“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face,
—George Orwell, (1903-1950), 1984
“’We were making the future,’ he said, ‘and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making. And here it is!’”
—H.G. Wells (1866-1946), When the Sleeper Wakes
“I guess all this history is just a mystery to me.”
—Wilco, “Hotel Arizona”
It has long been said that the United States is a nation of immigrants, a melting pot of various cultures from all over the world. Many of the same people who say that are also familiar with the so-called “golden rule”, the notion that we should treat others as we fish to be treated. It’s very telling, then, how America tends to treat its immigrants, or rather, the Americans of tomorrow. Our immigrants, ourselves.
Though most growing up in the States following the Second World War remained blissfully unaware, thanks to the American government and the then-current education system, of the German, Japanese and Italian interment camps that existed on American soil during the War, many eventually wizened up and learned of it. “It can’t happen here”, they used to say. “It can never happen here. Not again.”
Well, as most people who have uttered that rallying cry against fascism, when “it” happens again, when it comes knocking on our door and takes our neighbors into a darkly-lit, packed detention center, what do we do?
Apparently we have to accept it. Because it’s the law now.
The PATRIOT Act and the subsequent Military Commissions Act and Right of Conscience Law, all implemented by former President George W. Bush, set a shocking precedent when it comes to all kinds of laws, chief among them any relating to privacy, individual freedom and the security of “our borders”…as well, frighteningly enough, as prejudice, now legal in all fifty states in so many forms.
George Takei, one of the stars of the original Star Trek, was held in a Japanese interment camp as a child during the Second World War, as detailed in his autobiography To the Stars. At roughly the same time, my uncle was held in an interment camp for Germans. Emerging from these experiences with liberal leanings, the lives of both Takei and my late uncle proved irreversibly altered by their internment. No, you know what? Let’s call it like it is. Imprisonment. George Takei, my uncle and countless others were imprisoned on American soil because of how they looked, how they spoke or where their parents came from. This wasn’t fair then, and it sure isn’t fair now.
Arizona’s recent immigration laws, which now allow for large groups of anyone with suspicious skin color to be rounded up and slowly processed by the state to see who among them is and isn’t in the country legally, has met its fair share of controversy, although nowhere near enough to overturn it. Of course, the current Republican party that passed it would do well to remember the nationality of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born Governor of neighboring state California, as well as major contributors like German-born actor Bruce Willis.
The violation of civil rights in modern-day Arizona would be appallingly clear if it weren’t for the fact that the Military Commissions Act and other concurrent laws all but abolished the Bill of Rights.
Yes, I know what you’re saying. There should be a process regarding immigration. It should be done in a legal, controlled way. While current national policies are not ideal and certainly not possible for all potential immigrants giving the unique circumstances of every individual living human, this new law does nothing to help the situation.
In the DC Universe, the otherworldly origins of characters like Superman and the Martian Manhunter are well-known but never questioned from a legal standpoint. Granted, rogue government operations such as Checkmate and the forces led by General Sam Lane in the current War of the Supermen event have taken Earth’s alien populace to task (a theme also seen in Geoff Johns’ “Superman and the Legion of Superheroes” storyline from a few years ago). But all in all the denizens of other worlds are largely welcome on New Earth, albeit if they are heroic and not, say, Brainiac.
TheMartian Manhunter learns of his secret origin, and destiny
Like most intelligent men and women, the people of DC’s primary Earth largely seem to actually understand that everyone is unique, and that blanketing any one culture or group with one silly label is ludicrous. If someone does something to earn their ire, as during the White Martian incident which served as the opening run of Grant Morrison’s JLA, then that ire is justified. Characters like Superman, the Martian Manhunter, Supergirl, Hawkman and the rest will be accepted due to not just their work as heroes, but to the fact that they speak to the better part of any sentient being’s nature.
The people of the Marvel Universe, being the bigots so many of them are, are obviously not as tolerant. With so many of their costumed protectors, from Spider-Man to the New Warriors, hated and feared, it’s no surprise that the immigrants of the Marvel Universe have had such a tough time. Coincidentally or not, many of them are mutants, one of the most detested minority groups in the entirety of the Marvel Universe.
Banshee, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Wolverine, Namor, Psylocke, Storm, Maggot and others have typically been met with even more hostility than their American counterparts. Nightcrawler, recently killed off in the current “Second Coming” arc, was unlike the rest of his foreign companions in the X-Men in that he could not change his appearance without technological (and therefore artificial) aid. His holographic image inducer, also used by his American ex-teammate Beast, allowed him to walk around freely without being judged by average humans. One can’t help but feel that his death occurred, on a creative level, only to free the X-Men from foreign, and ugly, interference.
Natasha Romanova describes the path to social invisibility
Of late, Marvel’s first Black Widow, the Russian spy known as Natalia Romanova, has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance. After juggling two concurrent mini-series and an appearance in Iron Man 2 where she was played by popular American actress Scarlet Johansson, she now has her own series and will soon serve as a member of the newly-sanctioned Secret Avengers. Maybe the reason Natalia has persisted for so long is because of her virtual invisibility in the public eye of the Marvel Universe. Or maybe it’s because she doesn’t look, and doesn’t have to sound, like she’s not from the United States. As a spy, a master of dialects and an expert improviser, she can pass through anywhere undetected.
Suspicious appearances, indeed (Oddly, one notable recent example is Skaar, the Hulk’s alien-born son and the only such non-Earth-born character on this list.).
No matter what happens in Arizona from hereon out, there is precedent for it, both real and fictitious. America and its allies eventually apologized to the people they imprisoned (how very big of the white man to let us know how he felt so burdened by the half-devil). This country has been torn apart enough in recent years, and another civil war is not needed, nor is the quest for a new Utopia for immigrants and minorities, as seen in recent issues of Superman and Uncanny X-Men.
Time will tell what is to come. I hope that this country will be able to survive the myriad of terrible situations it finds itself in, if only to come out of it a better nation, a more loving country, a country where bigotry, while probably not entirely gone, is on its way out the door. It would be naïve to think such an old way of thinking could be junked so quickly; but maybe, just maybe, we can put the old ways in their place: behind us.
And together, we can all walk hand in hand towards a better world.
// Notes from the Road
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