Sunday, June 17, 2012

Alien Matters

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 
Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
~ Emma Lazarus
I’m pleased President Obama loosened his stance on illegal aliens called Dreamers. He’s stopping deportation proceedings for two years and allowing them to obtain work permits. He pushed this initiative because Republicans have blocked immigration reform in Congress. President Obama is a leader who leads by an ethical code and his belief in doing the right thing.
Dreamers arrived in this country as children with their parents who came here to work. The Dreamers grew up here, went to school here, made friends, became part of their communities, and some even served in the armed forces. They want to become part of the country they consider their own and not be deported to a country that is foreign to them. They want to go on to higher education and build lives that are better than what their parents experienced.  It’s the classic American dream. Each generation hopes for more, an assimilation into mainstream culture while honoring that from which we came. We are a diverse country because we are all descendents of immigrants from all over the world.
But many Americans, particularly those who think of themselves as “white” Americans, want to penalize the Dreamers. They want them deported to a country they may not even remember. They don’t want them to have equal access to higher education and jobs.
Often corporate farmers and businesses that wanted cheap labor brought the Dreamers’ parents to America. They work in service industries like restaurants and hotels, landscaping, and childcare, or they work in construction or as crop pickers. The same employers, who favor hiring illegal aliens for their work ethic and lower pay, don’t believe they should have the right to pursue citizenship. Once they are done with them, even if they’ve employed them for years, they want them to go back to their country of origin.
Why aren’t we ashamed that some people are considered less than equal because of their ethnicity or race? Why is there no remorse? No remorse for how we treated slaves and continued to treat their descendents? No remorse for locking a group of Americans of Japanese descent in detention camps because they were not considered American enough and a possible threat? No remorse for the way we sterilized women and men because they were deemed not fit for procreation? No remorse for denying the civil rights of fellow Americans because they are gay? No remorse for making health care unaffordable to many working Americans? No remorse for the way we used Mexicans and other minority people, legal and illegal, for cheap labor, with no intention of ever letting them attain anything close to the American dream? No remorse that we used them only to ship them and their children back to their country like returned goods? No remorse.
The problem is no one wants to be accountable. No one wants to take responsibility. “I didn’t personally do that, so why should I care?” But we all need to care. We all need to contribute to reaching the ideals of our country, embodied in the poem by Emma Lazarus and engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty.
But greed and fear of losing something that belonged to one group of Americans prevent us from living our ideals and caring about the greater good.
I see America is changing. I see that our diversity will no longer allow one group to hold all the power. We are a democracy. We are all Americans, including people of all races and ethnicities, no matter when they immigrated here, because we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants, and we built this country together.
I say let the Dreamers stay here and build lives and have the option of becoming contributing citizens. Give their parents, many of whom have lived here for years, working for low wages and trying to give their children a chance to succeed, amnesty, and a chance to become citizens of the country they live and work in.
Force employers to pay a fair wage to all employees, to stop bringing in illegal aliens to work in sub-par conditions and for sub-par wages, and to create safe work conditions and stable employment. Unions, now demonized among the conservatives, helped make our country one of the world’s richest and most powerful nations in the 1950s through the 1970s. Unions made sure employees had access to fair and equal pay, affordable health care, and secure pensions. Unions helped create a viable middle class that is now diminishing at record pace as Corporate America pushes back salaries and puts the burden of health care on its employees who are making wages that are on par with salaries from 1992. Unions kept executive pay, now hundreds of times higher than the salaries of their employees, in check.
We are a democracy but equality is elusive and based on systemic and institutionalized classism, racism, and sexism. We have to strive to be our best selves, our idealized selves, the ones we think we are even when our actions say we aren’t. We need to do the right thing. We will not achieve that ideal until we can face our fears and prejudices and embrace the diversity of our country.
In honor of my father on this Father’s Day, I’m including a short excerpt about him from my memoir. He would have turned one hundred this past March, but he passed away thirty-one years ago. I still miss him.
(Excerpt from Chapter 2, Bloody Mick, Shades of Tolerance: A Biracial Love Story)
Dad, on the other hand, was quiet until his temper exploded, never revealing much, but he worked with his hands: scraping old paint; patching holes; applying new paint with brushes and a roller, fashioning a hat out of newspaper; tinkering under the hood of his car; fixing leaky faucets; mowing the lawn and planting marigolds and petunias; dropping two or three dollars into the collection plate during Mass each Sunday, even when the mortgage was due and we would eat hotdogs, hash and Spam for the week; holding the newspaper up in front of him in both hands to read, or folded in quarters to do the crossword; helping his best friend Harold to renovate the old house Harold inherited out in Middleburg. “Mashooze,” Dad used to say, his hands clasped behind his back when he walked.
“What about your shoes?” I asked him almost every time.
“Mashooze escalappa,” he answered, rocking back on his heels. I never knew if it was an Italian phrase he recalled from childhood or something he made up because he liked the sound of it. I liked the sound of it, too, and the constancy.

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