The New Ellis Island and the New Nativism: The Roots and Consequences of California's Proposition 187

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:00 AM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Eladio Bobadilla, Duke University
My paper focuses on the roots and consequences of California’s passage of Proposition 187 in 1994. How, this paper asks, did a blatantly racist, discriminatory, and ultimately unconstitutional law pass in such a stereotypically progressive state? What led to a third of Latinos voting in favor of the law? And how did this nativist reaction, in the end, push California further to the left?

To answer these questions, my paper argues that looking at place matters. California, and specifically, its urban centers, had become, by the 1980s, the new “Ellis Island,” which inevitably created nativist sentiments, but also made unlikely connections and personal interactions inevitable, humanizing immigrants on the job, in neighborhoods, at sporting events, at places of worship, and even in media perceptions of the state.

In the same way, the cruel and draconian efforts to withdraw and refuse social services to immigrants and their children led to a vast network of cross-racial, multi-ethnic, and diverse organizing, which included labor unions, civil rights groups, human rights organizations, and ordinary people who had been appalled by the law. In effect, the nativist reaction produced its own, stronger and more diverse reaction, the “187 Effect.” My paper will show how nativism, emerging out of the collective sense that Reagan’s “amnesty” had failed, actually produced a vibrant pro-immigrants’ rights movement in California, one that has served as a model for other places wishing to resist xenophobia and nativist upsurges.

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