Category Archives: U.S. Immigration and Refugee Policies

What Hawaii Had to Teach Us in Our Visit

The Yellow Billed Cardinal, so unlike the Northern Cardinal we are accustomed to, is comparable to the Java Sparrow, the Zebra Dove and the Saffron Finch in their colorful variations of familiar “mainland” birds.

During my second visit on the “Big Island” of Hawai’i, in the checkout line at the Malama Market in Honoka’a the cashier addressed me as “Uncle”.  It was not the first time a young person had honored me with this traditional Hawaiian sign of respect.  But as a reminder that wearing a face mask was still required in the grocery store, it made a deeper impression.  I retrieved a mask from my back pocket and put it on before removing the items from my basket. After I thanked the young woman for this gentle nudge, my gratitude grew. Like the colorful bird species, the abundant growth of mango, papaya and other tropical fruits and trees, this custom of calling an elder “auntie” or “uncle” had captured and filled me.

My delight had nothing to do with removing my identity as a “foreigner”.  I would always remain a “haole” in the land and culture of the native Hawaiian. It was like the customary welcoming to Hawaii  another kind of lei showing that the native traditions include the embrace of persons wherever they come from.  You cannot spend a day on the Island of Hawai’i without the recognition that you are not on the North American continent. And that you are and will forever be a “haole”.

Having returned to Kansas City, I am even more grateful for our friends who are natives of the “Big Island” and whose hospitality falls on us like the soft rain of the rainforest surrounding their birthplaces near Honoka’a.  I understand better the pride displayed by the son of our closest Hawaiian friend who as a three or four year old, though born in California, protested to my wife Kate, “I am not an American, am I Mom?  I’m Hawaiian.”   

The Hawaiian dictionary gives the synonyms of “foster” and “adopted” in its definition of the Hawaiian tradition of “hanai“.

I also now appreciate more our role as “hanai” or “adopted” grandparents of this child now preparing for college on the “mainland”.  When my wife introduced ourselves at a Sunday worship service in Honoka’a as Gabriel’s “hanai” grandparents, expressions of approval were quietly uttered by the congregation.  From now on, all our efforts to encourage and support the young man’s growth will be not just out of love for him but will also stem from the desire to honor the Hawaiian tradition and our identity as his “hanai” grandparents.

How sad and unfortunate that so many of our would be “leaders” in the mainland U.S. portray the nation’s increasing population of foreign born persons as a loss for the heirs of white settlers.  How could someone be persuaded to view immigrants as posing a threat when their contributions are so many and so obvious?  Against all the white supremacist theories and arguments we can all learn from and enjoy the embrace of other cultures in the history, language and customs of native Hawaiians. 

As an example, there is much more to the meaning of “aloha” than our “hello” and “good bye”.  After my recent visit, I now associate the Hawaiian language’s “aloha” with the Indian custom of greeting and leave taking with “namaste”.  My favored interpretation of that Hindu greeting and leave taking is “the divine in me recognizes the divine in you”.

Feeding the Wolf

Since the end of WW II the U.S. has been the world’s leading arms dealer

In a blog dedicated to “erasing borders” I want to address what force or forces serve to defend and strengthen national borders and border enforcement in the world.  Now is the time because increased migration of threatened people across borders, “free trade” agreements, new technologies, and more travel (among other factors) all call for easing traffic across borders. 

It is a confounding paradox for citizens of the U.S., especially for those born in the country with a single cultural identity, to delight in being surrounded by persons of other cultures while the politics and political economy of the country fosters suspicion and enmity of other nations and cultures.  How could it be that a nation whose ideal self image, the ideal we grew accustomed to celebrating in our lives and in the life of the nation, has been that of a country leading in welcoming immigrants, how could it be that the same nation remains deadlocked on immigration reform for 35 years and focuses on combatting one enemy overseas after another?

Any attempt at a satisfactory answer to this question must consider some indisputable facts too long ignored.  For anyone following the news casually, regardless of the news source in this country, we are aware of the U.S. emphasis on national defense and security.  From the Defense Department budget, to television ads selling insurance for veterans, to conversations with those whose loved one is serving in the military, to statistics on the U.S. military’s footprint in over 80 other countries, we know this country is exceptional in equating military might with power and security.

What we don’t know and seldom talk about in our public forums is the effects on our loftiest ideals of our emphasis on preparation for war and conflict.  What we also don’t think or talk about much in our civil dialog is the interaction between production of weaponry and the health of our economy.

