Category Archives: U.S. Immigration and Refugee Policies
Erasing Borders in Chiapas
I’ve just returned from a week long stay in Chiapas, the southernmost State of Mexico. I went with six other adults from my Peace Christian Church (United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ) in Kansas City. We did not go to “help” those who hosted us in any substantial, tangible way. On what can be best described as a “decolonizing mission” pilgrimage, we went to learn about the legacy of Spanish seizure of land, suppression of indigenous culture and the native resistance to the foreign presence and influence in Chiapas. These all remain sources of the multiple conflicts Chiapas has experienced in recent years. In tandem with the oppression of the indigenous people, religious differences have been used by the Mexican State, foreign corporations and the cartels to stir conflict among the indigenous Mayan peoples and others in the State.
One of our partner agencies in global mission today hosted our delegation and introduced us to how they work for inter-religious and inter cultural understanding, reconciliation and peace. The INESIN staff represent and interpret well the diverse cultures of the Mexican State of Chiapas. There is jPetul, a former Catholic priest of Lacandon Mayan origin, who instructed us in the meanings and practice of creating a Mayan sacred altar. His spouse is a former nun led us one morning in moving through the Catholic daily meditation on “the liturgy of the hours”. In his welcome and introduction to the history of INESIN, the director told us he serves too as pastor of a Protestant church in the Chiapas capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez. We worshipped there on the Sunday of our week long stay.
We learned about the sources of the multiple conflicts in Chiapas after the Conquest through three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule from another partner of our denominations’ “Global Ministries”. Sipaz (https://www.sipaz.org) presents workshops designed to free and protect the population from Chiapas’ cycles of violence while other programs aim to educate and encourage advocacy among foreign visitors. The Sipaz director for the past 20 years is a woman who described recent political and economic developments as well as Chiapas’ historical context.
Marina noted that the trafficking in migrants through the State of Chiapas and on to the U.S. is now largely controlled by leading Mexican cartels, formerly primarily engaged in the drug trade. Lax security and immigration enforcement at the Guatemalan border reflects Mexican Government border policy, funded by the U.S., of interdicting undocumented migrants on the roads of Chiapas. The immigration attorney among our pilgrims had prior to our trip discovered that the Guatemalan State and one of the country’s leading banks have profited from their fellow citizens’ migration. Failure to repay loans for the U.S. journey results in loss of a Guatemalan migrant’s land.
Another grim aspect of the situation is the targeting of older children and youth in recruitment by the cartels and local militias. We observed the third of our denominations’ partner agencies in San Cristobal working with poor children, of Mayan families, who are encouraged and trained by Melel Xojobal (“true light” in the Tzotzil Mayan language) to value their earning potential outside the cartels’ grip and to defend their human rights. Melel Xojobal (https://www.melelxojobal.org.mx/ ) meets and organizes groups of children at the markets. A recent series of protests by Melel children won expansion of bathroom facilities in the City’s largest markets.
With a crammed schedule on little sleep, I took a break mid-week and missed the trip to the Guatemalan border with stops at two Precolumbian centers of Mayan culture and religion. The recently excavated ruins were built and flourished during what some scholars refer to as the “Dark Ages” in Europe. Between the third and tenth centuries A.D. the Mayans made their most significant contributions to the advance of our species. Viewing the vestiges of the Mayan legacy in the early 1500’s, and judging them as “pagan”, the Spanish missionaries and soldiers destroyed all they could identify as Mayan. Of the hundreds of books written on scrolls of bark by Mayan scribes, only three remain to instruct us on Mayan civilization.
Oppression of the Mayans under Spanish colonialism and decades of discrimination have led to speculation, even at present, that the magnificent Mayan temples, observatories and stone sculptures were created by members of Atlantis’ lost continent or another fabled people. Sadly there are Mexicans who still hold, along with their neighbors in the U.S., demeaning views of the indigenous people of their country. Anyone today who spends time in Yucatan or Chiapas or one of the four Central American nations inhabited by Mayan peoples today cannot question the resemblance of the figures depicted on the ancient sculptures and the indigenous people around them.
