I recently revisited John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. At the time when I first read it in High School, I failed to identify myself with any of the characters. After all, as a New Englander in the 21st century, what did I have in common with a family of the Great Depression, escaping famine and migrating west for a better life? Then, as I read the story with fresh eyes and poured through the pages like a man seeking truth in the bible, it finally dawned on me; the prejudice against the Joad’s had nothing to do with skin color, ethnicity or nationality but fear…fear of something being different.
Last week I sent out a position paper concerning Immigration to many of the readers of this blog. After finishing The Grapes of Wrath, I have decided to post it for its newfound relevance in my argument. While some of you might dispute my comparison of migrants and immigrants, I would argue their plights are much the same. Whether the Joad’s were “Okies or Dagos/Chinks/Kikes/Niggers or Spics, the bottom line was that they were not welcome where they went. The story of the Joad family is as much my family’s story as any. I would ask you to go back and read this novel, go back and listen to your ancestors. I am quite sure you will find many similarities.
Above all, no matter which side you stand on along the imaginary fence that separates “us,” from “them,” do not forget that we are all people. Immigrants are people, they deserve their dignity, let’s treat them with such. At the very least, they deserve our respect, for their voyage towards a better life here in America is admirable.
My dad’s sole advice to me growing up had always been “whatever you do in life, do it with compassion.” As I think about that last word and my feeble attempts to implement that mantra, I often ask myself if other parents offered the same suggestions to their kids. The more I hear the debate of immigration from the presidential candidates, the less I think that message was ever received.
Two weeks ago we celebrated a man whose very life was about the topic that my dad hammered into me. My lone tradition that day has been to go back and read his march on Washington “I have a dream speech” from 1963. The words said 20 some odd years before my birthday are as relevant to me now as they were back then. Simply put, like the bugle played during taps, they give me the chills, goose bumps or whatever it is you call it when the feeling you get is all too real to even fathom. As a Christian, I’d like to think that Dr. King is still speaking to us on issues such as immigration and pray that the presidential candidates shut up long enough to hear him out. I have never been one to state opinions for others, although if forced to speculate, I’d like to think that Dr. King would welcome any and all who journeyed towards the land of opportunity with open arms.
Dr. King talked vehemently about his dream. This vision did not begin nor end with him. This vision lives on through ever immigrant whose hope is embodied in his or her destination. After all, at the heart of every immigrants experience is a dream.
So many of you might be thinking, “So what’s your point Josh?” My point is that the debate on immigration while relevant is one without compassion. It is a debate more so on xenophobia than the strain on the economy or working class citizens. It is on par with the notion that “English should be the official language of the United States.” This suggestion is beyond ignorant and is less subtle than policy makers might assume. It directly targets Hispanics. As I recall reading, The Italians, Germans, etc…all spoke in their native tongues while living in their boroughs and sections of America.
Ok, let me pause. Some of you might be thinking (and yes I am very conscious of what others think) “Josh you were adopted, you’re Korean, of course you think this way.” Believe it or not, this issue is not personal in that sense, nor are others such as abortion. In my humble opinion, this issue ought not to even be partisan. In fact in both instances, I have been able to distance myself from the issue and look at it from a broader perspective whether it is from some 34 year old Mexican’s shoes standing at the border with his family, $20 in his pockets and a prayer or as a 17 year old girl who is pregnant. This issue is important to me because it is being misrepresented and even those who might think similarly to me are disingenuous at best.
The best way that I can make this argument is to tell you the story of two American heroes and their ties to a Wall.
As soon as the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Peter Pace said goodbye to the uniform he wore for all of his adult life, he made a trip to the Vietnam Memorial where he placed the stars which he had just retired on a index card and leaned it up against the name on the wall of a fallen comrade that read “these are not mine, these are yours,” and walked off without fanfare. That name was that of Lcpl Guido Farinaro. From the day that he lost that first man in his platoon, he vowed to stay in to honor his sacrifice. Forty years later, he still felt indebted.
If General Pace has an opinion on immigration, he’ll probably keep it to himself, fair enough. However, another man who fought in that same war and who happens to be running for President has made his opinion heard to the dislike of many in his party. John McCain often tells those who question his immigration policy to do go to the Vietnam Memorial and read the names on that wall. Rhetorically, he mentions that many of those names are Hispanic. Don’t tell him that Hispanics don’t sacrifice for our way of life.
