by Reid Fitzsimons
Note: the following article began as a brief e-mail to my brother (explaining some of the syntax), which somehow grew into 5 pages. Despite being too long and somewhat rambling, it makes points and arguments rarely, if ever, seen elsewhere.
I was going to add a few comments in regards to our discussion/argument about what you called immigration reform, though I think you were being a bit disingenuous and really meant support of an open border type policy (in theory Donald Trump rounding up anyone with a Hispanic sounding name and placing them in Mexico-bound boxcars could be deemed immigration reform). However this touches on a related topic of interest to me- the significant similarities between progressive liberals and Evangelical Christians, so I’m going to go ahead and write an excruciatingly long article for posting on an internet blog. I hope you are inclined to read what follows, which includes some outside the lines ideas in regards to immigration reform.
In the last 15 years I’ve become significantly disillusioned, disaffected, or some such “dis” prefixed word with the US. Usually when people say this they mean the government, though if their guy is IN everything is fine and vice versa, and I’m not immune from this. However my primary disenchantment is with what we’ve become as a people overall. We are fully insulated by materialism, instant gratification, and convenience. Even the poorest among us enjoys wealth unimaginable by any historic or comparative standard, yet we find ourselves fully unappreciative and coveting more. We once had a phenomenal volunteer who was an unabashed communist and union organizer. Outside of project hours he was enthusiastic about sharing his beliefs, one of which stuck with me: no matter how much you have, if someone else has something you lack you therefore deserve it, even if you don’t actually need or want it; counting one’s blessings is for chumps. We are without parallel in our greed, selfishness, ego-centrism, etc, and this has become ubiquitous across wealth strata. Sadly, very few of us, our young communist friend excepted, have any basis for comparison- we’ve now had a couple of generations conceived and raised in absurd wealth, ignorant of anything other than such absurd levels of wealth, and always wanting more.
Personally I have no great problem with the average person who enjoys their big-screen TV, latest generation Smart Phone, SUV, 2,500 square foot house, annual cruise, and $5 coffee- those who just assume this is life and simply live it. My particular ire is directed at the pseudo-empathetic, people that bemoan the plight of the impoverished, though through imagination only as compared to actual first-hand knowledge. Here is where the twain meet, the outraged progressive liberals who demand that someone should do something as long as it’s not them and the Evangelical Christians, whose contentment with their personal salvation somehow is enough. Self-satisfied and entranced by their own piousness, their proclamations of compassion alone are a sufficient substitute for actually doing anything. While they both might write a check now and then, the Evangelicals excuse their disinclination to actual involvement by immersing themselves in their “personal relationship with Jesus” and the thought that “I wasn’t called by God to mission work,” whereas the progressives absolve themselves by projecting their indolence on others and grasping for their own personal sense of victim-hood.
To be fair I well know, from working closely with Christians, there is nothing like the dedication of a missionary who has been called by God, who lives year after year in dirt and often danger to run their clinic or orphanage. Patricia and I have hopefully achieved some meaningful things through our efforts in the third world, but I can’t deny needing breaks from it, increasingly extended ones at that. The problem is, for every Christian walking the difficult walk, many more are content to simply do a lot of talking. Likewise with secular concerns: MSF, for example, is more than happy to set up shop in the crappiest places in the world, it’s just that the numbers aren’t there; the louder one talks of compassion the less they seem to do, and whatever desultory actions they take are more efficient at assuaging personal guilt than actually benefiting anyone. Progressive “activism” is akin to a Christian mission whose primary goal is to spread the Gospel- it’s a lot easier than doing something concrete but you can feel good about yourself. Feeling and talking, after all, are much comfortable and convenient than doing.
Edging slowly into the topic at hand. I’m not entirely sure what you mean in declaring your support for amnesty. Do you support legal residency simply if one makes it across the border, or for people who were brought illegally into the US at a young age and have never even known their country of origin? Should the parents of so-called anchor babies be granted residency simply because they planned the birth specifically to achieve that end? Should illegals who commit crimes be given amnesty? Have you thought your position through beyond its use as a feel-good catchphrase?
One thing I’ve learned living outside the US for my several years in the third world is that we are clueless in our perception of other cultures, or at least as far as the East African and Central American cultures I have come to know fairly well. We have pre-conceived narratives that please us, and we accept these as fact. At some point in the past few years Jeb Bush touted, referring to Hispanics and perhaps earnestly, their love of family and intactness of their families. This is a wonderful narrative but it is in absolute opposition to what we have experienced. What we have seen over and over is family chaos, fueled by alcohol abuse, no sense of commitment of fathers to their children, mothers abandoned, endless infidelity, and abuse of women and kids (including by their mothers) in general. The few kids from our village with any potential to improve their lives come pretty exclusively from intact families, and there are not many of those.
