This week, Jeff Biggers' new book, State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream, will be released from Nation Books. A journalist and cultural historian inspired by figures such as Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn, Biggers is driven partly, as he explained in an interview with CultureStrike, by a "love-hate" relationship with the southwest region. Biggers has long been covering a wide range of immigration issues, including the realities of living in Arizona after the "papers, please" SB 1070 law, the ban on Mexican-American studies, and Romney's relationship with Mexico.
Yesterday he discussed State Out of the Union with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!
Goodman: Why is Arizona a state "out" of the union?
Because, once again, we are looking at a fringe movement that somehow managed to gain control of power. When the former governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, went off to Washington to become head of Homeland Security in 2009, Jan Brewer, our governor, took power. Jan Brewer was someone who was navigating the politics and really was not part of this anti-immigrant fervor. There was this fringe movement, led by this state senator named Russell Pearce, part of this 10th Amendment movement who believe they're not citizens of the United States but citizens [of] the sovereign states of the United States, that really believes to the core of states' rights, going all the way back to folks like in the 1950s. And it's that small fringe that managed to take power and ram through this very anti-immigrant, extremist agenda that went beyond immigration policy. It went to all levels of government, be [it] in healthcare, in guns, in education and, of course, down to the fact of banning Mexican-American studies.
Biggers suggests that this series of events in Arizona, and copycat laws which have sprung up from Alaska to Alabama, marks "a new chapter and one of the darkest chapters in civil rights violations that we're going to be facing in the future." But he emphasizes that "Arizona didn't just sit tight, they fought back." With figures such as Randy Parraz at the forefront of resistance, described by Biggers in his recent piece for Salon, progressives in the state were mobilized and unlikely alliances between young Latinos and elderly non-Latinos were formed.
This spirit of resistance informed a recent discussion of racial and immigration politics in New York City sponsored by CultureStrike and the Asian American Writers' Workshop. Biggers was joined by Rinku Sen, the publisher of Colorlines.com and author of The Accidental American. Accompanying Sen and Biggers was Mozambican singer Chude Mondlane and journalist Aura Bogado (who has written about Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio for The Investigative Fund), who talked about her experience on the UndocuBus, a tour of anti-immigrant states inspired by the freedom rides of the Civil Rights Movement. In addition, Brooklyn-based UndocuQueer artist Felipe Baeza, who also spoke, decorated the space with prints from CultureStrike's poster project.
Biggers called for greater attention toward the strength and history of resistance found in "the other Arizona" which is more than "the meth lab of democracy." Biggers expertly demonstrates that in order to understand the Arizonification of America, it is essential first to understand the history of Arizona. State Out of the Union opens a new window into the complex history of American immigration conflicts.
Biggers is on a coast-to-coast author tour. For a detailed list of dates, click here.