After visit of a great Mayan city of the past like Palenque in Chiapas, one is moved to think that the capacity of over 5 million Mayans to have survived centuries of exploitation and genocidal attack is in itself a remarkable achievement. The leading U.S. scholar of Mayan history and culture, Michael Coe, attributes the endurance of the Mayan peoples to three factors. In the ninth edition of his book The Maya he writes,
“What has kept the Maya people culturally and even phsically viable is their hold on the land (and that land on them), a devotion to their community and an all-pervading and meaningful belief system.” Coe then comments, “It is small wonder that their oppressors have concentrated on these three areas in incessant attempts to exploit them as a politically helpless labor force.”
I had in a 1980 journey through Chiapas been able to spend a day at Palenque which is touted by many visitors as the most dramatic and beautiful of the Mayan centers revealed to date. Our hosts advised against a visit as there is now a relatively insecure and substandard 200 km. plus route from San Cristobal to Palenque. Comparable in my mind to the majesty and achievement represented by the French cathedrals of Mont St. Michel and Chartres, an experience of Palenque insists that we revisit our stereotypes of the Mexican people and the Mayans of Mexico in particular. After taking in Palenque one cannot fail to be amazed and moved that the waiter serving you dinner or the woman cleaning your room comes from an ancestry that created such monumental beauty.
B.Traven’s and Our Struggle to Be Human
There were some years in the 1930’s when B. Traven was the most widely read fiction writer in the world. Today, his many novels and collections of stories have exceeded 25 million in sales and been translated into more than 30 languages. In spite of his huge legion of readers, his biography and even his name continue to be debated. After his death, in his late 70’s? or late 80’s?, in 1969, his first and only wife Rosa Elena Lujan, suggested “He believed that individual stories are not important until they flow into the collective life”. She elaborated that he was “very much in love with communal life and communal thinking”.
Lujan, translator of many of his books into English, also revealed that Traven had indeed been the German revolutionary Ret Marut. Condemned to death by firing squad in 1919 in Munich, the former communications officer of the Bavarian Socialist Republic escaped from his captors and sought refuge on a freighter that took him, an undocumented man claiming to be born in the U.S., around the world. We know for certain that for more than five years, he was a man without a country.
In 1925 he chose life on land in México and jumped ship in the northern port of Tampico. Two novels that he had likely written while at sea were published a year later in Germany by the author B. Traven. The Death Ship tells of an undocumented sailor and his mates exploited ruthlessly by the captain and owners of a global freighter. Gerald Gales, the sailor, is also the protagonist of The Cotton Pickers, first titled The Wobbly, who tells his fellow farmworkers that he identifies with the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World). Wobbly publications and artifacts remained stored among his personal items to his death.
Not surprising that many literary critics as well as readers have described Traven as a proletarian writer. This is true to a limited degree but there is a larger view of the man’s work and his life as a whole. I prefer thinking of him as an internationalist with exceptional compassion for people of all nationalities, tribes, and cultures. And a man with an unsurpassed talent for expressing that compassion through tales set in the highly diverse environments of México, his adopted country. A foremost example of what I see as his “internationalist” affiliation is found in his dedication of The Bridge in the Jungle:
“To the mothers
of every nation
of every people
of every race
of every color
of every creed
of all animals and birds
of all creatures alive
This begins the story of a mother’s and her Chiapas villagers’ anguished search for her exuberant pre-teen son. The same “internationalist” devotion can be found in most of Traven’s fiction. While exploitation of the workers by the man with capital is present in his best known book in the U.S., The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, other non-proletarian specific themes prevail. The grizzled old prospector cures an Indian on the way to the “treasure” and finds his place among his patient’s people. Thompson renounces the pursuit of great wealth for the envisioned peace with a loving wife and small farm in the Midwest. And Dobbsie, who resembles Traven the most, is tamed through the grueling pilgrimage to more knowledge of himself.
The passion of celebrating the worth and dignity of every human being drives Traven’s creativity. The writer’s utopian dream was of a world where the work of the typesetter, the secretary in the publisher’s office, the mailroom clerk, and the writer were all equally valued. What sets Traven apart from other modern writers in the hundred years since his fiction first appeared is his embrace and affirmation of all peoples and cultures. While his focus continued to be on the surviving Mayan cultures and people of Chiapas, southern México, he didn’t romanticize or set them apart from other “pre-modern” cultures or our own today. Traven lived off and on in Chiapas for a total of at least two decades and his ashes were scattered over the jungle there.
