino population of the United States. The latest census says that there are 62 million Latinos in the United States, the 2020 census. That’s about 18.7% of the population. But even the Census Bureau acknowledged that that’s an undercount, that they undercounted about 3 million more Latinos that they should have counted. It was the largest undercount of any group in the census. And that doesn’t count the 3.2 million people in Puerto Rico, which is not considered part of the United States but is under the U.S. flag. So, if you add the 3 million from Puerto Rico and the 3 million undercount, you’re talking about 70 million people of Latin American descent under the U.S. flag. That’s about one in every five people in the entire country.

So, this increased — and when you look at the young people, that’s where the real stunner is. California is about 40% Latino, but the public schools of California are 54% Latino today. The public schools of Texas are 52% Latino today. The public schools of Arizona are 45% Latino today. When you go into even the Southern states, in Georgia, the Latino population is 10%, but the population of the public schools is 16%; in North Carolina, it’s 18%, the Latino public school population. This is the future of the country.

And so, I don’t think that we really have yet grasped how the impact, the unintended harvest of the American empire, is coming to roost right here in our own country. And that’s why the political leaders are having so much trouble trying to figure out how to develop a comprehensive immigration and humane immigration policy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Juan, you begin your book by saying, “In June 2018, media reports revealed [that] U.S. Border Patrol agents had detained hundreds of Latino children inside chain-link cages at a warehouse in the southern Texas border city of McAllen. The disturbing images of terrified toddlers wailing for their parents provoked worldwide condemnation.” I just want to play that audio, just a few seconds of it, that ProPublica released.

CHILDREN: [crying]

AMY GOODMAN: That crying rocked the world and at the time exposed the Trump administration policy, zero — the policy of zero tolerance. Yet we are under the Biden administration. Talk about what happened then and what has changed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, there has been some slight changes of the Biden administration, especially in the attempt by the Trump administration to shut down legal immigration or asylum. There’s been some changes in there. But the problem is that there still is no framework, legal framework, for dealing with the migration situation today. And we’re not talking just about the issue of undocumented versus documented workers. We’re talking about visas for guest workers. We’re talking about asylum numbers, which the United States should rightfully increase substantially the numbers that it permits of asylum or refugees into the country. So that we don’t have a clear framework to deal with the current conditions of migration in the hemisphere and in the world.

But I think the even worse part of it, and this is where in my updated edition — because, again, my last edition came out in 2011, so this really deals with all of the changes, and there are many changes that have occurred in the Latino experience in America over the last 10 years. It updates those. Let me just give you one startling fact that I came across in doing my new research. In 1998, two-thirds of all arrests by federal government agencies in the United States were of U.S. citizens. In 1998, two-thirds were of U.S. citizens. Twenty years later, in 2018, two-thirds of all the arrests of federal agencies in our country were of noncitizens. The entire federal law enforcement bureaucracy has been turned into a persecution operation for noncitizens. In 2018 alone, the federal government arrested more Mexicans than it did American citizens. They arrested more Mexicans than they did American citizens. That’s an extraordinary change in the operation of the federal government.

The budgets — the U.S., in fiscal year 2021, spent $26 billion in immigration enforcement. In the budgets of ICE and of customs and border enforcement, $26 billion. That’s more money than it spent in all its other federal law enforcement agencies — the DEA, the FBI, the ATF, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Secret Service. All of those agencies spent less money than did customs and border enforcement and ICE.

So the entire federal government apparatus has been turned over the last 10, 15 years into an apparatus hunting down, deporting, locking up immigrants. And we’re not just talking of undocumented, because there are all of the people who were legally in the United States but then were, in some time or other, convicted of what the government called aggravated felonies and then were deported. And so, there is a repression and deportation machine that has developed at the federal level against — and they’re mostly people from Latin America.

Here’s another startling fact that I came across in my research. Between 2010 and 2017, the United States deported 1.5 million people, who were either legally in the United States or undocumented and they were convicted of a crime, an aggravated felony — and by aggravated felony, we’re talking about almost anything. A DUI, under the Clinton penal code reforms, was an aggravated felony. One-point-five million people deported. Of those people, 93% came from only four countries: Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Ninety-three percent of the 1.5 million people deported came from four countries; the rest of the world was the other 7% — even though people from those four countries only represented about a third of all the noncitizens in the U.S. That’s racial profiling. How do you come up with 93% of all the people you deport because they committed a crime come from only four countries? The entire apparatus is geared to kicking out Latin Americans, and no one is doing anything about it.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have the Summit of the Americas right now, Juan, where all sorts of controversies, widely considered a failed summit, where the president’s spokesperson says he won’t meet with autocrats, won’t meet with Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba, ends up — what’s his big meeting in Los Angeles? With Bolsonaro, with the autocratic ruler of Brazil, who’s already preparing, and now the Brazilian military is preparing, to say that the elections there will not be legitimate.

