Journalist and dual Mexican-American citizen David Brooks estimated that two to three million people across America demonstrated on Monday for increased immigrants’ rights, and not all of them were concentrated in major urban centers, revealing what he said was an emerging political movement.
“The Anglo media was really taken by surprise,” Brooks said. “There was this sense of, ‘My God, you exist — and you exist where?’ These people exist literally every place you can imagine.”
In Garden City, Kan., a rural town of 30,000, the immigrants marching in the streets numbered 3,000, Brooks said, and in Anchorage, Alaska, far from the southern U.S. border, 25 Mexicans turned out in order to show their solidarity.
Brooks, a U.S. bureau chief for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada since 1992, was born in Mexico to North American parents. He addressed the topic of Latino immigration in depth at a guest lecture before an audience of more than 30 on Thursday afternoon in William L. Harkness Hall. His lecture, titled “U.S.-Mexico Relations at a Crossroads,” was part of a larger Latin American lecture series at Yale. Brooks spoke primarily to professor Gilbert Joseph’s class “History of Mexico in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” though a number of students from outside the class also came to hear his remarks.
Describing the present economic and political relationship between the United States and Mexico, Brooks refrained from offering specific policy recommendations and instead focused on discussing the pace of current developments. Those developments, he said, revolve almost exclusively around the intensifying debate over immigration.
“The immigration issue in its broadest sense is the biggest story of the past century,” Brooks said. “When you see 125,000 illegal immigrants marching down Manhattan in broad daylight carrying signs that say ‘Invisible No More,’ suddenly you realize that this is the human face of economic integration, this is the human face of NAFTA, and this represents the emergence of a whole new binational player that has really changed U.S.-Mexico relations.”
Brooks said he thinks many experts will read Monday’s demonstrations as a precursor to an even more mature and powerful political movement, akin to the American civil rights movement of the 1960s. Already, the campaign for increased illegal immigrants’ rights has borrowed techniques and rhetoric directly from the playbook of the civil rights movement, Brooks said.
“Demonstrators in the South are literally marching along Martin Luther King [Jr.]’s exact route,” Brooks said. “Down in Jackson, Miss., they were singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ in Spanish.”
The nationwide demonstrations — including one held on the New Haven Green — and Brooks’s remarks come at a time when immigration is occupying a prominent place in Congress, with a controversial bill authored by Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner recently failing to gain traction on Capitol Hill by a slim margin. Sensenbrenner’s bill would have felonized illegal immigration.
But Brooks said that Mexico is often as hesitant as the United States to create an outright ban on illegal immigrants.
“People are the biggest and best export of Mexico,” Brooks said. “You send them out and they keep sending money back, over and over again.”
Students in the audience said they were generally impressed by Brooks’s insight and attention to the nuances of his subject.
“I think he has a really unique perspective, being bicultural,” J.C. Hernandez ’09 said. “As a Mexican descendant from Texas, I’m happy to see the issue given attention with the Mexicans as protagonists, and not threats to American employment and security.”
Amelia Reid ’06, who is currently enrolled in Joseph’s class on Mexican history, said she was glad to hear Brooks’ take on an issue that had not traditionally received an abundance of national coverage.
“These people really are ‘Invisible No More,’ and until now they haven’t received a lot of press,” Reid said. “Issues of great concern to illegal immigrants like health care and legal attention are now getting pushed out into the limelight.”
Brooks concluded his talk by answering questions from his audience, but he remained largely silent on predicting the future course of events in the immigration debate.
“Where is it all going? As a journalist, I’m not sure I really know that,” he said.