As sophisticated Americans we find gratification in the Noble Savage idea, the bucolic peasant, whom we can look down upon and pretend to elevate at the same time: the dutiful nanny, the hardworking drywallers, lawn maintenance crews, and restaurant workers. We tend to hold a patronizing stereotype that conforms to our narrative, that is all cultures but our own consist of determined people yearning only for opportunity and fairness, but in doing we so actually diminish whole masses of people almost as if they are all cute puppies. There are many wonderful things and persons associated with the cultures I have come to know, but there are less favorable and even horrific things as well. I recall driving with Luo people from our clinic area to the city of Kisumu in Kenya. In doing so we had to pass through Kisii land, which caused some measure of anxiety in the Luo. To put it another way, the 1,300 or so killings associated with the 2007 Kenyan presidential election, largely along tribal lines, did not surprise me.
A few more observations leading in to an actual alternative idea in regards to immigration. I’ve known two second generation Mexican-Americans, one a guy a little older than me and another one of our volunteers in her mid-20s at the time, who recounted the same experience: “My father taught me we are not Mexicans living in America but we are Americans.” Though they both elaborated as to the promises and wonders of the US their fathers expressed, along with shortcomings of the Mexican way, this was not some exercise in cultural self-hatred but simply a statement of belief and a prescription for success in their new land.
We had a schoolteacher volunteer from California who mentioned many or most of her students were Hispanic immigrants. Not knowing for sure but suspecting she was inclined toward liberalism, I was a little surprised when she told us most of the families of her Hispanic students were part of the PORCH program. I first assumed this was an acronym of some sort (perhaps Providing Opportunities and Resources for Children of Hispanics), but she explained: they get up in the morning and sit on the porch all day. It’s always interesting to hear the perceptions of those who, like everyone, are inclined toward narratives, but are open-minded enough to recognize disconnect between their preconception and reality.
One of our most beloved narratives is that poor people steal only out of necessity, and then only from the RICH, which we are quick to rationalize. During the heyday of our Honduran project, when we were very actively children oriented, there was a family of maybe five kids that lived near the project. They attended school only sporadically so we were happy to provide them with breakfast, lunch, snacks, and wholesome activities almost daily. They were challenging but overall delightful, and they were also thieves.
Their father, amiable enough, was a modern Honduran version of Fagin from Oliver Twist. He directed his kids to steal as much as they could during hours of operation, then reach through our windows and grab whatever was in reach in the evenings and weekends. One time I told the kids to return to their house and bring back things they had robbed from us, which they promptly did. We had a volunteer who painstakingly built a wonderful tree house, which this guy dismantled piece by piece until it was no more. You might say, “Well, he was only robbing from rich people (despite the “rich” being the charity feeding his children),” but alas he was stealing from his equally impoverished neighbors as well. They proved to be less indulgent than us, and one Sunday evening they shot him to death. Stealing in Honduras is so commonplace we have come to the conclusion that rather than being the result of poverty, it is in fact a major contributing factor. I have yet to meet a thief who steals out of necessity, assuming stealing money to buy cane liquor (rum aged a day or two) doesn’t qualify.
Our always compassionate liberal progressives somehow just know that anyone from a culture other than ours innately exists in a sanctified state (like a Christian who confesses Jesus is Lord and Savior), conversely the hate-filled xenophobic conservatives see immigrants as only rapists and murderers. So do we create policy that derives from misconception, no matter how much it pleases us? Here is the hard truth for everyone- most (Latin-American) immigrants are okay people for the most part and not criminals, violent or otherwise, but many are. Here is another hard truth- open boarders/amnesty policies are as absurd and counterproductive as ideas ejaculated from the mouth of Donald Trump.
Is our goal simply and ultimately to facilitate transplanting people from a village or pueblo south of us to one north of the border, where things will be pretty much the same except for larger TVs? “…huddled masses yearning to breathe free” is uplifting poetry but not law- there is nothing in my experience to suggest that desire to immigrate to the US from Central America is anything other that materialistic, which is understandable.
