Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Carrying on Tradition

Without a touch of self-irony people in the United States are falling for it. The recent attacks in Paris are hardening hatred against 1.8 billion Muslims and cementing Islam’s status as synonymous with violence, fanaticism and terrorism.

The other day over half of all US governors declared they won't allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states, even though not a single refugee resettled in the US has committed an act of terrorism. If history is to be a guide, anti-immigrant activists, pro-life Christians and gun-toting, anti-government extremists have proven themselves more prone to terrorism than refugees.

Earlier today, writer and activist, Pamela Olson wrote on Facebook, “Soon we'll celebrate Thanksgiving, a commemoration of arriving in someone else's nation as migrants and refugees.”

It’s America’s defining irony.

A nation of immigrants always ready to decry the newest wave of immigrants.

Yet most of us come from mixed, murky backgrounds, forgetting “American” is not so much an ethnicity as a euphemism for white. “Everybody else has to hyphenate,” Toni Morrison reminds us.

Because my grandma immigrated to the US at 17, fleeing a poverty-stricken Switzerland, and didn’t receive citizenship until I was five years old, I grew up thinking everyone had a mitigating voice or presence somewhere in their family reminding them that we all came from somewhere. I thought everyone was consciously reflective of this fact. I was wrong.

George Carlin quipped this country was “founded by slave owners who wanted to be free.” In achieving their paradox, they fashioned a white supremacist society run on collective passions, virulent sectarianism, and divisive, dehumanizing rhetoric.

Today I am reminded not everyone has a close relative who saved up for a year for a ticket in steerage. So let me remind you that we all have a country of origin, and it’s not "America," unless you are of Native ancestry. We are all products of a colonial environment.

Today is a good day to remind ourselves that the stubborn, fear-mongering, xenophobic vitriol currently targeting Syrian refugees is nothing new, and neither are, on the other side of things, the reasons why Syrian men, women and children are risking everything to make the perilous journey from war-torn Syria to a better life elsewhere. 

By reminding ourselves we all came from somewhere, I hope you can see how silly and cruel are the calls to halt Syrian refugee resettlement to the United States. Here's a by no means exhaustive list of the huddled masses who came to America and why they did:

- The first African-Americans were forcibly brought here as slaves, but immigrant communities from all over Africa have resettled here, fleeing violence and poverty

- English-Americans fled economic and religious repression

- German-Americans, French-Americans and Dutch-Americans fled poverty, wars and fascism

- Chinese-Americans came for economic opportunities on the transcontinental railroad and in the gold mines

- Irish-Americans fled famine and The Troubles

- Italian-Americans fled poverty and political oppression

- Jewish-Americans fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe and Russia and The Holocaust (well sorta, US policy opposed taking in Jewish refugees during The Holocaust and we all know what happened)

- Polish-Americans fled the chronic poverty and oppression of Tsarist Russia

- Cuban-Americans fled Castro

- Iranian-Americans fled the ’79 Revolution

- Vietnamese-Americans fled the Vietnam War

- Mexican-Americans and Latin Americans fled poverty, drug wars and proxy wars

- Arab-Americans – Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians and Iraqis – fled war, economic hardship and dictatorship, as did Hmong, Karen, Bhutanese, Indian, Haitian and Somali Americans.

We are all descended from migrants and refugees, who came here in good faith hoping to escape the conditions that "crushed human souls." The loss of one's homeland is the saddest fate and today there are more refugees in the world than ever previously recorded – 60 million.

This Thanksgiving, if you are truly thankful, give generously and with open arms, pressure our government to take in more Syrian refugees and donate to organizations like the International Rescue Committee. Our country is indebted to immigrants and refugees for its prosperity and advancement and there's no future without them.

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