Parikh’s keynote lecture addresses issue of women in immigration debate
One Washington University student said he is descended from a Macedonian mail-order bride. Another said his ancestors barely avoided immigrating to the states on the Titanic.
The stories were elicited as part of associate professor Shanti Parikh’s lecture on Tuesday titled “Love, Sex, and Immigration: Regulating Population and Reproduction.”
Parikh’s lecture, the keynote for this year’s George Washington Week, dealt with the history of the immigration debate in America and how it has come to center on the female body.
Parikh, an associate professor of anthropology and African & African-American studies, said the immigration debate has become heated because people believe there is a lot at stake—economically, culturally and demographically.
“The irony of the immigration debate is that America is a country of immigrants,” Parikh said.
She then asked the audience to take a few minutes and discuss the circumstances in which their own families came to the U.S. She also asked them to identify what pushed them to leave their home, what pulled them to the U.S., what anchored them there, and what obstacles they faced on the way. Some students then shared their stories with the audience.
Parikh also pointed out that no African Americans in the audience shared their heritage stories, prompting one to tell a story of a racially mixed family that could be traced back to ancestors who were former slaves.
Parikh explained that the United States has been concerned with controlling immigration and reproduction since the early days of the nation. People have always crossed the U.S. borders, from the Europeans of the Columbian era to Africans in the slave trade.
The first immigration laws began in the late 1800s as conflicts between European immigrants and settlers began to arise. Some laws were directed toward the Chinese, who competed with Westward settlers in the gold rush and for work on the railroads.
Others included Jim Crow laws, requiring immigrants to carry “passbooks.”
“Containment and control was [then] becoming an idea in America that we were perfecting,” Parikh said.
Preserving the ideal American race became a first priority. There were laws preventing interracial marriage, and eugenics became widely accepted.
“And that’s what becomes interesting symbolically about lynching—it was such an act of pride for them” Parikh said. “It became, ‘We are protecting our boundaries, protecting things that are going to infiltrate us.’ It became an act of terrorism to the white community that a black man had committed.”
Parikh believes eugenics was especially important because it demonstrated that the debate really had come to focus on the female body. Sterilization was predominantly performed on “feeble-minded” women. Parikh added that Nazi Germany propaganda advocating eugenics advertised that the practice was common in the U.S. as well, as a means of justifying it to the German people.
“It came to be that reproducing children was seen as reproducing culture,” Parikh said.
Parikh predicted that the Republican presidential debates will begin to move from economic issues to issues of morality: specifically, those surrounding the female body.
There have already been recent controversies revolving around the subject, Parikh pointed out, including the PR debacle between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood.
There was also the issue of a creation of a panel to debate whether or not the government should mandate that religious institutions have to provide contraception for females.
Parikh ended with the advice that as college students, the audience should focus on educating themselves on the issues.
“I realize you’re all busy, but as you’re Facebooking or doing whatever, get online, read the newspapers, read the commentaries…all the info is out there” she said.
Sophomore Michele Hall, one of the organizers of George Washington Week, thought it was important to start conversation about immigration and diversity.
“A lot of students don’t understand that there’s a lot [of] immigrant communities in St. Louis and there’s a lot of stigmatization and those thoughts need to get debunked,” Hall said. “We chose Dr. Parikh because we knew she’d be an interesting speaker, and she’s done a lot of research on love and sexuality.”