Histories of California’s economy all point to the manufacture of aircraft as leading the way in the State’s growth.  Its long Pacific sea shore has seen the rise of some of the largest and most important military bases during and following WW II.  When a few bases were closed in the 90’s, and major aircraft production sites shut down, there was deep concern about what would replace them in the  economies of the local communities and  the State as a whole. Today the strength of California’s economy should assure us that a transition from an economy relying on defense expenditures can benefit a state’s population             

Following the “Great War”, as many in the U.S. now term WW II, the late Prof. Seymour Melman devoted his research and writing to bringing to light the potential boost of the national economy with a conversion from defense production to production of “things that make for peace”.  Despite his sterling credentials as a Columbia PhD in economics and his teaching at the same university until 2003,  there has been little support for Melman’s views except among left wing intellectuals and peace organizations.  He continues to be a “voice crying in the wilderness” in the political and economic discussion in this country.

Missiles manufactured by Lockheed Martin are displayed during the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, DC, October 13, 2014. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Yet Melman’s case for such a conversion of the U.S. economy is more relevant today than ever.  In a 1990 interview with journalist Bill Moyers, Melman noted “there’s no mystery in the shabby railroads, the broken bridges, the unpaved streets, the wrecked buildings, the absence of adequate housing, the aging character of the industrial equipment.”  There is today more decline in U.S. manufacture of goods used by or benefiting individual consumers.  With 46 per cent of U.S. production equipment devoted to manufacture of weaponry in the mid-1980’s, Melman urged us to consider the impact on employment in manufacturing, on industrial research and development, on worker productivity and on wages among other measures of a healthy economy.

In highlighting the economic effects of this country’s production of goods individuals do not consume, Melman’s views also raise questions about the effect of arms production and sales on U.S. policies as a superpower.  How do arms sales abroad, we accounted for 37 % of the world total sales in 2020, affect our foreign policy? What about the influence of the arms industries (the Lockheeds, Raytheons, General Dynamics, etc.) on the military establishment strategies and our perpetual wars? What are the costs to the nation’s ideals and self image of selling vastly more weaponry than any other nation in the world? Finally and most urgently in our time, how does our focus on defense and arms production handicap our capacity to lead in renewable energy production and innovation?

While controversy rages in our politics over what to do about the climate crisis worldwide, the response to a global pandemic, and how to move toward a healthy multi-racial society there is little conflict in our politics on defense and security issues.  Consensus of the two parties on expanding our military and waging war for international conflict resolution seems guaranteed.

A few years ago a Cherokee Indian fable was widely shared.  A wise grandfather advises his grandson that there are two wolves inside all of us. One of the wolves is characterized by anger and fear and the other wolf is accepting and loving.   The two wolves fight within each of us.  So the grandson asks which wolf finally wins and the grandfather replies, “The one you feed will win”.  Despite its lofty ideals and grand achievement in the past, does anyone doubt which wolf the U.S. continues to feed today? What will be the consequences for the nation if the wrong wolf wins the battle within us?  What will be the consequences for the world?

, ,

Migrant Farmworker Success Stories

The Migrant Farmworker Assistance Fund of Kansas City honored seven graduates from area high schools and community colleges at a July celebration. MFAF Director Suzanne Gladney was present for the birth of six of the graduates.

You’ve been picking onions this summer.  Now someone is taking you to pick peaches and apples somewhere.  You only know it will be as hot as where you picked the onions.  As soon as it begins to cool off, the apples will be picked and your visa will expire.  Then they take you back to the border crossing. 

For three or four years the recruiter returns to take you to the same fields.  The orchard owner notices and likes your work.  He asks if you’d like to work year round and become a “crew boss”.  The pay he mentions exceeds what you ever imagined making. 

You are one of the lucky ones.  In 2020, there were 213,000 H2A temporary agricultural worker visas issued by the U.S.  In 2007 there were 51,000.  Ninety three per cent of the 2020 visas were awarded to Mexican farmworkers.  Estimates of the total U.S. agriculture work force vary widely but most range from 2 to 3 million workers, both seasonal and year round.

Even as a H2A visa holder you are not eligible for most government services.  Your housing is in a field camp, but you are responsible for your health care, sick pay and food when natural disasters or pandemics prevent you from working.  Whether you receive any help with these is up to the owner of the fields.  That is unless there is an organization like the Migrant Farmworker Assistance Fund (MFAF) of Kansas City.

