Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Castle Clinton, Then and Now

October 13, 2008

Last week, I heard the best compliment about the United States. Two LLM international law students from Ghana were talking about their lasting impressions of the United States and the University of Minnesota Law School, respectively. Unlike Europe, they both said, no one in the U.S. has ever asked them when they were going to leave.

This could be written off as merely overblown American pride. But it could also be the expression of something much deeper, much more important. Perhaps Brihan and Peter have never been asked about their exit because it is assumed they are here to stay and succeed, like so many other immigrants before them. And although the melting pot is a flawed metaphor, the beauty is that everyone is accepted because everyone is assumed to be striving for the same acceptance, same success, the same happiness.

Yesterday I found myself at Castle Clinton in Battery Park of New York City. Standing inside the circular battlements first designed to ward of the British in the War of 1812, I thought of the new welcome people receive coming to our shores. Since the World Trade Center towers fell just a few blocks from here, America has doubled its Border Patrol agents, tripled its budget, and is spending millions deporting some 250,000 extralegal immigrants every year (http://visalawcanada.blogspot.com/2008/10/interesting-perspective-on-canada-us.html). Lines lengthen on our northern border and nativism heightens on our southern boundary in the form of a border wall. Gone are the orange cones between Vermont and Canada which once designated the border and represented our mutual trust.

In 2001, Tom Ridge was instrumental in passing the Smart Accords, border security measures which simultaneously attempted to curb criminal activity on the border while expediting legitimate economic activity. The idea was to “manage risk” by submitting questionable vehicles to lengthy inspection while speeding daily commuters through on their weekday drive from Detroit to Windsor. Canada even went so far as offering the United States a section of Canadian ground for pre-clearance facilities, to cut down on border wait times. The U.S. government, however, pushed for full sovereignty on Canadian soil, and so this Smart Accords measure has stalled.

Our nation’s economic recession changes nothing in the way of its pull for immigrants. While Americans may feel that the “economic crisis” is being borne hardest by us, this is simply not the truth. Any look at international exchange rates or foreign papers will show the fear and downward plunge of foreign markets. No, this change in economy will not solve our immigration problems any more than a wall will. As Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has stated, our country has posted both “Help Wanted” and “No Trespassing” signs – only one of which it is possible for us to change immediately (Heyer, Kristin http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=11117). With hate crimes against Hispanics on the rise 25% since 2004, it is clear that the xenophobia behind the protectionist anti-immigrant sentiments is alive and well. May we learn to welcome the stranger among us.

It is clear that our current frenzy of border security measures has only rerouted undocumented immigration into more dangerous, tougher-to-enforce areas. While apprehensions in San Diego dropped by two-thirds from 1994-2000, the deaths have skied to more than 1,000 since the turn of the century(in contrast, 300 people died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall throughout its entire 28 years of operation). http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12332971)

As I turn around, taking in Castle Clinton and the unique view of Ellis Island from its stone archway, I think of the 8 million immigrants who came here before it closed its doors in 1890. My ancestors received basic healthcare exams and a brief orientation within these walls before they were set loose on the Pennsylvania coal mines.

New York is a microcosm of American immigration. Walking its streets once again, I am struck by how seamlessly ambassadors from a veritable league of nations pass each other on the busy avenues. In a quiet Midtown café this morning, the barista saw pesos in my hand as I scrambled to make change. “Could I have that to add to my collection?” And in a simple transaction at a café counter between a Minnesota law student and a Kansas-New Yorker, I am reminded how welcoming and curious we Americans truly are. Hopefully our immigrant policies will reflect that in the next presidency.

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.   

Immigration as Nonviolent Tactic

May 22, 2008

¨Those immigrants, we give them everything.  When they have a baby, they receive 2500€ and a cochecito (baby carriage).  And when those babies grow up, they get all the help in the world.  Those immigrant kids get into good schools instead of good Spanish kids who´ve been here and belong here.¨ (A man in Barcelona)

Americans have long been partial to isolationism.  Far too often, we think we are the only country facing certain issues, and therefore we look no further than our own borders for the answers to issues the entire world is facing.  Immigration is not an issue limited to the Rio Grande Valley where the government is so desirous of erecting a border wall, nor is it specific to our fruit fields, urban restaurants, construction sites, or factory jobs.  By definition, immigration is a global issue, a fact which makes a border-wall solution to immigration bitterly laughable. 

