My heart is broken. I am saddened, enraged, ashamed of the people I once knew and loved, ashamed of myself and my impotence. We all know the government shutdown is hurting our country, but we disagree on how it should end. Our politics have been so divisive these last few years, and the shutdown has only seemed to increase the intensity of our insults and the depths of our disrespect for one another. Unfortunately, it seems that immigrants in particular, and people of color in general, are once again bearing the brunt of that disrespect.
My brain grows numb, and my soul weary, trying to understand how so many “good” people can demonstrate such a lack of empathy. Old friends of mine, good friends rail against allowing immigrants into our country, especially illegally. They criticize the immigrants already here. I could repeat what we all know about the vast majority of us being immigrants to this country. After all, did we ask the Native Americans permission before invading and destroying their homes, before murdering their families? Did we even honor the treaties we made with them afterwards in order to trick them into making “peace”? I could repeat all the failures of our government and our people since then. There have been many. But that will not convince you.
I could appeal to your humanity. Many of you are parents, have siblings, have spouses. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your family? If you were born, raised, and living in a place where your only livelihood is forcibly taken from you (consider how NAFTA forced thousands of Mexican farmers out of business by allowing huge American agribusiness to sell its much cheaper product to the Mexican people), what wouldn’t you do to provide for your family? Is there anything you wouldn’t do to protect your children, your parents, your friends from being massacred (consider the U.S. involvement in the civil wars in Central America)? I can honestly say that there is nothing I wouldn’t do to survive and to ensure my family’s survival. I am capable of everything. I would lie, I would steal, I would kill to make sure my family was safe. And all these immigrants do is cross an imaginary line, national boundaries carved into the earth with swords, guns, and cannons.
Still, you say, it is illegal. They broke the law. Yes, they broke a law. Have you ever sped? Did you ever drink before reaching the legal age? No? Well, before 1920 it was illegal for women to vote. Until 1967 it was illegal for people of color to marry whites. In 2013 there are many places in the United States where a man cannot enter into a secular marriage with another man. Laws are rules we make up to keep the mighty in power and the vulnerable underfoot. They are often designed to protect us from unfounded societal fears. They reinforce our biases and cultural norms. In other words, just because it is so doesn’t mean it should be so.
And, still, you will not be moved. When I cannot appeal to your reason or to your humanity, what paths are left to me? I don’t know. But I am an ally to immigrants and people of color. And humanity, in the face of atrocity and injustice, always eventually rises up. You should not be surprised, my good friend, should you see me rise up with it.