And, Juan, by the way, there’s this breaking news that’s coming out of Brazil right now. We have been reporting on the Indigenous advocate and journalist who have been missing in Brazil. Well, Reuters just broke this information that the bodies of the British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who have been missing for more than a week in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, were found Monday. This is according to Phillip’s wife, Alessandra Sampaio.

So, he meets with Bolsonaro. And Mexico, as you’re talking about, AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, refuses to attend because of the U.S. imposing who can come to the Summit of the Americas and who can’t. Also El Salvador, Honduras, Bolivia, none of those countries — and Guatemala — come, the presidents come, either.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Well, I think that this Summit of the Americas is really the complete failure of the Biden administration to be able to show a united front in Latin America. It’s really a reflection of what has changed geopolitically in Latin America. And in my new edition, I touch on that somewhat, which is that Latin America is no longer the U.S. backyard. It used to be. It used to be, during the days of Teddy Roosevelt and gunboat diplomacy, and even into the 1930s and ’40s, and even in the ’60s with President Kennedy and the Alliance for Progress. But Latin America has changed dramatically. And one of the big changes, of course, has been the rise of popular movements outside of the established political structures that long reigned in these countries, and the movements of Indigenous people and marginalized people in these societies and the working class in the society.

But the other big change has been the rise of China as a major force in Latin America. While the United States was off fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and trying to maintain oil supplies and dealing with Syria, China was investing in infrastructure in Latin America, building huge multibillion-dollar dams and tunnels and ports, and providing low-interest loans to many Latin American governments. And so, these governments no longer feel they have to do what the United States says. And increasingly, the region is no longer a region dominated by one power. And as a result, now many of these governments feel that they can reject loans from the United States or demands of the World Bank, because there’s an alternative source of funding. Now, of course, China has its own desires in terms of its grabbing hold of future sources of raw materials, but the Chinese aid does not come with all of the military threats and all of the insistence that things be done China’s way, that the United States has practiced for so long in Latin America. So, as a result now, there’s room to maneuver among the leaders of the Latin American countries. And you’re seeing it happen. You saw it happen at the Summit of the Americas last week.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. And you have this, The Hill reporting, “China, which by now has held three China-Latin America Ministerial Forums at the level of foreign ministers, has called out the United States for discriminating among Latin American countries, pointing out [that] Washington is stuck in a Cold War mindset.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, absolutely. And we’re seeing it now, for instance, in Venezuela. We had the ridiculous situation that Washington still recognizes Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader in Venezuela, as the legitimate president of Venezuela, when the reality is that for several years now it’s been clear that whatever criticisms there may be of Maduro as the president of Venezuela — and there are many — that the Venezuelan opposition is so fractured and so impotent that it has no capacity or ability to run Venezuelan society. And yet — and, of course, the United States now, because of the war in Ukraine, is even trying to create new chances for negotiations with Maduro in Venezuela in order to secure more oil supplies for the U.S. — well, not for the U.S. so much, but certainly for Western Europe, because of the Ukraine — the war in Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, we’re going to go to break and then come back to this discussion. Juan González, Democracy Now! co-host, but also professor at Rutgers University, longtime broadcast and investigative journalist, two-time winner of the George Polk Award, one of the co-founders of the Young Lords and author of a number of books. His book Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, originally published [in 2000], its second revised edition, more than 20 years later, is being released on Tuesday. Back with him in a moment.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Always with Puerto Rico” by Amaury Pérez Vidal. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Our guest for the hour is our co-host, Democracy Now! co-host Juan González, yes, professor at Rutgers University, longtime journalist, award-winning investigative journalist, author of a number of books. His latest, coming out tomorrow, is Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. Now, if you’ve grown up in this country, you may well have been in one of the high school or college or university graduate school classrooms that have used this book, but its second revised edition is being released Tuesday. This is his first major broadcast interview on the latest book.

