“No One is Illegal,” most recent radio program from the show “Making Contact.”

This radio program is an edited version of a talk by Harjap Grewal, an organizer with the Canadian-based group, “No One is Illegal.”
He discusses the ways in which NAFTA, the state sanctioned guest worker programs, and cooperations put profit before human rights and engage in a new form of Indentured labor and slavery. Likewise, he explores the legacy of colonialization and racialization of immigrants that is still very much with us today.

He describes immigration as a “political act,” and discusses not only immigration stories in the U.S. and Canada, but also the situation in Spain where over 6,000 northern African immigrants died last year trying to make the journey.

Most importantly he provides examples of ways to resist and provides examples of resistance from Vancouver.

The only problem is that there is some music playing in the background that can be very distracting. I can’t figure out why it’s there.

Listen Here.

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Barre Toelken always talks about the “So What? Question.” So…Some questions for folklorists and ethnographers that come to mind—

Because of our economic system, we all unintentionally engage in the exploitation of human rights through our food consumption, our driving, and other daily activities. How can public folklorists, whose mission it is to study the rhythms of daily life, help in organizing against these abuses?
I think for starters we can open out the story to move past just the local–to see how the local is global. Material Cultural specialists often talk about studying the “life history” of an object. What about folklorists examining the life history of one of our common denominators: a trip to the grocery store, for example.

Folklorists and other so-called ‘cultural professionals’ can also parter with worker’s rights organizations to learn more about local immigration situations. Rather than just looking at how immigrants dynamically combine the culture of their country of origin with the culture of their new home, folklorists can actively listen to the stories of why they are here.
I think this also brings up a discussion about the importance of being at least conversationally multi-lingual. We need to place a higher priority on our language skills.
Current articles on public folklore theory encourage us to learn to speak the language of business, of marketing, of tourism. How about we learn to speak the language of the people we are supposed to be working with?

Of course, that begs the question how CAN we work with immigrant communities in a way that is not superficial? Do we have models for this? If not, how do we start working toward one?

I often think about the often disputed Kelly Feltault article, “Development Folklife: Human Security and Cultural Conservation,” published in the special JAF Public Folklore Edition. She argues that without a greater understanding of globalization, we can’t truly be folklorists who focus on human rights.

I also think we can use one of our greatest skills: asking questions. Public folklore programs are forever wanting to embrace ‘the diversity’ of people. But so much of this so-called ’embrace’ stays at a superficial level. Let’s start being part of the voice that asks questions like, What are the stories of immigration in my community? What economic policies keep this in place? What is the human face of immigration, as the radio piece asks. I think Kelly Feltault is right. If we want to do what we say we do, we have to actively pursue a deeper understanding of economic systems, cooperations, immigration laws, guest worker programs, and the like.

Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center
Kentucky Jobs with Justice

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? From folklorists or anybody else?


  1. Rachel Townsend says:

    Meredith I really like your recommendations! Here are some of my thoughts:

    Being an immigrant is a state of existence through which all areas of the immigrants life is filtered. This means that the immigrant identity is always present in the story being told.

    I would like to encourage our communities–and especially the academic community–to consider that (1) immigration is a political act (2) it is a defiant act by an individual against the transnational state and (3) immigration is an act of civil disobedience.

    Immigrants aren’t just casualties of globalization. The immigrant is an agent of change, a participant in, and a definer of the movement that is working for the emancipation of all living, breathing things. I would love for people to realize that whenever we hear the story of the oppressed–in this case the immigrant–we are simultaneously hearing the future story of their liberation.