Working Beyond Borders


Photo courtesy of Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Happy May Day!

I hope you’ll join us in celebrating the contributions that all kinds of laborers make to the world’s wealth, stability and health.

May Day is a special opportunity to express your support for the human rights and just treatment of the many people who have immigrated to your country to work and to live. Although mainstream media outlets often represent the face of immigration as indigenous and Mexican or Central American, since the mid-twentieth century millions of Black people from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America have joined national communities like the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands. This month, we will try to illuminate how immigrants’ rights are workers’ rights and an international Black issue.

The freedom to migrate was enabled by social movements that challenged race-based exclusionary immigration policies. However, a great deal of work remains to be done in order to lift the stigma our society places on recent and not-so-recent arrivals to the United States. In the classroom, I have been moved by some of my students’ admitted insecurities about their undocumented status, their family’s struggles to adjust to the American economy and culture as well as their physical and emotional distance from extended kinfolk. Fortunately, there is a powerful student movement that is fighting for the passage of the DREAM Act and many organizations like the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance and Black Alliance for Just Immigration are successfully advocating for better labor conditions.

Anti-immigrant sentiment and its accompanying hyper-validation of documented American belonging can be especially seductive to people of color who consider themselves “native” to the United States and other colonizing, imperial countries. If we were “born here” and our grandparents were “born here,” chances are we are struggling to acquire and sustain the basic resources we need for our survival. Jumping on the anti-immigrant bandwagon can seem like an opportunity to lift ourselves up to the first-class citizenship we deserve. In other words, distancing ourselves from Trinidadians and Nigerians can falsely appear to separate us from our hyphenated experiences of American-ness.

However, all kinds of immigrant workers and their children have been, and continue to be, powerful allies in the struggle against racism, imperialism and other policies that reduce the life chances of Black people. Harry Belafonte, Audre Lorde, Marcus Garvey, Grace Lee Boggs, and Barack Obama, Sr. are just a few examples. The most impactful anti-racist movements have welcomed — enthusiastically — the participation of diverse communities and individuals. Joining up across borders, nationalities and ethnicities has historically emboldened and empowered us. Given the challenges people of color commonly face both in the United States and internationally, these kinds of diverse coalitions are urgently needed.

Yours in solidarity,

Robin Signature

Robin J. Hayes, PhD

Principal Organizer

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this timely reminder about the importance of expanding our organizing efforts and visions of liberation beyond national borders. I am reminded of Frantz Fanon’s warning in “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness” that nationalist sentiments have often been used by the upper classes to secure power and project legitimacy. In communities of color, sometimes this warning goes unheeded, as we grasp at false categories which divide, instead of unite us. May Day is an apt occasion to revive the call for transnational solidarity.



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