In Part 1, we drew attention to an important event: in 2007, Texas rapper Chingo Bling released the recording They Can’t Deport Us All. Bling’s record is a brilliant, inspired work of parodic agit-prop, rooted in the polyglot, underground hip-hop tradition of Houston. Promotions for They Can’t Deport Us All playfully modified the yellow, diamond-shaped signs that one often sees near the US-Mexico border—a haunting silhouette of an adult man, woman, and a female child (signified by flying pigtails), hand in hand, running (from what, and towards where?).
As we noted in Part I, Bling’s aesthetic interventions struck a nerve. Billboards and promotional vans were riddled with gunshots. And recall Michelle Malkin’s comments of August 2007:
Understand this: The adoption of Chingo’s “They can’t deport us all” mantra is the adoption of a radically ruinous open-borders fallacy. Since we “can’t deport them all,” they argue, we should deport no one. To the likes of Chingo, national security concerns are a joke. Border Patrol officers are pigs. And jihad is a joke…
It is unlikely that anyone has ever confused Michelle Malkin with a logician, but even according to the flexible standard against which we might measure her capacity for consistent thought, this is an odd series of statements. The oddness derives primarily from the fact that Chingo Bling is obviously correct: however parsed, “they can’t deport us all.”
In the next installment of this essay, we will try to take up the various possible meanings of “they can’t deport us all,” drawing on Jacques Lacan’s notion of the “pas-tout” or “not-all” and Alain Badiou’s reflections on this idea in his work on Intuitionist logic. We will want to emphasize the complexity of the phrase “they can’t deport us all,” a slogan that puts into question who “they” are, who “us” is, what it means to “deport,” and crucially, what “all” means.
Here, let’s take a look at some of the more obvious meanings of “they can’t deport us all.”
“Whites cannot deport all Latina/os,” or “the state, at the behest of whites, cannot deport all Latina/os”: this is perhaps the meaning that leaps to mind first, and, of course, Chingo Bling is correct. The operation “deport them all” is impossible. Surely Michelle Malkin knows that this is true.
Is what Malkin really enraged at the implication of Chingo Bling’s rallying cry: “They Can’t Deport Me” (signaled by the gleeful fence-jumping of the album’s cover art)?
Perhaps. There is a gleeful anarchic comedy about all this—the sort of thing that would drive anyone with a rage for order insane––as in a verse of the title track wherein Bling provides some family history:
Big Uncle Sam in that white and green van
Why you chased my daddy uh? Why you make him ran?
On the 25th of august 1969
Yeah, he crossed with a trampoline, not with a passport
The image of Chingo Bling’s father jumping over the border on a trampoline is a beautifully anarchic and comedic one, illustrative of the plastic force that meets the rigid policing fantasies of thinkers like Malkin when confronted by the vicissitudes of governmentality. “Controlling populations” across borders, it turns out, is a difficult business, at least when trampolines are lying around.
From a different perspective, the American state cannot deport “them all” because it quite literally lacks the repressive force for mass deportation (at over two million deported humans under the Obama administration, it is doing its best).
At the level of ideology, to complete the genocidal work of a defining a “them” against an “us” and ridding the country of every last “them” would be suicidal—achievable only as a structurally impossible paranoid fantasy.
Finally, most importantly perhaps, at the level of political economy, the system is working. Post-NAFTA, capital has come to quite like the situation of hyper-precarity and violence in Mexico, informal labor markets in agriculture and building trades in the US. American corporations profit from every aspect of the arrangement: systemic skimming of paychecks (either in the case of employers who suddenly disappear when the job is over or money-transfer and check-cashing services that charge usurious fees), and suppression of collective bargaining impulses under threat of deportation, not to mention the steady supply of narcotics to American consumers. In the randomness, unpredictability, absurdity of this state of conditional life, capitalism has found its new frontier of proletarianization—a particular form of sadism and discipline that discourages collective action and motivates moving on rather staying and fighting the epidemic wage theft, exploitation, and harassment experienced by immigrants on and off the job. “They” can’t “deport them all” because to do so would be to lose an extraordinary amount of money and to introduce a new level of risk and uncertainty into financial markets.
Thus, at the simplest level, what Malkin objects to is Chingo Bling’s illumination of capitalism’s obscene internal logic—if “they” all can’t be deported, though that would follow rationally from a strict anti-immigrant legalism, couldn’t we deport a few of “them,” at least?
I am lingering with Malkin because she distills the crucial logic at work in so-called “immigration debates,” the shared premises that link a Barack Obama to a Tom Tancredo. Chingo Bling offends Malkin because “They Can’t Deport Us All” secretly means: “Since we ‘can’t deport them all’… we should deport no one.” What all politicians, on all sides, agree upon is this: someone should be deported. We return to the logical operation conducted by Woody Guthrie in one of his most effective interventions, the 1961 song “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportees)”: wherein Guthrie names his friends (“Goodbye my Juan, goodbye Rosalita”) and contrasts this named-ness, what Levinasians might call a certain face-having-ness, to the anonymity of the official report (“the radio says they are just deportees”).