In her introduction to The Kidnapped Saint and Other Stories Mrs. Lujan wrote of his love for Chiapas. “Traven went to the Indians of Chiapas as a brother, a friend, and a comrade, not as most outsiders did, to steal from or exploit them.” She heard from her husband how he lived among them: “At night Traven slept on the hard ground with only his serape wrapped around him. In the morning he rose early and ate tortillas and chili with them.” She notes that her husband had a gift for languages and could converse in several Mayan dialects.
Why B. Traven spurned the great wealth and fame that would have come from his life work he explained in 1929. Writing a German professor who lectured on his books, Traven wanted it understood that “I do not want to give up my life as an ordinary human being”. To do so would have undermined his aim to “do my part to get rid of all authorities and the veneration of authorities so that every man can feel stronger in the knowledge that he is absolutely as indispensable and important for the rest of humanity as every other person no matter what they do.” Our duty as human beings was to “serve humanity according to our understanding and capacity, to lift up the lives of others, bring them more happiness and direct their thoughts to meaningful goals of life.” Forty years later, at his death, Traven could look back on a lifetime of remaining faithful to this goal. B. Traven, presente!
Building Community For a New World
There were networks of trade that fed the Native American people in the United States long before the arrival of the first European settlers. Their corn, a staple for them, came from the South, Mexico and Guatemala, before they learned to grow the crops for themselves. Several varieties of bean imported from the South were also added to their diets. The hunter gatherer people of the U.S. imported from the same areas cacao, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, and the tomato. And tobacco was introduced along with the food crops.
According to the theories of the late Russian geneticist N.I. Vavilov, most of the world’s basic food plants originated in a relatively few places on the planet, most of them close to the equator. Experts in this field call these places Vavilov Centers to commemorate their importance to our world.
The diets of the first European settlers on the Atlantic coast benefited greatly from the well established trade networks with the South. Had they been restricted to consumption of what were native plants only, they would have had to make do with the sunflower, blueberries, cranberries and the Jerusalem artichoke. Development of trade between the settlers and the “Old World” sparked cultivation of almonds, carrots, flax, hemp, lentil, onion, peas and wheat from Central Asia. Asparagus, beets, hops, lettuce and olives originated in the Mediterranean. The settlers’ tastes governed which of the plants were favored and cultivated more widely. “American cuisine” largely relied on what were “non-native” crops.
In the last 50 years diets in the U.S. have been transformed not by imports of new crops so much as by the addition of new dishes introduced by immigrants to the country. Mexican restaurants and recipes have swept the country. When I returned from a year in Guadalajara in 1980 I had to search for a Mexican restaurant in U.S. cities I visited. Today our favorite “neighborhood” take out meals in Kansas City are from a Mexican restaurant and a Palestinian restaurant/grocery store less than two miles from home. Hummus and the fresh pita bread have become staples of my diet. A primary attraction of most U.S. urban centers today is the variety of ethnic restaurants opened by immigrant families across the country.
For many residents of and visitors to our urban centers the diversity of ethnic foods offered is part of the appeal. Any major city stages an international feast every night. In some venues the food is accompanied by music and/or dance enhancing the flavors of the culture. Beyond the food, music and art work decor, there is, however, little exposure to the culture. In most restaurants, we eat at separate tables. That might change though.
Someone asked Myles Horton at the beginning of the Civil Rights era how he was able to get whites and black residents of the South to meet and learn together at the Highlander Center. Horton quickly replied, “First, you set the table; then you call everyone to dinner and serve the hot meal.” We can imagine one long table for everyone gathered at Highlander. This story reminds me of my own experience in New York City in the mid-1960’s. One of the most popular restaurants in Manhattan’s Little Italy was Mama Leone’s. You usually had to wait for places to open up but you were seated at one of the two or three long tables with strangers already enjoying their pasta fagioli and lasagna. I never left the place without a happy stomach and a full spirit.
May we all find places in the future where new dishes are enjoyed and the tables are long. And may the delight in sharing a meal with people who are strangers lead to thanksgiving for and celebration of the diversity of food and cultures in our lands today.
What Hawaii Had to Teach Us in Our Visit
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.”
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
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.
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
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”
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.
Atomic Scientists on “Open Borders”
“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.”
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”
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.”
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.