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Immigrants, We (Don’t Always) Get The Job Done

A few weeks ago, Lin Manuel Miranda released the music video for one of The Hamilton Mixtape’s standout tracks, “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done).” Featuring rappers K’naan, Residente, Riz MC, and Snow Tha Product—all of whom have immigrant backgrounds—the video has quickly gone viral and drawn immense praise. And while it’s undeniable that the video’s visuals are stunning and the lyricism is moving—and I can’t help but sing along with fierce conviction every time I hear the song—its portrayal of immigrants furthers a narrative of deservability and respectability that, frankly, does us a disservice.

The music video takes place on a moving train (possibly a reference to La Bestia, freight trains Central Americans risk their lives riding on their journeys North) as different scenes portray various aspects of the migrant experience. Migrants are seen picking oranges and working tirelessly at restaurants; women are shown sewing the American flag—a clear metaphor for how our labor holds this country together. All of the migrants we see are living and working in substandard conditions. They suffer in silence; invisible and anonymous, all to “get a lap dance from Lady Freedom.” The video sheds light on our hardships and struggles, even depicting sleeping migrants being violently taken by ICE agents (a reality that is only getting worse under the Trump administration). Yet, in trying to portray the migrant experience, the video turns migrants into one-dimensional characters: humble, heroic, noble, self-sacrificing, so “good” that no one should ever question our worth or worthiness.

A six-minute video could never do justice to our varied and complex identities and experiences. I get that. But it’s also possible to do better. It’s possible to advocate for immigrants without falling back on the “deserving,” “good” immigrants, “felons not families” narratives that throw those of us who can’t fall under those categories under the bus. While I understand the impulse to emphasize our goodness, especially as the Trump administration paints us as rapists and criminals to justify our detention and deportation, idealizing migrants as heroes and saints also dehumanizes us. It’s possible to say we belong in this country because the freedom of movement is a basic human right. It’s possible to tell migrant stories and sing freedom songs without claiming that our value comes from “getting the job done.”

Sometimes we don’t get the job done. We fail. We fall. We let people down. Some of us turn down the American dream because we have other dreams. We don’t come, as Residente raps, to build you a castle with “a pick, a shovel, and a rake” but to save enough to build homes for ourselves. We don’t suffer in silence, and we refuse to be America’s ghost writers. We scream; we shout; we take to the streets to demand equal treatment. We won’t accept that our fates are to plant trees and see others enjoy the fruit. We know we deserve more.

K’naan’s anthem heartbreakingly and masterfully explores some of the realities facing our community: life-threatening migratory journeys, workplace abuse, deportation and detention, family separation, and more. It showcases the pain and trauma we endure in this country and challenges narratives that labels us criminals, abusers, and invaders. This is important. But I want more. I’m tired of narratives that see us as deserving only when we suffer and only when we undergo trauma because that’s the price tag that accompanies the American Dream. I want stories and songs that celebrate our presence and call for justice without falling back on narratives about our goodness and heroism. I want to know that if for whatever reason, I fail to get the job done, I will still be welcome here. I will still be worthy.

Header image via Broadway.

Durham, NC

Barbara is a PhD student at The University of North Carolina. She writes about migration, migrant activism and organizing, & intersectional feminism.

Barbara is a PhD student at The University of North Carolina. She writes about migration, migrant activism and organizing, & intersectional feminism.

Read more about Barbara

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