Photo from David Zeiger's film "Displaced in the New South"
While traveling through southern Arizona on Interstate 10 did not provide me an overheated mirage of a tropical spa, I did experience delusions of a 100 MPH speed limit. Why not, since there’s a sandbar every ten feet to slow my runaway minivan? Among the yucca plants and dust devils I noticed the regular presence of border patrol, even 200 miles from the Mexican border in a wide sand bowl where lizards fear to cross.
“Really?” I asked my Samsonite luggage stacked in the passenger seat. “Are illegal immigrants really sneaking into our country through this misery? Anyone who survives a trek like that is a soul we may want on American soil -- because that, my trusty traveling companion, is determination with a capital D.”
There’s no question Arizona has become overwhelmed by illegal immigrants desperate for a shot at the American dream: a decent living, a good education, medical care. These are the very systems that are being overrun. I understand that the demand made by those who are not contributing taxes is overwhelming those who do. It wasn’t surprising that the Arizona State Government felt the need to draw a line allowing local police, who have made a "lawful stop, detention or arrest" of an individual, to determine that person's immigration status if there is a "reasonable suspicion" that they may be an illegal alien.
Of course this law carries the taint of racial profiling, which has made it controversial with the rest of the country. My hometown of Austin, 800 miles to the east, responded by drawing a line of their own: they banned travel and all business ties with Arizona. All of this political maneuvering reminded me of Europe -- a place that has drawn more lines than a child’s Spirograph.
My husband and I were very fortunate to live in Germany for three years in the late 90’s. He was in the Air Force, working four days on - four days off, with an outstanding vacation package. We decided to spend as much time and money as two DINKs could traveling the continent. In the end we had visited 26 countries. We loved seeing the red barns in the Swedish country side, the gothic architecture in Prague, the history in Cairo... and then there was Italy. There is very little to dislike about Italy.
But no matter where we visited, from Israel to Ireland, Spain to Russia, the locals always had a negative opinion to share with us about one of their neighbors. Unfortunately, a good deal of it was still being directed toward Germany. WWII may have ended 65 years ago, but the emotional turmoil lingers still. “Oh how sorry we are for you to be in Germany,” said a young Russian man on the Moscow underground. “Germans? We hate the Germans!” shared a French couple in a Strasburg restaurant. “Germany! Why it is no wonder you have come to Brussels to escape,” boasted a Belgium waffle vender. It became depressing for us to listen to these harbored feelings.
If only I could say it were the remnants of the World Wars, but Europe’s history is long and pock-marked with conflict. A Turk bragged that if we were Greek, he would kill us on the spot -- while a Greek explained how they are striving to erase Turkey from the world map. The Poles want nothing to do with the Russians, do not insult an Englishman by referring to him as Welsh, and the Swiss -- well, how can you hold a grudge against the world’s banker?
Whenever we ran into this cultural discrimination, we would try to explain how odd it was to grasp the depth of this discrimination as Americans. We are still dealing with race issues and the inequality of the sexes, but you never find hate on the other side of a geographical line in the United States. “I am from the State of Wyoming,” I would explain. “Wyominites do not hate New Yorkers, or Californians, or Vermonters.” We love to ski and camp in Canada and take spring breaks in Mexico. They would wave me away, shaking their head, “Bah! You Americans, your country is still a baby.”
The truth is that our short history has saved us from this cultural discrimination. Why the German/French border alone has been moved and fought over for centuries. If the Canadians were constantly invading Minnesota, do you think we’d be nearly as enthusiastic today about their crude oil, low-cost prescriptions and bacon?
One of the greatest gifts we possess in this country is our lack of violent history with our neighbors. And our intermeshed cultural inheritance is a fantastic buffer to discriminate against any single group. Arizona checking the citizenship of its Hispanic population is like California checking the authenticity of its blondes. Look around… then tell me where they plan to begin?
When our country has drawn cultural lines in the past (racial segregation, the Japanese Internment Camps) it has proven to be an embarrassing regret. How many lines marked by massive walls topped with razor wire will it take for humanity to realize these physical divisions only make it more difficult to listen and work out solutions with one another?
These are humans we are trying to keep on the other side of that line; people with the same dreams as our forefathers, people who hold a dream for their parents, spouses and children. They are not entitled to reap from our systems, but does that make it impossible for us to discover safer routes for them to access the human dream thriving in America? Do you think there may be a way to export The Dream across the border into their homeland? Can you envision a future Mexico that we would consider moving into?
Feature photo credit: David McNew for the New York Post
When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.