Our Shame

This was written the day before a photo of a drowned father and 2-year-old daughter was published; they had applied for legal immigration and were denied.  Apparently desperate, the father and his family tried to cross illegally.

The history of America – my homeland – is not all celebration and fireworks.  Perhaps all nations share this attribute: to become a nation, blood must be shed, there must be war, victors and victims, winners and losers.  So, America is not unique in the sense that its national character is carved out of conflict. But it is also a land of binary choice: be included or be excluded.  And that binary choice is usually dictated by color: white is in; all other shades need not apply.

Sioux Uprising 1862

First, the indigenous people had to be tamed, decimated, and then absorbed.  We had to demonstrate to the American Indians our superiority through religious zeal and military might.  We taught them Christianity, suppressed their native cultures, and then restricted them to increasingly reduced reservations.  We continue to treat them like inferiors, like children, by establishing and maintaining the Bureau of Indian Affairs (and all its succeeding agencies, offshoots, and renamings).  They have never been absorbed into the largely-fictitious “melting pot” of America.

Then, there were the involuntary “immigrants,” better known as slaves, dragged to our shores in chains from Africa and the Caribbean.  It should be noted that those who brought them were relatives and descendants of those who bought them: Europeans (including the British Isles) all, whether English, Irish, Dutch, or Slavic.  White Europeans (is there another kind?).

Then came all the waves of immigrants from western Europe to settle the West, to mine gold and other precious minerals, to fuel the industrial complex in our cities from the 1800s to the mid-1900s.  These were the “whites,” of varying shades – pale English, or blond Scandinavian, swarthy Italian or tawny Spaniards, French, German, or Slavic.  They came, they worked, sometimes they experienced hostility, but they all eventually absorbed into the fabric of America, melted together into that American pot, became included.

Japanese Internment 1942

And from the other direction – from the East – came the “yellow” immigrants: Chinese, Japanese, Pacific Islanders, Asian sub-continent peoples.  From the 1800s onward, they did the same: arrived, worked, and. . . were never absorbed, could not be absorbed.  Instead, they were excluded, like the native Americans, like the African Americans.  And this attitude persisted with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, with the Japanese Internment Camps of 1942-1945, and the Fall of Saigon in 1975.  They are the “hyphenated Americans,” accepted but not absorbed, almost included (thus the hyphen) but ultimately excluded.

So, what is happening today on our Southern border is not surprising, not new (but still not acceptable).  These are the twenty-first century’s “Injuns”, slaves, “Orientals.”  Just as the first white settlers were escaping persecution at home – religious or political – these Central American Hispanics are escaping persecution – this time, criminal and economic.  So, how are they different?  Only in the color of their skin, the slant of their eyes.  And for America – my homeland – and to my shame – that is enough difference to justify treating them as less than human, as unworthy of compassion, to send soldiers to guard them as if they were rabid dogs.  But I ask you: where would you be today if your father, or your grandfather, or your great grandfather (and mother!) had been turned away at the door?  And why do you deny the same opportunity to another? Shame on you, America, my homeland.  Shame on me.

June 2019, Children Held in Texas

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