From the often termed “conservative” viewpoint it is not unreasonable to expect immigrants to learn English by at least the second generation nor is it unreasonable to exclude criminals or resist engendering multi-generational government dependency. Likewise, it is unreasonable to deport people who, through efforts of others, came to the US illegally when they were children and are largely ignorant of the country of their origin. The Obama paradigm we are now living under- if you disagree with me you are my enemy- may sound sweet to some ears but it is not actually benefiting anyone. Perhaps we need to realize that government decrees and mandates are not the solution.
With this in mind, why don’t we devise a solution that is both efficacious and humane, one that involves and integrates people on a personal level rather than an anonymously bureaucratic one? This could fill many more pages of musing, but in summary: immigration should be on a sponsorship basis. By this I mean individuals, families, churches and other organizations on a private level open their wallets and even their homes and essentially guarantee an (illegal) immigrant. This would offer an opportunity to people like you, who have the resources and expressed desire, to not be just another voice demanding The Government Do Something, but to directly be the solution. Certainly this would require some sort of government/private partnership, but instead of an immigrant going to some agency to obtain a free cell phone, SNAP debit card, etc (what are often referred to overall as “welfare” benefits), they would be assigned a sponsor, who will guarantee their needs are met without taxpayer burden. As long as the immigrant/immigrant family has a legitimate sponsor (and the immigrant doesn’t commit crimes and the sponsor lives up to expectations) they will not be considered illegal/deportable.
Perhaps initially the immigrant(s) would actually reside in the sponsor’s home, for example, but eventually everyone would benefit from a transition from private/personal dependency to true thriving independence. There is no doubt the administration of such a mechanism would be complex, at least initially, but the success of such an approach would offer the best hope for successful entrance into American society and associated opportunity. An added benefit is that it would still the mouths of obnoxious liberal progressives, who would actually be doing something other than noisily making demands upon others, and the annoying Christians would have a chance to live a charitable life rather than just talk about it.
Wouldn’t it be more ennobling and useful to contemplate and discuss such as proposition than call everyone who doesn’t agree with you extremists and fascists, and from the “right” to stop the Trump-style vitriol pouring out of his mouth like diarrhea in a cholera patient?
I’ve gone this long, so what the heck, why stop now? Actually there are a few more things I want to mention. This will not include my recurrent theme that Central American emigration to the US has a significant negative effect on the home county, something never considered by the great political and policy-making minds. I guess they can’t be faulted because they are happily clueless to the real world.
I have never heard the angry immigration activists (it seems these days an activist is by definition angry) such as La Raza actually encourage people, upon obtaining positive things from the US (financial resources, education, meaningful skills, etc), to return to Mexico to mejorar (improve) their home country. It’s as if they love their native country with all their heart as long as they aren’t required to have anything to do with it.
When we were discussing this topic last week you couldn’t help mentioning, like finding an old comfortable pair of shoes in the back of a closet, “Oh yeah, do you know what Standard Fruit did there (in Honduras)?” Or is it United Fruit- I’ve read the history many times but can never remember which. This reminded me of a few similar occurrences. When I flew to England in 1984 to attend our father’s wedding I sat near a young English gentleman quietly chatting with an American girl. Also sitting nearby were two drunken American nitwits who, in taking some type of offense, exclaimed, “Oh yeah, well we beat you in the War of 1812.” I felt compelled to apologize for my fellow countrymen, to which the English guy replied, “I didn’t even know there was a War of 1812.”
I was in Honduras for 16 of the 24 months 2007-2008, i.e. during most of that significant election cycle. Sometime early on a person, who happens to have a PhD in astrophysics, spontaneously asked what I thought of Mitt Romney, to which I replied with something lame like he seems like a nice guy. This highly educated progressive professional felt compelled to inform me, “Oh yeah, well he’s a Mormon and they believe in polygamy,” proving intellect doesn’t preclude one from using pointless non-sequiturs. This is another similarity between progressives and obnoxious Evangelicals: the ease at which they express their thoughts, regardless of the sensibilities of their audience (“Don’t you just want to praise God for the blue sky?” “Don’t you just HATE George Bush?”).
All in all, you and I might know of the shady past in regards to Standard Fruit’s dealings in Honduras going on a century ago, but I doubt I could find an average Honduran who knows or cares.
Finally (at last), if you knew of an accomplished and genuinely decent person who was well respected, but someone told you, “Oh yeah, well 45 years ago he used to beat the crap out of his defenseless little brother,” would you find it pertinent now? I don’t!