Posts Tagged ‘xenophobic’

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.   

Insider, Outsider – Is that the question?

March 31, 2008
No Border Wall Walk- Day 8

During the No Border Wall Walk this part March 8-16, thousands of people honked encouragement as we walked 126 miles from Roma to Brownsville. Thousands of people smiled, dozens of people generously donated food and drinks for us, and scores of churches supported our efforts.

However, when a Brownsville Herald journalist interviewed me at the final Sunday rally, one of her remarks was that some people had been complaining that “Webster” is not a Mexican surname and that this was an event organized by “outsiders.” At first, I didn’t understand these individuals’ comments. As a high-school teacher on the border for two years, I feel invested and accepted by this border community in such a way that I do not feel as if I were a Pennsylvania Yankee or a New York native.

As I regained my composure, many thoughts congealed simultaneously. I probably answered her question too many ways for her to use it in any of the articles in the Brownsville Herald. One of my remarks was that this was not organized by outsiders. It was maintained and staffed and sustained by faith groups all throughout the Valley. Additionally, any one of us who was born in another state was passionate enough about these border issues to move to la frontera, and so even if our birthplace was different our hearts were similar. I also mentioned that this was not the cause of an outsider – I pray to God I would be as passionate about these same moral issues if I were still residing in farmtown Troy, Pennsylvania.

I continued to respond to these desparaging comments by stating that our inspiration for this march, the Selma to Montgomery March 43 years ago, was supervised by a great man who was also criticized as being an outsider. Martin Luther King responded to his countless critics by writing that,

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” (Why We Can’t Wait, 77)

Dr. King realized that no one can ever truly be criticized for being an outsider if they are working to right injustice. If any injustice weakens the entire bedrock of Justice in the United States, it is everyone’s responsibility, “outsider” or indigenous, to strive for a more just system.

Lastly, as the reporter moved on to the next question, I circled back to the idea behind the border wall walk. I teach 130 high-school students every day, and while I do impart the fundamentals of vocabulary, grammar, and literary analysis, it is my utmost desire that they will be more ready for life when they leave my door for the last time, not just for 10th grade. These lives in my charge will be directly affected by a border wall, and so I cannot just simply ignore the Secure Fence Act of 2006. It is precisely because some individuals in this country have deemed certain people “illegal” and criminal, undocumented and therefore undesirable, that such a xenophobic act as a wall is even being discussed. The idea of any or all of the 300+ participants in this nonviolent demonstration being “outsiders” is precisely the idea the No Border Wall Walk targeted. If we were able to educate just a few individuals that the border wall is not going through barren wasteland but backyards, not desert but downtowns, not lonely no-man’s-land but through men and women’s lives, then our walk was a success. I pray we succeeded in bringing people back to a point where they could civilly discuss the issues of immigration and see the issue in terms of people instead of insiders and outsiders, those with rights and those without.

The question of “insider” or “outsider” should only be asked by navel-gazers staring at their bellybuttons. As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11 NIV) We must cultivate a national mentality that views people as assets, one which seeks to recognize that divine spark, that image of God endowed in each and every one of us. I wish my response to the readers and commentators of the Brownsville Herald had been, “Well, here there is no Mexican or American, Texan or Tamaulipan, illegal or extralegal, Spanglish Spanish or English, insider or outsider, but Christ is all and is in all.”

America – The Story of Integration

March 21, 2008

    This past week, Obama gave a speech for the ages when he openly confronted the issue of race in a conciliatory fashion. Like him or not, the speech was noteworthy in that it spoke to the future of the United States.  The “more perfect union” he addresses is one in which every little boy and every little girl is afforded the same opportunity to participate in our country’s democracy.  To be successful, we must integrate.

    American history is a long story of integration. Our greatest successes have been ones of inclusion, from Emancipation Proclamation to the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. The most abysmal times in our nation’s history, similarly, have been those times when our nation was most segregated. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow Laws, and the long residue of the original sin of slavery are just some examples of the sad moments in our nation’s history when it has refused equal access or equal rights to all its people.

    Our story is one of integration, and it must continue to be so if we are to continue to live up to our moral and social potential. Currently, our country has some 12-20 million people residing and working within our borders who have been refused the rights, protections, and opportunities most basic to the American story. The same individuals decrying these workers’ rights smack of the same rhetoric segregationists employed with chilling effect in the 1950s and 1960s.

    When my great-great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland to these United States, they were greeted by Army recruiters like so many immigrants. The military has always been ready to bestow citizenship on those immigrants who would be willing to die for their newly adopted country. How much more impactful would it be if our nation were to tender the same means to earned citizenship for workers who have been contributing to, but not benefiting from, Social Security and taxes all these years? To truly call ourselves an “integrated” nation, we must move beyond the rhetoric of black and white and extend the discussion to human beings with and without rights.

    Harvard Professor Charles V. Willie once stated that school desegregation was worlds better than it was 50 years ago, but only nominally different than it was 30 years ago. This idea of an unacceptable plateau can be equally applied to the issue of immigration. Our nation’s immigration policies are more just than they were in the 1920s, when nation of origin and the idea of a racial ratio became the measuring device for who could and could not immigrate legally. However, our nation’s current immigration legislation is much more backward, prohibitive, and segregated than it was 150 years ago before nativistic policies began stemming the full integration of immigrants.

    The United States must decide that it has to abolish the class of illegal immigrants, not through massive and fiscally prohibitive deportations but rather through laws which would moralize the quota system, enhance family reunification policies, allow all students to pursue higher education, and extend a means to earned citizenship for our nation’s extralegal working class. Integration must advance from the limited fields of voter rights and school systems to the heart of civil rights, which is equality for all. Dr. King famously stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” that “Anyone who lives within the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” The civil rights movement of this past century stemmed from the migration of peoples and sought to reconcile their rights. For the sake of American history and our country’s future, we must apply this same reconciliation and extend this same palm branch of redemption to those working families who have migrated or would wish to migrate here. Our future depends on the integration of everyone, the full participation of every resident in the American dream. As Joel Millman writes in his book The Other Americans, “Our future is being born today in a village somewhere far away. Our welfare depends on the quality of our welcome when that future arrives.”


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