Since its founding in 1984, the MFWAF has been the catalyst for creating a health clinic and a Head Start early childhood education center. MFAF staff and interns have offered farmworker children after school and summer camp programs, assisted with scholarships and counseled families on  opportunities for a college education.  Just retired from 39 years as a Legal Aid attorney, the organization’s founder and leader is Suzanne Gladney.

For workers in the orchards and packing sheds an hour drive east of Kansas City, Suzanne’s legal support has been vital. Adults and family members rely on her to negotiate the byzantine and dysfunctional U.S. immigration system. The MFAF legal and other services help ease some of the farmworkers’ transition to year round employment and residency in the U.S.. 

Many of the workers are from rural Mexico and have never seen a doctor before going to the clinic organized by MFAF.  “They say,” Suzanne recently told me, “why go to a doctor?  You don’t think I’m dying do you?”  Health services and educational opportunities available to workers and family members compensate for the hard labor, long hours, low pay and often poor housing afforded the men and women.

Thanks to MFAF guidance and encouragement, many farmworker children have graduated from nearby high schools and community colleges.  A few have continued their studies and one young man is now studying for a PhD at Catholic University in D.C.  He completed his Masters’ degree in Memphis where he met his wife-to-be, the principle dancer with the Memphis Ballet.  George is one of many success stories of MFAF’s contributions to the lives of Kansas City farmworkers.

In our meeting, I asked Suzanne what keeps her going in her work to maintain funding, guide staff and volunteers, improve living conditions for farmworkers and their families and struggle with U.S. immigration policies.  “It’s the stories that help keep me going” she quickly replied.    

The Calling of “Open Borders”

Nine million U.S. citizens are living out of the country; in 1999 the figure was 4 million.  But Americans today do not have to leave the U.S. to encounter and learn from other cultures.

Not only are U.S. citizens traveling beyond the country’s borders for medications and surgeries. 9 million Americans live outside the country today compared to 4 million just 20 years ago. (Photo by NASA.gov)

Honest, true to oneself interpretation of life in another culture is a calling in our day and age. It is also for us Americans counter cultural. The U.S. culture has not customarily celebrated what we learn and how we grow through cross-cultural encounters. As a child in the 1950’s I was assured that the U.S. was the best country to be born in as well as the most generous, best intentioned democracy on the planet. Following our leadership in defeating the fascist armies in WW II, we had seemingly become that “city on the hill” that the pilgrim envisioned in migrating to our shore.

We now know better that such youthful exuberance can lead to hubris, a sense of entitlement vis a vis other countries, and arrogance. How do we as individuals and a nation pursue relationships of equality and mutual respect with other nations when we at some level believe we know how to fix everything and can deploy the resources to do it? How do we relate to other cultures and other nations as individuals and as a nation?

Whether we embrace cross cultural encounters or view other cultures with suspicion and fear is a vital question in all eras. But it assumes greater importance in a time when the U.K. has voted to abandon its membership in the European Common Market and the U.S. foreign policy protects its “national interests” by repudiating former agreements and treaties. Since the 2016 U.S. election, the U.S. has rejected participation in the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear agreement. We have also ceased funding of the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court, and withdrawn from the Global Pact on Migration and the UN Arms Trade Treaty.

I believe we as individuals do have models to follow for mutually beneficial relationships with other cultures and nations. Consider the testimonials of U.S. citizens serving in other countries. The Global Ministries’ Division of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Christian Church Disciples of Christ (DOC) in the U.S. calls them “Mission Co-Workers” to emphasize how they work in a partnership of mutuality with citizens of the countries they serve in. One of the more than 100 “Mission Co Workers” now working in such a partnership has written about her life in Morocco, a majority Muslim country with very few Christians. Born in Haiti, Emmanuela L’occident wrote the following in her first year of service in North Africa:

“My biggest challenge here is to go beyond what I know of the world and grasp whatever this new country has to offer. Daily, we face some things we’ve never seen and we are sometimes prone to reject or to impose our way of thinking. Having a position of power here is a really complex dynamic where I constantly have to analyze and make sure to give my brothers and sisters, who are also my colleagues here, the opportunity to decide freely while benefiting of my input. I am forever grateful for all the things I have learned so far and how transformed I am by what I’ve seen, heard and lived.”