Nearly half of extralegal immigrants in the United States came here legally on visas and work permits.  One can look at this and campaign for militaristic campaigns to treat all students and workers on visas as if they were on an extended parole, but that would be missing the point.  The fact is that this makes absolute sense.  Immigration is no longer limited to the Vikings of 500 years ago, nor is one country outsending all the rest (though government officials would have us think our southern neighbor is invading us with good workers, family-oriented individuals, and bilingual neighborhoods).  Students and workers from all over the world come to the United States for a better opportunity, but they do not count on the lack of opportunities for earned citizenship and naturalization.  As a result, hundreds of thousands overstay their visas, holding out hope that one day their opportunity to pursue happiness will be legitimized by the government that invited them here in the first place. 

 Immigration is a global issue, and one which needs global solutions.  If a paranational organization were set up to monitor immigration laws in sending and receiving countries, like the ones which exist for shared water rights and common resources, then perhaps a freer migration pattern could result, one which focused more on the task of assimilation and integration rather than rigid quotas and discrimination.  Embedded in immigration is one answer to the complex problem posed by the disastrous overkill combats of the last century.  Many people wonder if there can be nonviolent solutions for war and conflict, and immigration and emigration, if controlled by an international entity, could sap such dictators and warlords of their necessary resource – “expendable” souls.  Few people praise death and desire war, but out of a sense of duty and/or fear, the poor have always been expected to shoulder the immense burden of war campaigns.  What if Hitler announced his plans to wage all-out war throughout Europe, and half his working class emigrated to Spain in a matter of weeks?  What would happen if countries were held accountable to their constituents not by a vote of paper but by a vote of presence? 

We are entering a new age of globalization, and immigration is surely one of the most exciting aspects of modernity.  Technology has shrunk distances, media has brought divergent cultures together, and ideas are being interchanged at the speed of cyberspace.  Immigration might be the 21st-century answer to empires, dictators, and overpopulation.  Giving people a choice of living conditions could reinforce good policy and punish bad governance.

According to an immigration advocate here, Barcelona is one of the biggest receivers of immigrants in Europe.  Ecuador happens to be the largest sending country, which makes sense based on the linguistic similarities and shared heritage.  However, the number 2 sending country is slightly surprising.  Italy, another nation in the European Union, would hardly seem like a country facing a mass exodus.  However, Italy´s current government is so awful that many Italians are more than willing to immigrate to neighboring Spain, even though it means learning Castellano and Catalan as well as leaving behind their heritage.  A government such as Italy´s cannot continue to make bad decisions, or it soon will be like the ruler alone on his own planet in The Little Prince, with absolute power over no one but himself.

The Differences between Irun and I run…

May 16, 2008

The bay is peaceful, calm.  Fishermen troll both sides of it for merluzza and tuna.  Couples old and young walk the banks of the splashing ocean, taking in the beauty of a sunny afternoon in northern Spain.  Buoys bob, boats float, people talk, couples kiss, and life is as it should be despite the fact that Irun is a border town and the other side of this particular bay is France.

 Seeing people running along the jetties and beachfront sidewalks seems as normal as anchoas (anchovies) or vino tinto here in Pais Vasco. That is, until one thinks about the very different connotations of running here in the borderlands between France and Spain and the highly militarized frontera between Mexico and the United States.  Here, running is a great way to work off late-night tapas or to replace a siesta; in the Rio Grande Valley, however, it can imply that one is guilty of illegal immigration, drug smuggling, or a host of other activities prohibited by either nation´s border governances.  One runs on a sidewalks here in Irun, whereas to run on the southern border of the U.S. means to run on Border Patrol trails and run the risk of having a gun drawn on you or having to show some piece of identification, some sort of explanation.

It wasn´t always this way.  But a few years ago, Texas was alternately a sparsely populated state of Mexico, an independent republic, and then an annexed state in the Union.  The Border Patrol didn´t come into existence until the 1920s, and intense militarization of our nation´s southern border wasn´t realized until the 1990s.  Now however, every person crossing the US-Mexico border is filled with some sort of fear.  For regulars, they worry that if they are stopped and asked to have their car searched, they might not make it to that 8:00 a.m. meeting on time.   For winter Texans, they wonder whether it is legal to purchase cheap medications and transport them across the border.  And Latinos, be they recent immigrants or hand-me-down multigenerationals, are filled with a fear of racial profiling, discrimination, and the trepidation that perhaps they forgot their passport this time. 