Part of the difficulty with immigrants’ rights politics—here, I should make clear that I am a partisan of a “no one is illegal,” or perhaps more accurately, “no one is legal,” line (as a co-panelist at a conference recently suggested), which is to say that I am for open borders and the immediate naturalization of all current residents of the United States––is that the Levinasian moment of recognition can become a substitute for the radical changes that a proper ethics of hospitality demands.
The given humanity of a “Juan” here or a “Rosalita” there might be acknowledged, then; a pardon granted, a conditional pass given. This remains, however, within the political-theological confines of old-fashioned sovereignty: the selective pardon (the more theatrical and publicized the better) has always been crucial to the operation of the state. In this traditional articulation of sovereign power, the one exception is granted in order to perpetuate the subjugation of the population as a whole. (In this sense, there is a tremendous resonance with the logic of carnival; both dynamics are interwoven in the ostensibly idiotic—it is the one time of year when one is commanded to get outrageously intoxicated––but secretly profound Jewish holiday of Purim, which happens at around this time of year).
What Chingo Bling achieves with They Can’t Deport Us All is an escape from this double-bind. I am going to suggest that They Can’t Deport Us All works is a way quite similar to Jacques Rancière’s key phrase “anyone and everyone”—more precisely, the notion of “the equality of anyone and everyone”––as the foundational term of democratic politics (with “democracy” a term that Rancière wants to insist remains a radical potential, not a name for Western-style parliamentary liberalism).
Malkin wishes to be able to deport “anyone and everyone,” which might also mean “anyone-as-a-substitute-for-everyone.” To be counted by authorities in a set that functions under the condition “subject to random attention/deportability”—this is what Malkin wants for darker-skinned people in the United States, because “national security concerns” and “jihad” are not jokes, though it is hard to see what they have to do with Chingo Bling in Houston, Texas.
Chingo Bling answers with They Can’t Deport Us All’s title track. The song begins with an ostentatiously ham-fisted guitar lick, looping over and over. It is the sort of “chicken-picking” figure (so named because of its rhythmic mimicry of the clucking of barnyard fowl, conjured forth by muted and choked notes) that signals a particularly Texan inflection of modern country in advertisements, soundtrack cues, cartoons.
Immediately, we ask: what is this figure doing on a hip-hop track? We quickly learn the answer: its function is cinematic, scene-setting. We cue up the album, expecting to enter the aural universe of Chingo Bling (to the degree we have expectations, let’s say that we predict certain spaces of festivity and enjoyment, certain evocations of Chicana/o life in the US Southwest, certain fantasy zones). Instead, we are immediately transported to someplace unexpected, to a site of hellish danger and ludicrous incompetence. The sonic mise-en-scene calls to mind Paredes and the sheriff who is “interpreted to death.” We are at the border.
Using an exaggerated drawl and growl, Bling assumes the role of white border cop: “bring out the guard dogs!” The track circles around itself via digital delay and echo. “There’s been an invasion!” “Yeah, you run!” Get ‘em boy, get ‘em!”
This intro prepares the listener for the arrival of the beat (with strong drum hits wedded to heavy metal power chord stabs, calling to mind classic Run DMC and Beastie Boys singles). Chingo Bling’s assumption of the role of Malkinian border authority is now refigured as anacrusis—retroactively situated as that which was to be interrupted by Chingo Bling the rapper. The fantasies set in motion by the country guitar loop (a certain set of scenes of Texas, beer commercials, trucks, the Alamo, line-dancing, what have you) are now subsumed beneath a question mark: the longer riff becomes a single note (along the way we are reminded of the intimate proximity of country and funk guitar styles)…
The song’s vocal hook accompanies the arrival of the beat: “They Can’t Deport Us All/We’re Gonna Knock Down the Wall” repeated over and over, delivered in Bling’s characteristically hushed, secretive, confidential tone. What happens next is remarkable. The anacrusis returns, but now totally altered. Chingo Bling’s hapless Texas lawman, red-faced and sweat-drenched (we imagine) now rants over the beat: “It’s been an invasion! That’s all we need now! Red Alert” (dogs barking)… Get ‘em boy! Y’all better hightail them on back to Mexico!”
Earlier, we considered Bruce Fink’s synthesis of Lacan’s notion of “scanding” as a procedure wherein “the analyst, trained to detect…rhetorical ploys, learns where to intervene in order to undo them,” and proposed this formulation as a possible answer to the question of what we are looking for when we say we wish to map a “politics of interruption.” What Chingo Bling is up to in “They Can’t Deport Us All,” I think, is exactly this: detecting rhetorical ploys, learning (and teaching) where to intervene in order to undo them. Perhaps it is this that makes Michelle Malkin so angry.
 See Leslie Berestein, “Highway Safety Sign Becomes Running Story on Immigration” San Diego Union-Tribune, April 10, 2005, for a fascinating story of the Caltrans graphic designer who came up with the sign. http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050410/news_1n10signs.html