John McCain is a border state Senator who must answer to his constituents on immigration every election. Why is it then that he favors a path to citizenship immigration policy that many critics have proclaimed as “amnesty to illegals?” My answer to that question is personal this time and comes from my experience in which I lived in San Angelo, Texas for a year.
I had never seen a bigger melting pot of people than I had in Texas. Sure, I had been to the big cities but in those places I saw less interaction among the populace and more segregation. In Texas, I’d ride horses on ranches owned by Hispanics with white employees and vice versa. I saw a mutual respect between the two groups that I wasn’t expecting. In fact, I pictured less tolerance and more bigotry to be honest. But to my surprise I saw one ton trucks with gun racks owned by Hispanics and whites, both of which wore cowboy boots and 10 gallon cowboy hats. Sure, there were the fair share of confederate flags and less inclusive groups around town, but beyond the anomalies there was an appreciation for what all workers in San Angelo had to offer. And yes, they all worked.
Another politician who has gone “against the tide,” in terms of his political party’s position happens to be our President. For all of the things that some may rebuke him for, I think in terms of immigration, he has allowed his compassion to fuel his policy. It may seem odd that I’ve given examples of two Republicans (soon to be three before this post is over). However, I mention these men and their affiliations because as I said, this issue crosses party lines. President Bush was a former border state Governor, who for the same reasons aforementioned, has separated himself from the “party line.” And his beliefs don’t end with himself but extend to his family as well. From his Hispanic nephew, to his brother JEB who had a phenomenal reputation among Hispanics in his governed state of Florida and even speaks fluent Spanish, so says my girlfriend.
This more compassionate immigration policy has less to with politics and votes than it does with what I would like to believe a deeper appreciation of the diversity that Spanish speaking people bring to this country. The immigrants are and have always been the back bone of the working force of this nation. Our economy would simply not flourish without these people working on our farms and manufacturing plants.
Anti-immigrant policymakers would have you believe that they are not racist and that they are merely protecting the American family and the American worker. They might even try to persuade you into thinking that their term immigrant is not synonymous with “Hispanics.” The truth of the matter is that Hispanics come to the US to work and Border States understand their need to fill voids in the job market. The truth is that many illegal’s are not criminals and those that are belong to gangs. Therefore, common-sense logic would be to go after gang’s right?
This post is getting long and for the most part I’m preaching to the choir; this I know. Nevertheless, I have to make my point for no other reason than because it weighs so deeply on my conscience and I hate sitting on the sidelines during a debate. America might be getting closer to Dr. King’s dream of uniting blacks and whites but perhaps farther from being the all inclusive country that America is destined to become. I don’t suggest that we open up the gates to allow every last person who wants to become a US citizen in. But on the same token, I can’t help but feel empathetic for those who pack up everything and risk it all just for the shot at the American Dream that Dr. King envisioned. Have we marginalized the dream to only mean for blacks and not Hispanics or not Muslims, Hindus, Asians, Frenchmen?!
I would like to believe that as the world leader that we still tend to hold some sort of influence despite our mishaps in foreign policy. I want to believe that we always feel as though we owe it to ourselves and to this country’s standards to pay our blessings forward to the next generation. The more we offer up policies depicting walls between countries, ID cards and National languages, the farther we stray from the ideals instilled in the document we call our “declaration of independence,” which was written by those who dared to flee from their own country trading for the very ideals (democracy) which we are said to be promoting in all parts of the world. Therefore, if we find it so necessary to enforce this principle on other nations to be more in our likeness why would we in turn, reject people who are trying to enter this country for the actual thing we impose?
Immigrants create competition for jobs, even at the cost of lower wages. Competition is what drives capitalism and free markets; it almost seems un-American to make the counter argument. They don’t explicitly ask for anything (healthcare, social security et al). Instead, they go about their business, trying to fly under the radar so that the government doesn’t catch on. They even go well below the speed limit as to not get a ticket. Yet we call them criminals.
Theodore Roosevelt was a great President. I would recommend people read Lion in the White House. Although his stance on an all inclusive immigration policy was questionable to many historians, I would at the very least call them compassionate. Anyways, the reason why I mention him is not because of his policies on immigration but rather a quote which I believe gives deeper insight into what he actually thought about American(s) and how we ought to think of ourselves.
“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts “native” before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else. “