It wasn´t always this way.  But a few years ago, France and Spain were at odds.  The ever-wealthy France was continually at odds with a Spain struggling to industrialize and modernize after the repressive Franco regime. The franc perpetually trumped the weak lyra, and the French vacationed on the cheap in every city in Spain.  But, with Spain’s economic rise, immigrant surge, and induction into the European Union, the two countries are coming to an equilibrium.  Brders in the European Union are no longer patrolled, no longer militarized, no longer stigmatized.  Crossing is as easy as walking, driving, jumping, swimming, talking.  It is easy to see the outlandishness of borders when people on both side of the imaginary line speak French and Castellano Spanish, eat seafood and drink wine, wake late and eat even later. 

For some Americans, it is easy to write the E.U. off as being very similar to the United States.  To an outside observer, it might at first seem that the countries of Espana, France, and Romania act very much like Pennsylvania and New York.  However, striking similarities bely the stark differences between these two situations.  In the E.U., countries apply for induction.  Nations maintain most of their autonomy, whereas states in the U.S. are mostly subsidiaries of the Federal government.  Additionally, whereas the United States had but a single civil war some 160 years ago, Europe has been torn by civil conflicts, dictators, marauders, raiders, and world wars for centuries.  Therefore, though the borders with the E.U. act very similarly to states in the U.S., it is no small feat.  The E.U.´s continued success speaks to the power of nonviolence over violence – what no war was ever able to accomplish (peace, mutual benefits, prosperity), the E.U. has been able to produce through diplomacy, compromise, and networking.   

The E.U. is far from perfected, but from where I sit on this side of the Atlantic, the United States could do well to model its North American policies after the European model.  Instead of perpetuating an outdated, self-limiting agreement such as NAFTA, we must rethink and reevaluate our relationships with Canada and Mexico.  The very issue of immigration is a symptom of our failure to properly address relations with our neighbors near and far.  And even though Italy´s restrictive immigration policies are cracking down by raiding Romanian ¨gypsy¨camps while Spain´s liberal immigration policies are humanely allowing extranjeros (literally strangers) a chance of earned citizenship, the E.U. at least is attempting to forge a copartnership where borders are less important than relationships and mutually beneficial arrangements trump xenophobic patriotism. 

Pais Vasco & Northern Ireland – The Triumph of Nonviolence & the Futility of Terror

May 12, 2008

The tree is a gutted stump.  Leafless and hollow, rootless and pale, it’s only apparent purpose seems to be as an up-ended boat, perhaps, or a reminder of the ravages of time.  This old robla, or oak tree, however, symbolizes the home rule of an entire region named Pais Vasco in northern Spain.  In its gnarled trunk and knotty bark is contained the story of terror, hate, rebellion, nonviolence, and diplomacy. 

Much like Northern Ireland had its Troubles, Vasco still has its ETA.  The ETA is a nationalist terrorist group who continues to perpetuate a self-defeating cycle of violence to plead for Vasco’s secession from Spain.  A clear minority, especially in cosmopolitan cities such as Bilbao, the ETA and Northern Ireland’s IRA both have hurt public opinion via their efforts, detracting from the largely successful nonviolent diplomacy of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement or the Vasco home-rule compromise.  Both of these nonviolently reshaped their countries, permitting a peaceful resolution to decades-old problems of colonialism and home-rule rebellions.

The forest here is beautiful and full.  Acorns adorn the ground, just as they surely did in the 10th and 11th centuries when the first Vasque representatives met around an oak tree to discuss commonalities and compromises.  They developed a charter and representatives from each of every town in the region, so that all had a say in collective decisions.  Because of their unique form of democracy, they abolished torture and instituted habeus corpus much earlier than the rest of Europe during the Dark Ages.  Aroun this oak tree in Gernika, the Vasques could gather, despite their regional dialectical differences and provincial distinctions, to dialogue and come to working solutions.

Picasso\'s Guernica

All changed, though, with repression beginning in the late 1800s.  During the Spanish Civil War, the anti-Franco opposition centered in the Vasque region.  On April 26, 1937, Franco’s troops destroyed Gernika, burning it to the ground not because it was a military base or an important port, but because it stood as the heart of the citizenry of Pais Vasco.  Franco wanted to send tremors through the heart of the resistance, and that end he demolished centuries-old cathedrals, leveled familial homes, and destroyed most the meeting hall dating back nine centuries.  The oak tree was obliterated in this intense bombing.

But even violence can be redeemed, even hate can be cured.  Today a new tree grows in the old one’s place, right next to the Meeting Hall where Pais Vasco governs itself with home rule within the constraints of Spain.  Euskara, the official Vasque language which is a unique cross between Romanian and Finnish, is taught in the primarios right alongside Castellano Spanish.  The ETA, with all its bluster and hate, has killed 1000 people in the last 40 years, including a parking lot I used in Santender.  But largely, the people here have developed a workable peace with the rest of Spain and the E.U. 