In a recent Opinion piece for the New York Times David Brooks urged Democrats to counter the current U.S. administration’s anti-immigrant policies and language “with the pluralist mind-set (which) acknowledges that God’s truth is radically dispersed”. In the column titled “How to Beat Trump on Immigration” (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/07/opinion/trump-immigration.html?searchResultPosition=2) Brooks suggests “Pluralism offers us the chance, and the civic duty, to be a daring social explorer, venturing across subcultures, sometimes having the exciting experience of being the only one of you in the room, harvesting the wisdom embedded in other people’s lifeways”. What Brooks calls the “pluralist mind-set” is beautifully described by another Global Ministries “Mission Co-Worker” living in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico.

Now in her twenties, Abigail Fate writes, “My coworkers thoroughly address all my concerns and go out of their way to make sure that I have fresh coffee and that I understand what I’m doing. The children we work with in markets around the city have begun to recognize me, and eagerly tell me about their lives. They listen carefully as I explain the games we’re playing, while still giggling and correcting my Spanish.” Summing up her experience to date, she writes, “I have been met with unwavering patience and kindness in every aspect of my life here. Though there are many challenges, and it’s often difficult, I can already see this city and these people becoming home. And I can’t wait to see how my story will continue to unfold.”

Abi and Emmanuela are committed to value, respect and learn from the cultural traditions and lifestyle in their new homes. Like all “Mission Co-Workers”, they find that the mutuality approach of our international Church partnerships greatly assist in meeting the challenges of life in a very different culture. As representatives of two U.S.-based Christian denominations (U.C.C. and D.O.C.) working for mutuality and equality among cultures, they would agree with Brooks that “Only people who are securely rooted in their own particularity are confident enough to enjoy the encounter with difference.”

I am convinced that in this time of unprecedented devaluation of other cultures and of our nation’s agreements with other countries, we may discover new, larger dimensions of our “particularity” as Christians, and as human beings, in a multi-cultural world. That Jesus proclaimed God’s love is universal there can be no doubt. That it has always been challenging for followers of Jesus to reflect that love in relationships with persons of other faiths and other cultures there can also be no doubt.

Today as citizens of the U.S., the nation with the largest Christian population, we need not leave the country to respond to the calling to demonstrate love and respect for persons of other faiths and cultures. In the U.S. of our time, we are offered opportunities on a daily basis to live with “a pluralist mind-set”. In our “particularity” as U.S. citizens, Christian and non-Christian, we can progress towards a more “pluralist mind set” by learning and growing through our encounters with people of other cultures. Living today in the U.S., we all can be transformed by what we’ve “seen, heard and lived” among people of other cultures.

Cellist Yo Yo Ma on “Open Borders”

 

Cellist Yo Yo Ma will play 36 solo concerts on 6 continents to "explore how culture connects us" in his Bach Project.

One of 36 solo concerts by cellist Yo Yo Ma took place at the southern Chile observatory, the most powerful in the world. With his two year Bach Project the musician declares, “We are all cultural beings – let’s explore how culture connects us and can help build a better future.”

In April of this year, world renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma played a Bach suite for solo cello in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico at the border crossing to the U.S. For an audience filled with persons who daily cross the border to the U.S., the Chinese-American musician noted how his own personal life and his art have been about crossing borders. “I’ve lived my life at the borders between cultures, between disciplines, between musics, between generations.”

Ma had planned to play the concert on the bridge linking the U.S. and Mexico but the U.S. Customs and Border Protection would not approve it. In a Laredo interview he responded to a recent statement by the U.S. President that the country was already “full”.  Ma asserted,“A country is not a hotel and it is not full”.

Designated by the United Nations as one of its “Messengers for Peace”, Ma will play the Bach six suites for solo cello in 36 locations on 6 continents over a two year period. His web site describes the mission of what he calls The Bach Project, “The shared understanding that culture generates in these divisive times can bind us together as one world and can guide us to political and economic decisions that benefit the entire species.”

Watch an excerpt here of the Nuevo Laredo, Mexico performance filmed and commented on by Texas Public Radio:

Atomic Scientists on “Open Borders”

The 1946 book One World or None was reissued in 2007 by The New Press

Many of the leading atomic scientists contributed essays to this 1946 best selling book and assisted in production of a documentary film of the same name.

“If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people must unite, or they will perish.” J.Robert Oppenheimer spoke these words soon after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The chief of the Los Alamos team that produced the first nuclear weapons joined many other atomic scientists in calling for international oversight of future development of atomic weapons and atomic energy.

