In a society that suffers greatly from the burden of hyper-reality it is necessary to realize that we are constantly bombarded with contradictory information that is presented as fact. One single event that occurred thousands of miles away can be almost instantly relayed to us in our homes or into our hands through our cell phones. The reality of this event is distant and is edited and politicized before it ever reaches our ears or eyes. While only one unique event occurred there are hundreds or thousands of versions of “reality” being communicated to us. Our ability to get news instantly is also our inability to directly access reality.
As the immigration debates constantly evolve and become more heated the important human events that create the debate are left in the distance. While women and men in suits stand before flashing cameras and microphones to make statements about law and reality there are individuals that create the need for this debate. The immigrants themselves become, for the most part, nameless Others that are edited into news segments. The images of those individuals tell us nothing of their struggles or their families or about their lives. These images were selected by someone completely disconnected from the reality that these images re-produce. The news tells us more about the particular political interests of the news franchise than the individuals that cause the news.
This being the case, I believe that other forms of information about immigration can be more enlightening on a human level than the polarized political stances of the news. I will be the first to admit that there is always a political message imbedded in any text but “the news” constantly tells us that it is “unbiased” or “the whole story” or in some other way infers that its particular take on an event is the most correct. While these hyper-realistic news reports make it hard to know what reality is, we can find elaborations on reality and its polemic nature in literature, film, theater, poetry or even comic books.
I recently came across a series of comics titled Hot Mexican Love Comics while at San Diego Comic-Con. I had the opportunity to speak with some of the creators of the comics and I asked them why it was titled Hot Mexican Love Comics. Initially it was because one of the creators had the thought to make a comic while he had a fever and it came to him that Hot Mexican Love Comics should be the title. Once that was established they decided that each comic would have some connection to Hispanic culture. I was interested to see how these writers and artists dealt with the complex issues related to Hispanic culture in the form of comics.
One of the comic strips in the book titled “Roswell in ‘Make a Run for the Border’” attracted my attention. This comic by Joe Orrantia begins by showing a border patrol agent that looks suspiciously like a Nazi. Behind him a UFO lands just north of the border and a smiling alien, Roswell, pokes his head out of his ship to be greeted by the border agent yelling “Vere are your papers!!!.” Before Roswell can explain that he doesn’t have any he is violently beaten as the border agent screams “You’re verboten, verboten, verboten!.” The last panel of the comic shows the border agent on top of the UFO destroying it and gleefully proclaiming “I love my adopted country!!!” as Roswell lay in a pool of alien blood. The comic consists of only 12 panels but it contains multitudes of information.
Orrantia replaces the image of a Mexican immigrant with that of an extra-terrestrial to hi-lite the otherness of immigrants and at the same time show how they are de-humanized by politics and legalized violence. Just as on the news the real life humans that we see are stripped of their names and personal histories and become mechanical de-humanized reproductions of themselves that only serve the needs of the news brokers. This is truly being an alien. Roswell, the friendly extra-terrestrial, travelled distances that we cannot fathom to reach Earth, but due to his landing on the wrong side of an arbitrary line he was violently attacked. The immigrants that cross the imaginary line that changes a person from a human into a criminal suffer because at some invisible point they become just as inhuman as Roswell.
There are two other points that are important to make while analyzing this comic: (1) the irony associated with the immigrant on immigrant violence and (2) the disregard for the benefits that this “alien” could have provided to society. The image of a Nazi-esque border patrol agent who speaks German is a fairly easy-to-read criticism but beyond that there is the quote about how much this Anglo-Saxon immigrant loves his adopted country. This raises the question of the differences between immigrants that can often be connected to race. While the concept of race is just about as biological arbitrary as national borders are, they are nonetheless concepts that affect individuals in the real world.
Finally, as the border agent destroys the advanced machinery that brought Roswell to Earth, and unfortunately to the American/Mexican border, there is a disregard for the great things that this spacecraft could teach earthlings, and in this case especially Americans. In the case of Roswell, he brings a UFO, but for the immigrants he represents there are skills, experiences and cultures that can be shared if it were not necessary to thoughtlessly destroy these things at the border.
In conclusion, this short comic can communicate through images and text more clearly than can our hyper-realistic news system can in many cases. It is helpful to take a step back from the political lens through which our news is filtered and try to see the humans and individuals that are the source of the debates. They are not just filler video clips for the news channels. They are real individuals with fears and needs and ambitions and they are only criminals once they take one step too far north of an imaginary line. The border patrol agent in the comic had the chance to “love” and “serve” his adopted country while the other immigrant, for lack of a piece of paper or whatever other reason, was branded a criminal and de-humanized. I hope that this one page comic elaboration on the predicament of immigrants from the 1996 issue of Hot Mexican Love Comics can provide us with an additional lens by which we can view the multifaceted hyper-reality of our lives.