08 July 2009

Thoughts on American Ironies

"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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This quote is engraved at the feet of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, written there with the intent that all those who emigrated through Ellis Island to the US would read this and realise that this land, created by immigrants, would be their new home - a place of freedom.

And in our Declaration of Independence -
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalineable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I have been reminded in recent days, with our national Independence Day (4th of July) and through conversations and presentations, just how the US was formed and more interestingly, where we are going.

The US was formed in the late 1600s by immigrants, mostly from Western Europe. At that time, we were claimed as a territory - parts by England, parts by France, some by Spain and others. And as we all learn in primary school, these immigrants, fed up by the control of England, staged - and won - the Revolutionary War.

This fact, that the US was created by Revolutionaries, occupied my mind on the 4th of July. Revolutionaries is just an antonym for terrorist. These men that we hold to such honor and respect, in todays terms and in another country, we would call terrorists. What was the "Boston Tea Party"? An act of "terror" against an "oppressive regime".

I love that the US, the instigator of the War on Terror, has forgotten where it came from, its roots, to boldly state that we are against terror. I believe we would even say that we are against revolutionaries now (we did in the 60s at least).

And of course, when I say "love" I mean "I find very ironic"

We have also forgotten our roots of who the US was created by. In a conversation with a colleague yesterday, he mentioned that the population in most Western countries is in decline. People are not procreating enough to sustain their population numbers. So this means that for Western economies to continue growing, we are going to have to bring in a new population to enhance the workforce...Immigrants.

The US view of immigrants is quite mixed. Many (mainly upper-middle class white families) find it appalling that there are undocumented workers here in the US, that they are draining our healthcare system, taking our tax money and not contributing to our society in anyway, except to leech off it. Leeches, I have actually heard them called.

The government continues to talk about our "immigration problem" but has yet to put forward a tangible plan to better our interactions with the immigrant community.

I had conversations with some young students a few weeks ago talking about their experiences. Some of them are undocumented, some have a social security number but their parents do not, all are bilingual. And all have ambitions to change their communities and the way the US government interacts with illegal immigrants. They are pro-active, intelligent and dedicated. Not unlike myself and my friends at that age.

What these "upper-middle class twits" fail to include in their analysis of the immigration "problem" is that most of these individuals have moved here for the American dream that our Statue of Liberty and Declaration of Independence has promised. All they want to do is afford to give their children opportunities that they did not have. Many are also contributing to their own parents and families back in their home country as well. They do not include how these illegal immigrants contribute to our economy by doing jobs that we deem ourselves to worthy to take: picking fruits and vegetables, owning AMAZING Mexican food restaurants, giving us manicures and pedicures.

If our past and our future - and the future of all Western nations - lies in immigrants, shouldn't we give them more respect? and perhaps...just perhaps...more rights? Give our tired, our poor room to breathe free?
Image from: Parklands cobbler on Wikipedia

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