Blog #3: (Un)Documented Citizenship

What does it mean to be forced to go off the map? What does it mean to be disconnected from your culture, nation and citizenship? 

These are some questions I am continuing to try to answer in this process. As I delve deeper into my ecology, these questions of citizenship, legal status and sense of community are consistently being discussed. 

One one hand, some of the individuals I have spoken to are or have been in the past members of the undocumented community, a group that has been both self-silenced and rendered anonymous but also is one that maintains an enormous sense of pride and autonomy. 

For those of undocumented status, the subject of anonymity is a tricky one. At once it is a necessity as their public revealing could lead to serious legal implications, yet anonymity could at the same time lead to an even greater sense of marginalization. In ‘Anonymity’ Matthew Fuller argues that the loss of anonymity in the case of ‘anonymous activists’ is a “tragedy” which “disembowels” its powers and actions. His example, however, takes into account activists with much more legal security and privilege as the folks I am working with. Nevertheless, this idea of anonymity as personal security and privacy is all the more pressing in this day and age when hyper-surveillance is the norm, all in the name of security and threat prevention. Whether this argument is used legitimately or rather to target marginalized communities, such as the undocumented, remains to be debated. 

The Filipinos of Woodside, though bound by some degree by their necessity for relative anonymity, are not passive. Rather, through consistent and conscious efforts of grassroots organizations like Migrante and Anakbayan, the community grows and is bonded together. Many of them cannot go home to the Philippines whether it be for economic, political or social reasons, emulating a form of ‘Stateless State’ that Jonas Staal describes. Rather than being defined by the conventional markers of a state (government, social policy, laws), he argues that these ‘states’ born out of revolutionary movements (similar to the socialist leanings of the communities formed by Anakbayan and Migrante), culture becomes key – a “weapon” that builds consciousness of oppressive forces. The formation of a Little Manila constitutes a kind of cultural building, bringing a slice of home abroad while reinforcing the need for community engagement. 

It is certainly true that this work is done every day by many in the community, whether or not they are weighed by the risks of their exposure. One woman I interviewed had recently been approved for a human trafficking visa after an almost decade long ordeal of abuse, exploitation and threat both as a legal worker then as an undocumented person. One of her main axioms was that she wanted to be an example, an example that even in the face of threat both by US immigration and Philippine enforcement, there is work to be done and change can be made. As Ernst Van den Hemel argues in ‘(Un)Documented Citizenship’, these people can and do make serious contributions to the communities. Their legal status is simply a product of a broken system and not representative of their actual skill set and value – though they are marginalized, they are nonetheless “active and constitutive parts of society and hence can engage in acts of citizenship”.

I want this project to reveal that sentiment – that those with undocumented status are invaluable to the fabric of our society. They have agency, they create, they help communities grow, foster and survive. Though they have been marginalized and exploited, they can still engage in this citizenship, which even though may not be formal legally, surpasses these technicalities. 

– Mickey S.

~ by Mickey Santana on March 31, 2019.