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Crossing Into Understanding

by Reggie Peralta

Originally published in 2013, Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America is arguably even more relevant in today’s political climate. Its author, the son of Nobel Prize winning-writer Mario Vargas Llosa, Alvaro Vargas Llosa likely didn’t anticipate the surge in anti-immigrant sentiment and policy under Donald Trump (nor their quieter continuation under Joe Biden) but his book nevertheless proves a welcome corrective to xenophobic fear-mongering.

Llosa covers a lot of ground in his case for immigration, but his overarching argument can broadly be broken down into two components. The first component is cultural, with him tackling the many misconceptions regarding the impact of immigrants on the societies they move to. Much has been said, for instance, about the supposed threat posed to Western countries by the arrival of Muslim migrants, with nativist commentators pointing to the growth of religious practices such as women wearing hijab in European nations as “proof” that a radical form of Islam is rising in our midst. Yet not only does Llosa explain that the increased incidence of such practices has not translated into increased radicalism among immigrant nor native-born Muslims, he also finds that Muslims in the United States have largely adopted American social and political culture with little issue. This suggests that any problems assimilating immigrants lies not with the immigrants themselves but the way they’re received in their destination countries, with the dominant “multicultural” paradigm in nations like France and the Netherlands ostensibly respecting the different cultures of newcomers but confining them to segregated communities and marking them as not fully “French” or “Dutch” in practice.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The other component is economic, and addresses similar misconceptions about how immigration affects the economies of receiving nations. One such misconception is the idea that immigrants “take jobs” from native-born citizens, depriving them of work while contributing nothing in return to the host country. But this is plainly untrue because immigrants consume as much as they produce. “Every new minivan that hits the street represents three new drivers, plus the incremental demand supporting gas stations, mechanics, auto parts salesmen and other related services,” explains Llosa. When immigrants enter the labor force, they bring along a desire for the same goods and services as similarly employed natives, encouraging economic activity rather than hindering it. Llosa also takes aim at the inconsistent economics of the anti-immigration right, noting that many will justify their anti-immigrant position because foreign workers “drive” wages down. Not only is this not true (Llosa says that multiple studies have shown the impact of immigration on wages is “very small and temporary”) but it flies in the face of the free-market economics that conservatives usually espouse, suggesting that something more sinister than dispassionate cost-benefit analysis is at work here.

This two-pronged analysis reflects Llosa’s academic pedigree: a graduate of the London School of Economics with a BSC in International History, Llosa also holds a Master’s in value investing and theory of the economic cycle. Though he is comfortable discussing data and historical trends from sources like the Pew Global Attitudes project and economist George Borjas, he also exhibits his father’s gift for storytelling. Indeed, he plays both the role of a reporter recounting hard facts and numbers about immigration and a storyteller using interviews and anecdotes to illustrate the human dimension behind this hotly debated topic. From maps showing migration flows across the world to first-hand accounts from Mexican migrants about their experiences on either side of the border, Llosa marshals evidence that’s as likely to win over readers’ hearts as their minds. It’s not just the evidence underpinning Llosa’s argument that compels readers though: the eloquent, even flowery language he often uses may very well be as effective at persuading them as the material it describes. Words and phrases like “multitudinous”, “tragically ironic”, and “historical realities” describe and characterize concepts but they also sound sophisticated notes in Llosa’s rhetorical symphony, preventing his book from becoming another dull treatise on another complex issue.

While Llosa’s thesis should be evaluated first and foremost by the facts he provides, his personal background provides useful context and perspective on the topic at hand. Born in Peru, Llosa briefly notes that he went to boarding school in Britain and acquired Spanish citizenship before finally settling in the US. As such, he doesn’t just have firsthand experience moving from one country to another but from one country to several, a factor that likely influenced his broad, global-minded analysis of immigration. His assessment of what a world with free movement of people would look like is similarly cosmopolitan, and he concludes, “Culture is not something that is engraved on people forever… Culture is a malleable, protean matter that needs permanent contact with outsiders in order to improve itself and renew its vitality and energy.” Immigration — far from the end of civilization — is in fact the health of it, introducing new blood and potential into static societies and economies.”

Debunking nativist fallacies with patterns and personal accounts observed across different continents and cultures, Global Crossings is a resounding defense of the right of people to move across borders the way goods and services do.

A Santa Ana native, Reggie Peralta's writing has been featured on, The Frida Cinema, and The Grindhouse Cinema Database.


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