US Election 2016: 'There is political incentive to capture anti-immigrant narratives' - Firstpost
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US Election 2016: 'There is political incentive to capture anti-immigrant narratives'


Editor's Note: As the US Presidential Election draws near and the battle between Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump gains more teeth, it might prove instructive to examine the constituency at which the twin campaigns are directed; to understand what America means to its citizens and what these men and women seek from their politicians. To do this Firstpost assembled profiles of a broad section of people, each telling a story that speaks of the (anticipated) state of the union. 

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In the fifth part, Olivia Gonzalez, a student, talks about globalisation and diversity. Originally from San Diego, she currently lives in Oxford, UK.

Can you think of a symbol or a cultural touchstone that you would call uniquely American?

That’s a surprisingly difficult question, actually. The first thing that comes to mind is the Manhattan skyline, I don’t know why. That is the first thing that comes to my head because that is the kind of diversity and the uncontrolled globalism that I think characterises the United States, so that’s what I think of more than anything.

What do you mean by uncontrolled globalism?

As in, it’s very hard to pin down. It’s hard to answer the question “what is uniquely American” because the pluralism of New York and the pluralism in the United States is what is so uniquely American. The fact that that question is so hard to answer, I think, is pretty uniquely American.

Olivia Gonzalez. Firstpost/Padmini Parthasarathy.

Olivia Gonzalez. Firstpost/Padmini Parthasarathy.

You’re living abroad right now. What do you miss about home?

Obviously it’s the people, I do miss my family. The time difference is pretty intense, 8 hours from California. The logistics of being able to talk to them on a regular basis, I do really miss. I also miss real Mexican food. So biting into a taco is a rare luxury in Oxford, if you can believe it. So I think those are probably the two things that I miss the most!

What’s your perspective on California and the west and the Spanish influence and that sort of thing being a Californian?

As a Hispanic woman from California, I think I’m uniquely positioned to answer that question too. I mean, the Hispanic and Spanish influence in California is just so strong. I think it’s enmeshed permanently in California’s identity, and I can’t think of another state in the United States that is so tied to a particular ethnic culture. I think the rest of the United States doesn’t have one dominant community that is foreign or necessarily an immigrant culture, so I think it gives California a specific type of flavour, very literally, but also metaphorically. Yeah, and I think it encourages a lot of pluralism, which is pretty uniquely American. But yeah so I think the multiculturalism is super strong in California. Most people speak Spanish, especially in southern California. So I think it’s a very chill and relaxed culture in contrast to New York. Almost everybody is bi-cultural, which adds a completely different dimension to life there.

What’s it like growing up with a lot of people who are bicultural and what is the dimension being added?

Being a first generation.. It’s funny because I grew up in a microcosm where everyone was bicultural, everyone spoke at least two languages and everybody was familiar with the experience of being an immigrant or at least having parents that were immigrants. So when I came to New York and that wasn’t the case, and while I had a lot of international friends, it was pretty jarring to me as an 18-year-old that not everybody had had that experience, and worse so that not everybody had a positive view of immigrants. That was a huge realisation. Not necessarily a good one, but I mean it’s not a good thing that we have negative view of immigrants, at least in the election and the political rhetoric.

Let’s talk a bit about the election. Do you think this increasingly violent rhetoric against Latin communities in the US is a trend, and if so, why do you think we’re seeing this now?

I don’t think that anti-immigrant rhetoric is new. I think it’s currently amplified because it’s politically advantageous. So, if it makes sense for a particular candidate to take advantage of anti-immigrant rhetoric in order to advance their political interests or a particular policy, then they will take advantage of it, and it turns into hateful rhetoric against immigrant communities or international communities in general. I think that’s why that’s happening. There’s a political incentive to capture these anti-immigrant narratives, to say things like “we’re going to reform the economy and give jobs back to Americans.” It’s taking advantage of certain voting groups who haven’t turned out to the polls in a while and giving them that narrative so that they turn out in favour of a political candidate. It's amplified because it’s politically advantageous, I think. I don’t think that anti-immigrant sentiment writ large is really new, in the United States or anywhere, really.

We’re seeing some broad social movements in contrast to the elections. Could you maybe compare and contrast what’s going on on the ground with this political rhetoric?

Yeah sure. I think that there’s definitely a crisis of trust with the established government and civil society. One narrative that we saw a lot with the campaigns this time is that people seem to want candidates who are not so establishment and candidates in the establishment are seen as bad. For example, Hillary Clinton, the fact that she has so much prior experience in the government, sometimes worked against her. And I think the reason for that is that people just don’t trust their government as much nowadays, for a variety of reasons I’m sure. I think that particular sentiment is what characterises the relationship between government and civil society nowadays.

What do you think needs to happen to repair that trust if anything?

I think it’s going to have to come down to specific policies. For instance, I think that getting better policies in policing for communities of colour would be a good place to start in terms of government — civil society relationships. Building trust through better policies is the best bet. Better transparency in government, and reinvigorating the public so that they feel re-enchanted with the government and really feel that they are being represented because that’s one thing that Trump, for instance, was able to take advantage of this time around. The fact that some parts of the United States don’t feel represented. He started speaking to them and got a bigger turnout than anyone expected that he would. So this feeling of representation, that your government actually represents you, is I think a huge and really important part of the political ethos that needs to be rebuilt.

Do you think everyone will ever feel that way though, considering how disparate the US is in idea and culture?

No, not at all, and I think that’s a good thing. The discourse we’re experiencing in the United States and in this crazy election that we’re having is the fundamental principle of democracy. The fact that we can do that and have these kinds of arguments and have people say that they don’t feel represented, and having different parts of society disagreeing about these things is what democracy is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a series of competing arguments that collate together that, in theory, comprise the best form of government possible. Whether that’s actually true in reality is up for debate, but you know, the very discourse that we see is a good thing, that’s how the system is supposed to be working.

What is your ideal America?

The main philosophical underpinning of America is social mobility, which is, no matter where you come from and who you are and what kinds of setbacks you’ve experienced in your life, you can do whatever you want, be whoever you want, achieve whatever goal you want in the United States and the United States will give you the tools to do that. I think in reality, that doesn’t play out because there are inherent inequalities economically and socially, and certain parties are advantaged or disadvantaged in the system. I think my ideal America is one where that would actually be true. Where literally anyone, no matter from where you come from, who you are, you can still achieve all the things you want to achieve. My ideal America is one that’s a platform for innovation and development and personal success and mobility without discrimination.

Is there anything that you’d like to add that I haven’t asked you?

I really hope that in the election that we can have better conversations and that we can learn to disagree better. The very point of our system is to disagree and may the best argument win. And I think recently because of these political incentives, we’ve gotten really bad at disagreeing. We disagree violently. There’s a lot of ad hominem attacks, there’s a lot of recklessness in the way people talk about immigrants and other groups, and each other broadly. We’re no longer kind to each other in our political dialogue, and it’s fine to say that we never were and that’s the essence of politics, but I think we should expect better of ourselves. We should close the empathy gap as much as possible by being more respectful of the way that we disagree.

First Published On : Nov 7, 2016 13:09 IST

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