The scientists’ anguish over the cataclysmic potential of nuclear bombs led to the creation of the Federation of Atomic Scientists of Los Alamos. Their December 1945 newsletter editorialized, “the preservation of…secrecy on a purely national basis would represent the defeat of any adequate program of international control.”

At the same time, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by Los Alamos and Manhattan Project team members who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work.” Several of them also contributed essays to the best selling book of 1946 titled One World or None: A Report to the Public on the Full Meaning of the Atomic Bomb.

Oppenheimer continued to call for international control of atomic weapons in the 1960’s. At a series of lectures at Oxford in 1962 he declared, “[…] We think of this as our contribution to the making of a world which is varied and cherishes variety, which is free and cherishes freedom, and which is freely
changing to adapt to the inevitable needs of change in the twentieth century and all centuries to come, but a world which, with all its variety, freedom, and change, is without nation states armed for war and above all, a world without war.”

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced the “doomsday clock” in 2018 thirty seconds explaining, “In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II.”

Albert Einstein was among the leading scientists who hoped the United Nations would provide the institutional framework for control of atomic weapons and atomic energy. He began his appeal to the Second General Assembly of the UN in 1947 lamenting: “Since the victory over the Axis powers – no appreciable progress has been made either toward the prevention of war or toward agreement in specific fields such as control of atomic energy”. Anticipating the argument that the U.S. or any other nation’s hegemony in nuclear weapons would guarantee security and peace, Einstein declared, “However, strong national armaments may be they do not create military security for any nation nor do they guarantee the maintenance of peace.”

Einstein’s appeal to the U.N. warned against the idolatry of national sovereignty as hampering progress toward international peace and security. “There can never be complete agreement on international control and the administration of atomic energy or on general disarmament until there is a modification of the traditional concept of national sovereignty…. Security is indivisible. It can be reached only when necessary guarantees of law and enforcement obtain everywhere, so that military security is no longer the problem of any single state.”

The hope for a world order without armed forces and weapons deployed by individual nation states soon gave way to the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The 1946 founding of the United Nations represented for Einstein and many others a departure from and repudiation of the logic of nationalism and national sovereignty. Expectations that progress in creating a world system of law and order would follow soon gave way to a new scramble to maintain control of the resources in the former colonies of Europe. It is the devotion to the defense of national sovereignty, a conception of world order most developed in the 19th Century, that drives opposition to “open borders” today.

Our “national sovereignty” is referred to as threatened by immigration to the U.S. Migrants today constitute an “invasion” of the country. Such language leads to further militarization of the 1,933 mile southern border of the U.S. Building a wall to ensure long term security ignores ample evidence that what hasn’t worked in the past won’t work in our time. The push for building a wall contributes to the hysteria surrounding immigration without contributing to the defense of the nation or clearing a path for progress in immigration reform.

Responding to increases in the number of migrants by building a wall does illuminate for us the dangers of clinging to outmoded, archaic thinking behind public policies based on defense of “national sovereignty”. Defense of our people in this nation from the potential consequences of atomic warfare, of global climate change and of mass migration from impoverished regions most affected requires the U.S. to rethink its posture and politics of “America First”. What must happen before we commit to international cooperation and control in this “one world or none”? What degree of catastrophe in the U.S. must occur before we open our minds to “open borders”?

Astronauts on “Open Borders”

Moon Landing Module  0722-Apollo-11

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Module Leaves the Moon in July 1969 with Earth in the Background. Photo by NASA/Reuters

A friend recently asked me, “Our immigration system is a mess but are you really for ‘open borders’?” The last serious discussion about immigration reform in the U.S. Congress got nowhere largely because Tea Party members and other Republicans loudly voiced opposition to any form of “amnesty” for immigrants who had lived in the U.S. for years without legal immigration status documentation. Now the tactic of anti-immigration reform activists seems to be to attack any reform-minded politician by accusing them of being for “open borders”.

This is an appropriate time then to consider what those have said who have looked at our earth and its conflicts from the perspective of outer space. So in this year of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, l respond to my friend’s inquiring if I am for “open borders” with the following comments from those who have looked at earth and our controversies from space.

