Posts Tagged ‘21st century’

The History of the World in America

May 25, 2008

Traveling Europe, one is enmeshed in a profound history reminiscent of Tolkien´s Middle Earth.  The oaks of Gernika which give the Basques shade also survived both world wars and a bloody civil war as well.  The cathedrals like St. Maria´s in Vitoria or the Cathedral in Burgos have endured the changing of styles, religions, plagues, and multiple conquests, and are still being updated and remodeled today.  Murallas, or city walls, have lasted far beyond their initial purpose of staving of the Moors, or the Romans, or the Crusaders, or the Vikings.  Storefronts and house facades have seen a seemingly infinite cycle of businesses, hopes, and dreams flow through their doors.  Traditional music harks back centuries, foods to times immemorable.  One is overwhelmed with the constant reminders of mankind´s propensity for benificence, penchant for creativity, susceptibility to power´s corrupting influence, and ability to endure, endure, endure.

 America makes up for its lack of profound history with its wide open spaces, its distances which both offer hope and anonymity.  This fledgling country has struggled and largely succeeded in creating a rich history in a matter of centuries.  Being young, it still views itself outside of the history of the rest of the world.  Being new, the United States has been able to escape some of the deep-rooted tribal wars, linguistic and cultural disparities, and woeful dictatorships which have shaped so much of the rest of the world.  Being still green, the United States has been able to be progressive and forward thinking at a rate much faster than more established nations in the rest of the world. 

However, in the past few decades, America has seemingly tried to catch up with the rest of the world´s bloody history by becoming the aggressor and instigator in several violent conflicts which have destroyed nations and families while bolstering our military power in a time when nations should be disarming.  Caught up in a global power struggle for economic dominance, we have been unable to ensure all citizens are ensured basic medical care which is standard throughout the E.U. and our neighbor Canada.  The American motto seems to be that if businesses succeed, then people will also succeed.  In Europe, I have lived with the opposite, this philosophy that if people benefit then surely businesses will also prosper by proxy.  And now our xenophobic and nativist sentiments have become so loud that we are already constructing portions of a 700-mile border wall on our nation´s southern border. 

Traveling Europe, it is impossible to ignore how every decision is steeped in history and every choice has far-reaching repercussions.  Haphazard borders have plagued Europe every bit as much as Asia and Africa.  Rigid borders ignore real problems and so also avoid real solutions.  Rather than focusing on renewed diplomacy and meaningful compromise, borders insist that neighboring countries can continue existing despite a gross disparity of wealth, rights, and standard of living just across an imaginary line. 

The permeability of the E.U.’s open borders should be a model of the rest of the world. Though not perfected as yet, the idea of flexible borders legitimizes the basic human propensity and right to migrate.  It has occurred for thousands and thousands of years, from Phoenicians to the Gaels, from Vikings to African tribes, from the Moors to the Hebrews, from the Greeks to the Romans, from the Gauls and the Polynesians to the Huns and the Mongolians, from the Persians and Babylonians to the Egyptians and Europeans.  Humans migrate.  To deny this basic fact by erecting impassable borders or sinister Secure Fences is to design a system which, by definition, must fall because it is contrary to natural law. 

As a teacher, it pains me to think of the billions which have been spent and the billions proposed to be spent on the completion of a border wall touted as a stalling tactic for immigration.  Working with eager ESL students and their families desiring assimiliation, I weep to think of how much those billions of dollars could mean for their integration into modern American society.  For in the end, the history of the world teaches us that it is not conquest but community that matters, integration not destruction, assimilation not annihilation, love and not fear, nonviolence and not violence.  Dr. King warned us that, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  I believe MLK would also have extended this apt warning to programs such as anti-immigration tactics like border walls.  Nations which spend more money on separation than integration are bound for disaster.  Countries which hold national security above international community are in a sad state indeed; as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty or security.” 

From the banks of the Rio Bravo in Texas to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain, the whole world is hoping America will learn from history as it continues to write history in this 21st century.  Our legacy is yet unfinished; we still have time to stop such medieval gestures as a border wall and to regain our place as a progressive nation embracing the global community.   

A Strange Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2008

    This St. Patrick’s Day is markedly different than all others past. I came to school today not clad in traditional green, but wearing overalls and a plain white t-shirt. Ringing in my ears were not the Gaelic jigs and Celtic reels but rather the worker chants and the pro-immigrant songs we sang over the past nine days’ march from Roma to Brownsville. I thought less today about the military Molly Maguire’s and their violent fight for worker’s rights and instead meditated on Cesar Chavez’s fasts for his people and Martin Luther King’s words of empowerment and hope. Today was less about nationalism and more about opposing nativism, less about drinking beer and more about living in such a way as to forward the cause of the immigrant, wherever he or she may originate.

    My great-great grandparents came from County Mayo, Sligo, and County Cork. They came to escape the ravages of the potato blight and the resulting famines. They came seeking a better life, and they found it buried deep in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Towns like Carbondale and Mauch Chunk welcomed them and buried them in their strip-mined hillsides. But, as is always the case with immigrants, they managed to survive and hew out a life for themselves in this America they helped create.

    It was their backs that fed coal into the iron-horses which shrank this vast country into a two-day trip. It was their leadership and collective bargaining powers which scared groups like the Know-Nothings, the first political party formed with the aim of opposing a specific immigrant group. They were able to overcome religious persecution, employer discrimination, and widespread xenophobia to become rightful heirs of the American dream.

 

    This past week, walking alongside many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, I was reminded of the Batalia de San Patricio, the group of Irish soldiers who defected to the Mexican Army during the Mexican-American War. There was and is so many similarities between those Irish immigrants of yesteryear and the immigrants of today. Both groups rely heavily on their faith in a God who champions the cause of the poor and the sojourner. Both of these immigrants focus on family values and a strong work ethic. Both the Irish of the late 1800s and the Mexicans of the early 21st century are immigrant groups which are being slandered for their desire to come to this land for a better life. News about both of these groups has centered on an “invasion” or any number of natural disaster metaphors such as “flood of immigrants,” “drain on the economy,” and “wave after wave of workers.” None of these nativist metaphors are new – no, they have been around since people first started emigrating to new lands. It is this brand of hateful rhetoric that spurred the command in Leviticus 19:34, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as the native among you, and you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

 

 

    As I teach my class today, I am standing in front of them not as a college graduate, a son of Pennsylvania, a Texas-certified teacher, or a social activist. I stand before them in overalls and my walking shoes as the son of immigrants. There is a solidarity here which we must not deny. I do not believe in otherness; if we believe that every man, woman, and child bears the indelible image of God and the spark of the divine, we can never separate ourselves from one another. We are inextricably caught up in an “inescapable network of mutuality, tied up in a single garment of destiny,” and that means that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As King also stated, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter;” this happens for the sheer fact that in not speaking up for the rights of others we are not speaking up for the rights of ourselves and future generations.

    To all those immigrants, past, present and future, I impart this traditional Irish blessing: “Céad míle fáilte romhat!” or “A hundred thousand welcomes to you.”


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