By: Patricio Gomez (Mexican American Political Association)
The AP Stylebook finally declared that it will cease using the term “illegal immigrant.” It’s about time. According to their corporate spokespersons, “The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”
The specific instruction in the stylebook now reads, “illegal immigration: Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.”
Associated Press has opted to better label behavior and not people, similar to labeling a person “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic,” for example. As this relates to an undocumented entry into a country, it would be preferable to describe it as “someone in a country without permission.” Ironically, AP had previously excluded the use of the term “undocumented” as being an imprecise description. Someone could have entered a country without permission, yet still have different types of documents in their possession, they observed.
This is significant considering that newspapers throughout the country, and even internationally, use the AP Stylebook as a reference for correct language usage in their reporting. In fact, it is also used as a refuge by editors and publishers when confronted about the continued use of the derisive term “Illegal,” both print and electronic. They have argued that their point of reference in language usage is the AP Stylebook as the rock solid code of language not to be tampered with.
For years the Los Angeles Times and other major metropolitan newspapers have been challenged for their language usage. Lou Dobbs was drubbed out of CNN for his persistent anti-immigrant tirades and constant baiting use of “illegal.” Fox News’ right-wing television pundits, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, KFI-Clear Channel Communications’ shock jocks, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of the John and Ken Show, and syndicated radio windbag, Rush Limbaugh, darling of the Tea Party and oxycontin addict, have all been roundly slammed for their denigrating use of the terms “illegal aliens” and “Illegal immigrants”
However, even supposed left-of-center newspapers published by the Village Voice, which has local editions in California, Arizona, and New York, all major immigrant population centers, continue to use racist terminology in reference to immigrants. The most infamous example is the “Ask a Mexican” column penned by Gustave “Gus” Arellano, editor of OCWEEKLY, which includes a racist stereotypic graphic of a toothy mustachioed Mexican wearing a big sombrero. The son of Mexican immigrants who legalized their status through the 1986 IRCA immigration reform, Arellano doesn’t even speak Spanish fluently and is flippant about his continued use of “illegal” as irreverent shtick and hyperbole – all at the expense of immigrants. A better explanation for his language and behavior is self-loathing.
What these corporate media outlets have in common, whether from the political left or right, is that they are corporately owned by whites with a predominantly white audience. Probably never before in the history of the country has the corporate media been so monopolized in cross multiple mediums, and almost entirety in the hands of whites.
What’s behind this use of language to label people in a denigrating manner as has historically occurred in the U.S.? The corporate media, part of the 1% as popularly known now-a-days, can control the narrative about a people when they can define them by such labels. Labels, then, are used to define the identity, role, and quality of groups of people. The objective is to stigmatize them as a social group in society’s eyes and thusly control them in the economy. Ultimately, it’s about how they are used in the economy in the interest of those who control the economy. If society’s majority can bring itself to view another social group as inferior, less than human, less than the norm, thus, dehumanized, than that social group can be exploited, abused, and mistreated without a near whimper by the larger society.
It’s no accident that people of color have predominantly been the object of derisive name-calling, racist labels and stereotypes – blacks, Native Americans, immigrants of working stock, Mexicans and Latinos generally, Asians, but even women and gays. It’s all about keeping working people divided by promoting fear of differentness, prejudice, and homophobia. The beneficiaries are the owners of the principal means of expressing ideas.
In the 1970s the legendary labor and immigrant rights leader, Bert Corona, coined the saying, “No Human Being is Illegal.” In 1986, Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel, a holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, affirmed, “You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal’. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, and they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”
So the fight between ideas and over labels continues unabated. The AP Stylebook thinking heads finally conceded to the light. Chalk one up for the immigrants.
Patricio.firstname.lastname@example.org – authorized to republish. Join me on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr (SinFronteras2013). 4/04/13
Join us in this prolonged campaign for driver’s licenses and visas for our families. The first step in making change is to join an organization that pursues the change we desire. We welcome you to our ranks.
Other organizations leading this movement include: Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), MAPA Youth Leadership, Southern California Immigration Coalition, Liberty and Justice for Immigrants Movement, National Alliance for Immigrant’s Rights, and immigrant’s rights coalitions throughout the U.S..