lunes, 16 de agosto de 2010

"us" and "them"

I have spent some time recently poking around for insight into the immigration debate in the US, to see what the proposals are and what the rhetoric is. And while the banner drop in Phoenix (as part of protests against the Arizona law) puts a big smile on my face, the vast majority of the discourse and sentiment leaves me dumbfounded. Anger and fear abound, while real conversation about all of the realities of the immigration issue has been left out, completely.

In mainstream media, there seems to be no talk of the hundreds of people this year alone that have died of thirst, heat stroke, exhaustion or hunger while trying to cross the Arizona desert to feed their families. Certainly not about the situations of poverty and lack of opportunity and employment and hunger and, yes, violence that push people out of their homelands and communities, and never discussion about the US policies that exacerbate—if not create—these situations.

I'm not in the United States to witness the immigration debate. I know that not all people share the hateful, ignorant, bigoted, racist ideas that have left me angered, heartbroken, speechless. I know that not all people share these ideas, and man actively oppose them. And not all people in the US have had the opportunity to live outside of their country, to experience other realities and walk alongside the people whose futures and livelihoods this debate so coldly banters around. And not all people in the United States have a vision of history beyond a fourth grade textbook or a connection to native America.

But for me, as someone who has had these experiences, I cannot understand. I don't understand why people are so angry at the poor, at those who are so poor that they are forced to leave everything they know and love to risk life and limb on a journey where rape, extortion, robbery, extreme violence, trains, police, gangs, drug traffickers, human traffickers are a constant threat only to arrive in a place where people hate them because they are brown. So angry to argue:

The only answer is for all illegals to be arrested, imprisoned for a short while & then deported. We need to create a no-man's land along the Mexican border where those who venture into it will be shot on sight!
(-one of the many responses to Dean Brackley's article on immigration, a highly suggested read.)

Instead of being angry with the poor and with migrants, why aren't we angry with the wealthy, who have so much; multiple homes—mansions—half-million dollar cars, machines and gadgets and staff for everything, money and influence to buy the public debate on any issue that may affect them? Why aren't we angry with the system, that encourages a very few to have everything and by design leaves the majority trampled underfoot, or trampling each other to get a leg up?

I find the argument that there isn't enough to go around deeply offensive. There is poverty in the US, there are people without access to healthcare, there are social problems and injustice and unemployment. But there is also so, so, so much more—in terms of opportunities, for work, for education, for a better life, for survival. More than enough to go around.

Why aren't we angry with ourselves, who have more than we need to be comfortable, certainly more than we need to survive, and yet cannot seem to open ourselves to give to those who have next to nothing?


I simply do not understand how your perspective of history can be so short that you, in Arizona,* sacred land, could forget where that land came from. Forget who was there before you, and what was done to those people to forcibly, violently tear them from their land, and consequently destroy the way of life that was led on it for thousands of years. And this is not ancient history, so long ago that we can argue an excuse to have forgotten.

From this historical perspective, I do not understand how white men can stand on earth that did not belong to them and say, brown people, out.

If the debate, in such a capitalist and individualist society, is going to be a racist debate centered around who owns the land and who has a right to be on it by the grace of where they were born, hence defining who is “legal” or not, then white people, out. Brown people—the Mexicans and the Native Americans—have a right to that land, not you. They are the “legals.” Not English only, but native languages and native tribes and rites and customs that date back centuries before your arbitrary division of land into nationstates, as if it were pirate's booty. These peoples have a right to demand back taxes—for three centuries—not you, and bring you to justice, not for petty crimes like blocking traffic while looking for a day's work or driving without a license, but for the wholesale slaughter of their people.

When one side argues for a policy of “get out or we'll shoot on sight,” I'm enraged. Enraged, and ashamed, to be associated by citizenship with people that hold these views.

It seems that instead of wanting to engage in a public conversation about the future of the US and public policy, immigration hits so close to home for so many people that it has become impossible to have a civilized conversation with someone who holds a different view than we do. Our hearts and ears are completely closed to the other side; we're blind and screaming, at the top of our lungs. And this afternoon, I feel like screaming, too.


We could hope that the conversation, someday, could advance beyond “us” and “them,” beyond a narrow vision of me and mine, to include all people, regardless of nationality, of race, of religion, of color, of sexual orientation, of class. That our conversation could begin with compassion, understanding, love and a desire to have a more complete vision of the situation before making decisions or advocating for policies. I hope that we can stop hating and fearing for long enough to see that the people we have been trained to fear and hate are just that—people.

Men and women and children, who are lovers and fighters and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and dreamers. Who like singing in the shower, too, even if their shower is more like a bucket and a basin than hot, running water. Whose greatest priority, too, is their family, and then their community. Who aren't criminals or terrorists, but were pushed out of their homeland by crime and terrorism, both conventional and economic. Who are not lazy, but willing to work three under-paid jobs that many North Americans would never dream of taking, even in an economic crisis, to put food on a table in a place where otherwise, people would go hungry. Who worked for alternatives and opportunities and local development, but found US-imposed capitalist globalization simply too monolithic to overcome and had no other choice. Many of whom want to go home, but can't, and many of whom want to make a new home in the place they have lived and grown and loved and labored for years.

*Clearly, it isn't just a handful of Arizonians that think this way, but an entire country. I wrote this at the time the Arizona law was about to go into effect, which is why this is directed at Arizona.

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