An Exercise in Free Migration

Nacimos Tigres Unidos Ganamos     Sitting in Reynosa, Mexico’s immigration office, my mind easily wanders to frustration with the lines, the forms and formalities. One and a half hours later, my companions and I leave tired yet overjoyed to finally be legally on our way to Monterrey. Our 1.5 hours of inconvenience is but a flicker of the reality of so many immigrants hoping to get in through the unresponsive current quota system. My students, some whose grades beg for the best colleges, are symbolically stuck in this same immigration office with their families, waiting for their number to come up in this life lottery of the highest gravity.

    Idling though a security checkpoint, young Federales no older than my students hold automatic guns to highlight the government’s hard stance on trafficking and immigration. I am struck by the ease with which our car glides past these camouflaged jovenes with their red berets, faces softened as soon as they saw our American license plates. The grace of my United States birthright is overwhelming, utterly unwarranted, and it is striking that the chance of my birth in a Tennessee hospital should allow me to migrate freely and pursue my happiness to the ends of the world. In neutral behind us, stalled at Mexico’s southern border, parked at U.S. Customs and withering in refugee camps – so many other children of God are blacklisted by their birth. The Bible clearly states in Ezekiel 18:20b, “The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” Our immigration system must model for countries everywhere that birthplace and the home of one’s father should not give one undue privilege or unjust disadvantage. Yes, there must be criteria for immigrants, but to discriminate applicants based on their place of birth is all too similar to the Jim Crow laws we abolished not so long ago.

    Eating cabrito at El Rey Del Cabrito, I am assumed to be upstanding and respectable as an American. The waiter treats me with deference, even though I am wearing the wrong futbol jersey. The restaurant’s signs are in English, and throughout the meal we are treated with utmost respect. We are assumed to be legal visitors. How different must it be for those sojourning in Los Estados Unidos? How different to have your skin a synonym for illegality, your accidental accent a sign of guilt, and your work ethic derided on populist television talk shows. Reading the definition of cabrito as “kid,” my mind wanders to wonder how many kids feel trapped and dreamless en la frontera of the American dream, in the shadowlands of public society, squeezed out by the liability of their legality and native language.

    Visiting the Diego Rivera exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Monterrey, I verge on guiltiness as I feast my eyes on his larger-than-life paintings so vibrantly campaigning for the proletariat, for his working-class people. Wondering how many Latin Americans could enter this museum to see the paintings that rightfully belong to them, I am humbled that my unearned American status, and not my occupational prowess, are the real price of admission into this grandiose museum. Outside, teachers in the plaza chant chants of change, striking for living wages, trying to gain respect and quality education in their country. I finger my museum ticket and my high-school teacher id card, pondering how my two-years’ experience as an American educator warrants my salary being 5x that of these veteran teachers.

    The sun is setting as I look askance at anti-scalping laws and negotiate for what I want – Tigres tickets. Americans disregard laws all the time for convenience sake – speeding, ticket scalping, parking. When laws seem ridiculously restrictive, petty, or at odds with our happiness, most Americans are fine with suspending law and order. When we begin to see an immigration system as legislation opposed to the happiness and dignity of millions, when we begin to see the quota system as a trivial method of separating legal from illegal, when we start to see the thanklessly vital contribution of our nation’s immigrants to the GDP and Social Security, we begin to understand the image of God in others and the will of God on the side of the immigrant.

    During the soccer game, I was caught up in the fraternal feeling of an entire stadium of people. As the chants of thousands propelled Los Tigres to a 3-0 victory, I was caught up and accepted into this community. Even though America, with its symbol of the united American continent, lost the game, I felt profound harmony with my southern neighbors and with everyone’s border-less hearts.

    Returning to Brownsville, under stars which Canadians, Latin Americans, and United States citizens all refer to by the same names, I am struck by the similarities and differences. I am driving from the richest city in Latin America to the poorest city in the United States. I drive from a city which welcomes immigrants to a nation which is contemplating a wall to keep out certain immigrants. I drive from the North of Mexico to the South of the United States, both famed for their rugged cowboy country. I drive from a city which viewed Spanish as a chic business tongue to a nation which equates it with the sub-proletariat language.

    Less than a week from now on March 8, I will be walking with the Border Ambassadors and many other groups to protest the border wall while supporting immigrants and borderlands. I protest because so many would-be immigrants are trying to escape countries in which nonviolent demonstrations are illegal. I am walking because immigrants in every city and every township in the United States are threatened by these damaging border policies. I am nonviolently demonstrating because it is my right, a right which so few global citizens have and which is being denied so many qualified immigrants caught in the never-ending lottery system. I would be proud if you joined me, in prayer or in person, in this year’s No Border Wall Walk.

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One Response to “An Exercise in Free Migration”

  1. symsess Says:

    This, as always, is an amazing post. Thanks for providing this perspective from Mexico. I believe it is one that is lost in the immigration debate.

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