And, Juan, in your new introduction, you talk about the use of the term “Latinx.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Well, as we know, and on Democracy Now! we use the term quite often, “Latinx” has increasingly grown as a term to define the people of Latin American population here in United States. But the reality is that a 2019 poll shows that only 3% of all Latinos used the term that year, and only 23% had even heard of it. And there was a similar battle that arose some years back, more than a decade ago, over whether it was more appropriate to use the term “Latino” or “Hispanic.” And I took the position then that I thought that these discussions about the most appropriate term were more debates among the intellectual class than they were among the masses of the people. The masses of the people generally refer to themselves by whatever nationality their parents were, and, of course, in the case of Indigenous people, by their own Native heritage. And the reality, though, is that both “Latino” and “Hispanic,” I began to use interchangeably, and, of course, given that “Latinx” addresses the gender binary, that I thought that it’s definitely a welcome term to use, but I continue to use them, all three of them, interchangeably.

And, in fact, I say in that introduction — I just wanted to see if I can find it for a second to explain. And I say, “Moreover, most migrants from Latin America still prefer to identify themselves by their particular country of origin, or in the cases of indigenous peoples, by their native heritage. Their U.S.-born-and-raised children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will increasingly adopt different views. Ethnic identity, after all, is a social construct, much like racial identity. It requires a dynamic and fluid approach, not a static and rigid one, with every generation free to reimagine and redefine its own place in society, though the actual economic and social conditions of any community should always take precedence over labels and intellectual descriptions.”

And that’s the — so I use all three terms — “Latinx,” “Latino” and “Hispanic” — interchangeably. None of them are precise and accurate. All of them are acceptable, in my perspective. And the most important thing is not the term or the label; it is understanding the class and racial and social condition of the masses of the people and how they can improve their lot in society.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, you also have new information about — well, about culture and how Latinos, Latinas, Latinx people are portrayed in this country. And you refer to Lin-Manuel Miranda. Now, last night were the Tony Awards, and the Latinx actor, composer, writer Lin-Manuel Miranda honored Stephen Sondheim. But I want to go to him at the Tonys in 2016, because June 12th, Sunday, marked the sixth anniversary of the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Florida, where 49 people were killed. Pulse was an LGBTQ+ club, most of the shooting victims Latinx. Lin-Manuel Miranda delivered a sonnet about the Orlando attacks at those 2016 Tony Awards. His Broadway hit Hamilton had won 11 Tony Awards that year. This is Lin-Manuel.

LINMANUEL MIRANDA: When senseless acts of tragedy remind us That nothing here is promised, not one day
This show is proof that history remembers
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love lasts longer.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story.
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.

Thank you so much for this.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2016, also spoke last night at the Tony Awards. Juan, talk about how Latinos, Latinas, Latinx people are portrayed in the media, in culture, in movies, in shaping the perspective of this, the largest minority community in the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Well, Amy, there’s no doubt that probably the largest impact that Latinos have had in the country is in the realm of culture, whether it is in the music that we listen to, in the books that we read — in the case of Lin-Manuel, in his almost single-handedly beginning to revolutionize the American theater. And I think that this sudden infusion — you know, I often say that Lin-Manuel Miranda is probably the biggest jobs producer for African Americans and Latinos in theater in the history of the United States, because his two seminal works, In the Heights and Hamilton, as they are produced in regional theaters around the country, end up employing huge numbers of actors in all these places, and often for long runs. So he’s become a jobs creator, just because of the popularity of those two shows. And the impact that it’s had on the class composition of theatergoers is phenomenal, not to mention the fact that he’s almost helped to revolutionize how you teach American history to public school children.

So, I think that — but Lin-Manuel is just one of many young performers and artists that are really transforming American culture, because to the degree that Latinos become more a part of the society, and intermarriage occurs between, you know, Venezuelans and Cubans marrying in Miami, and their children have this new Latino identity, whether it’s Salvadorans or Mexicans in Los Angeles, or Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York, the intermarriage and the amalgamation of these various Latino cultures, and then Latinos also marrying and intermarrying with African Americans and white Americans, you’re creating a whole new amalgamated culture in America, and with a strong Latinx infusion that I think is enriching the culture and diversifying the culture in ways that we really haven’t grasped yet. But I think Lin-Manuel is probably the prime example of someone who is leading the transformation of American culture.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, I wanted to go back to a clip of the 2012 documentary based on your book Harvest of Empire that talks about the history of U.S. imperialism in Latin America — in this clip, the involvement of the U.S. in the Dominican Republic, where many of the immigrants here in New York City hail from. The clip prominently features the Dominican-born Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: The American nations cannot, must not, and will not permit the establishment of another communist government in the Western Hemisphere.