“Now I know why I’m here. Not for a closer look at the moon, but to look back at our home the Earth.”
– Alfred Worden,
Apollo 15, 1971, USA

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’” — Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut

“The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.”
– Sultan Bin Salman al-Saud,
Discovery 5, Saudi Arabia

“From space I saw Earth – indescribably beautiful with the scars of national boundaries gone.”
– Muhammad Amhad Faris,
Soyuz TM-3, Syria

“The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.”
– James Irwin,
Apollo 15, USA

The scientist who is most widely known for his contributions to U.S. advances in space travel, Carl Sagan, wrote in his 1980 best seller Cosmos ,

“National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.”

Carl Sagan quote on the Pale Blue Dot photo from Voyager 1

Carl Sagan in his book Pale Blue Dot wrote, “In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

Based on the wisdom gained by those who have experienced space travel, proponents of immigration reform might say we need not fear to join the rest of the universe in advocating for “open borders” on our planet. Our science has enabled us to overcome human ignorance about the extraordinary nature of human beings and our earth in the cosmos but our ethics and our politics have bound us to human weakness and error in managing our responsibilities on earth.

A Mexican-American Family Responds to Nativists (Like the U.S. President)

The novel’s De la Cruz family as imagined by Marta Monteiro. From the NY Times.

The House of Broken Angels is a novel that seems destined to further build Mexican-American writer Luis Alberto Urrea’s international reputation and readership.  Published in 2018, Urrea’s novel was glowingly reviewed by the Vietnamese-American novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen in the New York Times and is the Times-PBS “Now Read This” July Book of the Month selection.

Urrea was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an American mother and went to college in San Diego.  Though identified as a “border writer” his website quotes him saying, “I am more interested in bridges than borders”.  Like the filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón with the Academy Award winning “Roma”, Urrea’s work represents a clear window through which Mexican culture and family life can be viewed and a “bridge” is built between the U.S. and Mexico.  It was inspired by the death of his older brother from cancer.  He says on the Times book review podcast that his family threw a 70th birthday party for his brother, “his last birthday party on earth”, as the de la Cruz family does for the family patriarch in the book.

Another strong motivation in writing the book was political –  particularly the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump 2016 campaign.  “The subtitle of the book should be ‘Go to Hell, Donald,’” the author told an interviewer.   He went on to say, “I couldn’t any longer take all the rhetoric, I couldn’t any longer take all the ‘build-the-wall’ propaganda or the ‘bad hombres’ and all of the damage and harm and heartbreak this course in American politics is taking in people’s lives on a daily basis.”     It is the author’s humor and love for all kinds of people that stand out and stay with Urrea’s readers.  He says that after his public readings from the book, “I’m hugging a lot of people. Every night, my jacket smells like 14 perfumes and seven after-shaves. People want hugs.”

Relevant links:

New York Times review in March 2018 of The House of Broken Angels  :

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/books/review/house-of-broken-angels-luis-alberto-urrea.html

“Now Read This” NYTimes-PBS Facebook group discussion of The House of Broken Angels :

https://www.facebook.com/groups/NowReadThisBookClub/search/?query=house%20of%20broken%20angels&epa=SEARCH_BOX

Urrea talks about why he wrote the book with Pamela Paul on the New York Times Book Review podcast:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/books/review/house-of-broken-angels-luis-alberto-urrea-interview.html

 

 

Mexico Feeds the U.S.

Speaking of higher tariffs on Mexican imports and the wisdom of closing the border with our neighbor to the south, I want to share a favorite piece of Mexican folk music. “Ya viene el tren de Durango” sings a Mexican migrant farm laborer who leaves his home in rural Mexixo to work in the fields of “el norte”, across the U.S. border. The song was inspired by the experience of migrant “bracero” farm laborers in the U.S. fields of the early 1940’s to the early 1960’s.

These primarily Mexican farmworkers replaced the labor force conscripted for WW II and, with the increase in U.S. population and demand, now provide most of the cultivators, weeders and pickers of U.S. crops. To call essential migrant farmworkers “illegal” is one of the many grotesque consequences of the lack of a comprehensive update of U.S. immigration laws since the Reagan administration.

You may listen to the song “Ya Viene el Tren de Durango” as sung by folk musicians of Northern Mexico, including Jose Ignacio Cardenas Alvarado, the song’s composer. Its lovely melody, simplicity of language, and the singer’s clear enunciation make it ideal for Spanish language learning.

English translation:

“Here comes the train from Durango,
I must say good bye now, here in the Goma station,
to seek my future.

From Torreon to the City of Juarez
I’ll take yet another train
and then cross the border
so I don’t know when I’ll return.