The First of May – the International Day of Workers for Everywhere but the U.S.

May 2, 2008

Yesterday was the first of May.  In the United States, the day would have passed like any other Thursday.  I would have gone to school, taught my immigrant students English as a second language, and would have returned to my house to lesson plan and prepare for another day´s work.  Here in Santiago, however, May 1 is an important holiday.  Not only does it mark the Ascension of Christ – it also is the day to celebrate workers all around the world.  All across Europe, this day is remembered, but here in Galicia El Dia de los Trabajadores is an important festival, all the more important now that immigrants have internationalized the Spanish workforce. 

The narrow cobbled streets here in Santiago are teeming with people, but it is hard to pay them mind.  Vendors are standing in their doorways, offering passersby free samples of the traditionaly Galician almond cookie.  Gaelic bagpipe bands march through the streets, their beautiful music reverberating off the ancient facades of Santiago´s downtown.  I am fortunate enough to witness a traditional Gallegos dance, where the men jig around women who balance a giant loaf of bread upon their heads.  The symbolism for the working class is clearcut, yet hauntingly beautiful – it would do the United States well to have a dance on MTV celebrating life´s simple gifts of our daily bread and friendship.

Above the plaza, the park is full of people.  Pulperias sell grilled octopus, churrerias hawk tasty churros in chocolate, and gitanos advertise their carnival rides to anyone who will listen. It is a veritable sea of people, a river of workers celebrating their collective productivity and diversity as they chomp on cotton candy and ride kiddie rides.  Atop the ferris wheel, I view the entire 100,000 people of Santiago from a vantage point on par with the highest peak of the Saint James Cathedral.  It is easy to be filled with awe when one stops to think about the magnitude of so many life-works going on right now, and I rededicate myself to advocating for the migrant workers who hope to contribute their life´s work to a new country.

The mass at La Cathedral de Apostolo Santiago de Compostelo is stunning.  It is part holy, part bazaar.  Hundreds and hundreds of people mill around the main wings of the church as the various priests conduct the mass.  Dozens of confessional booths are set up for busy workers to confess on this rare weekday holiday.  A red light above the booth intimates that a priest is ready and waiting to listen.  The interior of the church is amazing.  Gold, which must have taken thousands and thousands of workers´tithes to purchase, is shaped into the most impressive angels and saints and Saviors.  Granite walls echo the message of the Father, and the massive double-breasted organ takes up two entire walls.  When those pipes are filled with the liturgy, it is impossible to ignore the Spirit. 

During the service, I meander behind the cantors.  In the background of the priests, there is a passageway which crosses behind a figure of Jesus.  In keeping with tradition, I give him a quick abrazo like so many millions before me. After this warm hug, I pass beneath the cathedral into the crypt where James the Apostle is believed to be buried.  It is cold, stony, and I pray quickly before leaving. 

For the communion prayer, the ancient priest invites several other priests to say prayers in their language.  It is beautiful to hear bequests to God in Spanish, Gallegos, Italian, German, and French.  The priest closes these prayers by stating that God knows the language of our hearts; every worker in the crowd nods with understanding at this.  Watching the people take communion, I see pilgrims who have walked over 100 miles to finish here at the cathedral in Santiago. I see persons who are obviously staying in the finest hotels, and local workers who have not had a holiday in ages.  I see devout women who remind me of my grandmothers, and proud fathers similar to my own. 

The service finishes with a trademark tradition.  As a traditional zither plays music, 5 priests maneuver a long rope which runs up to the very top of the cathedral´s spire.  A holy incense box swings back and forth, gaining momentum like a kid arcing heavenward at the schoolyard.  The aroma of prayer wafts over the crowd, all of whom snap pictures as if the incense container were a death-defying trapeze artist.  Incense everywhere, all the workers looking up, music harmonizing to the sounds of people praying – every one of us is overwhelmed.  Whether this is the last thing a peregrino pilgrim will see on their Camino de Santiago, or this is merely the capstone of the International Day of Workers, it is a memory which will always mark the first of May for me.  How overwhelming, to think of workers the world over clinging to faith in order to derive meaning from each day´s labor.  From Santiago to San Francisco, from the twin cities of Brownsville and Matamoros to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, my heart goes out to immigrants working thanklessly, yearning for recognition of their work and their lives, longing for basic rights and hope of citizenship.  When next I celebrate the International Day of Workers, I pray that we all will have done something more for the voiceless workers of our world. 

 


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