JUNOT DÍAZ: I’m here because the United States invaded my country in 1965, an illegal invasion, completely trumped-up excuse to invade the Dominican Republic and crush our democratic hopes. We’ve lived the consequences of that illegal invasion politically, economically, and in the bodies of the people who were wounded, in the bodies of the people who were killed. We’ve been living it for over 40 years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There have been two major U.S. occupations of the Dominican Republic. The first was in 1916. The U.S. Army trained a new Dominican National Guard. It handpicked a former railway security officer, Rafael Trujillo, to lead that guard. And Trujillo then uses the power of the military to seize control of the government.

JUNOT DÍAZ: He was like the most horrific imagination of this terrifying dictator. He would disappear Dominican and American citizens and kill them with impunity.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: He basically ruled the Dominican Republic for 30 years with absolute, total control. He routinely kidnapped and assaulted the wives even of his supporters, and throughout his career made it extremely easy for American companies to do business in the Dominican Republic, but was a savage, savage dictator. Eventually, even the United States government could not stomach his methods of operation, so the CIA joined with disgruntled military officers to back his assassination.

NEWSREEL: For the first time in 30 years, the people of the Dominican Republic are breathing the sweet air of liberty, and the streets are jammed in celebration.

AMY GOODMAN: Dominican Republic, last in 1965, from the 2012 documentary based on Juan González’s book Harvest of Empire, which was directed by Peter Getzels and Eduardo López. But I want to also go to a second clip. This features the Indigenous Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize-winning Rigoberta Menchú.

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] Guatemala was unbelievable. Two hundred thousand dead that we have accounted for, 50,000 disappeared. Eighty-three percent of the disappeared and executed were Mayas. I left Guatemala after they burned my father alive in the embassy of Spain. They were asking for political asylum from the Spanish government. They were trying to save their lives by entering the embassy. But at that moment the Guatemalan security forces attacked the embassy. They burned everyone alive. No one survived — not the students, no one who was there. If what exists in Guatemala is persecution, murder, killing, if what you have is insecurity, then I prefer to cross the border and go to a place with more security.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Indigenous leader Rigoberta Menchú. Juan, we have about three minutes left. From Dominican Republic to Guatemala to El Salvador to Honduras, take us out with this history that so few people in this country understand.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think it’s especially instructive seeing this clip on the Dominican Republic, because that’s an invasion, a U.S. invasion, that most Americans don’t know about or were never taught about, but yet was critical in the shaping of that nation. It was actually the second U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic. There was one in the early 20th century.

But I think it’s especially instructive since we’re now in the period when everyone is concerned about the war in Ukraine. What was happening in the Dominican Republic was that leaders had come to power, were trying to overthrow a military dictatorship, and the United States perceived them to be allying with another bloc, as President Johnson said, the communist bloc. And that was seen as a threat, even though the Dominican Republic itself was no threat to the United States. And repeatedly, our troops have gone into Latin America to overthrow governments or to stop popular revolutions only because we didn’t like what was happening there, not because those countries were a threat. And yet here we are criticizing Russia for daring to invade Ukraine because its leadership wants to be closer to another bloc, to the West — and the same logic that our country has used over and over and over again throughout the history of Latin America.

And I think it’s instructive for us to understand that this great power imperialism has — really was trademarked and established — the model was established in Latin America by the United States. And that’s why, as I say in my book, this is the unintended harvest of the empire. The empire expected just to take resources and wealth. It never expected so many of the people of these countries it was exploiting to come to the metropolis. And that’s why we need to fashion an immigration system that takes into account that history, the wealth inequality that we have fostered and the violence and the arms that we have supplied to those countries, and try to fashion a more humane immigration policy for the future in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, congratulations on this epic, sweeping work that looks at centuries of Latin American history and relates it directly to what we experience in the United States today, and particularly around the issue of immigration. We thank you so much, Juan, for all of your work. Juan González, Democracy Now! co-host, professor, longtime journalist, author of many books, including the landmark, now reissued and out on Tuesday, Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. It’s the second revised edition. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.

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