REFRAIN 2X:

I know how to make the cuts on alfalfa
I know how to pick cotton
I know how to grow tomatoes, watermelon and squash.

But I leave as a poor fellow
and the money I take isn’t enough
when I’m on the other side
and run out of dough.

So look my pretty old lady
the dollars we told our children
I’d bring with me
let’s not mention again.

REFRAIN 2X

Now is also a good time to remember how the U.S. has for years depended on fruit and vegetables from Mexico to feed its families. Mexico supplied 29 % of the tomatoes eaten in the U.S. in 2016. In that same year, Mexico produced 91 % of the avocadoes consumed in “el norte”.

The effect of increased tariffs on prices of Mexican food imports to the U.S. would of course be dramatic and onerous for millions. Prices of produce would rise from 20 to 40 % an April 3, 2019 Time Magazine article estimated. The same article noted that many large U.S. agriculture firms, Driscoll’s berries is one, now produce food in Mexico with Mexican labor.

Congolese-American Defends Immigrants’ Right to Asylum

Patricia Okoumou protests U.S. treatment of families seeking asylum by climbing to base of Statue of Liberty last July 4. Photo by Abagond at wordpress.com

In a dramatic defense of the right of migrants to seek asylum when fleeing persecution and threats to their life, a Congolese-American U.S. citizen climbed the Statue of Liberty on 2018. U.S. Independence Day 2018. This year Patricia Okoumo continued her protest of the official U.S. response to migrants at the southern border by scaling the Austin, TX Southwest Key immigrant detention facility last month. Southwest Key is contracted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) to detain and/or keep tabs on migrants who have fled their violence-plagued homelands.

In interviews following her climb to the base of the Liberty statue, Okoumou highlighted the plight of hundreds of migrant families separated by ICE detention. Despite prior pledges to reunite the families, ICE reported there were still up to 3000 children who remained in children-only detention when the climb at the Statue took place. In one interview the 44 year old protestor stated, “I felt peaceful, that I was with those children in spirit. I could feel their isolation and their cries being answered only by four walls.” Buffeted by high winds for three hours before her arrest and descent from the Statue, Okoumou said, “I was thinking of Lady Liberty above me, you are so huge, you have always been a symbol of welcome to people arriving in America and right now, for me under this sandal, she is a shelter.”

Surrounded by fellow Rise and Resist members, Patricia Okoumou spoke to the press at her December hearing. Photo by Jeenah Moon (Reuters)

For a decade now, both the Obama and Trump administrations have sought to discourage Central Americans seeking refuge in the U.S. from their countries’ rampant violence. Although El Salvador and Honduras both rank among the five most violent countries in the world today, the Trump administration has drastically reduced the number of asylum applicants admitted to this country. For the fiscal year 2018, there was a cap set of 45,000 asylees, but only 22,491 people were eventually accepted. Further discouraging migrants who might willfully submit to the U.S. immigration process, as of July 2018 the average wait time for an immigration hearing was 721 days. While funding of ICE apprehension and detention of migrants increased substantially during the Obama years and has continued to rise under Trump, allocations for hiring more immigration judges has not kept up.

Under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees signed by the U.S. and more than 140 other countries, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. A study by the UN High Commission for Refugees found that 80 per cent of the women from Central America and Mexico applying for asylum at the U.S. southern border were found to have a significant possibility of establishing eligibility for asylum or protection under the Convention against Torture.” In practice, the U.S. denied 89 per cent of the asylum applications in 2016. Among those deported to their countries of origin, there are well documented cases of asylum seekers being attacked and killed on their return.

Rise and Resist activists called for abolition of ICE at the December court hearing. Photo by NYDailyNews

The right to seek refuge from potential persecution and violence in one’s home country is a well established principle of internationally recognized human rights. The UN Declaration of Human Rights upheld the right which dates back at least to the time of Ancient Greece. More recently, the U.S. joined 145 other countries in ratifying the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1967.

Following her arrest in Texas, the New York City court ordered Patricia Okoumou to wear an ankle bracelet to enable monitoring of her movements until her sentencing on March 19. Meanwhile, the group Rise and Resist, to which she belongs, calls for the abolition of ICE by the U.S. “We stand on the right side of history,” Okoumou said after she was found guilty by the judge in New York. “I am not … discouraged” she continued. “Today our laws sometimes lack morality and this is a perfect example of that.” In summing up the motives for her dramatic protests she declared while choking up, “I wanted to send a strong statement that children do not belong in cages”.