Throughout the Fall 2014 semester, a group Frederick Community College Honors composition students are considering problems of complex identity, social/family belonging, cultural myth, and the role of language in forming how we see ourselves and the world around us.
In addition to reading and viewing texts such as Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, Jose Antonio Vargas’s Outlaw: My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant (New York Times 7.14.14), and Chimamanda Adiche’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” students are deepening their awareness of the multiple perspectives undergirding these problems by interviewing FCC international and ESL students, both in person and through Google+ hangout technology.
The following post is the second of six submitted by the class. What did YOU think after reading The Distance Between Us? (our posting policy)
By Brian Taylor
Over the last few months the immigration debate has become a hot topic yet again, as the public conversation has shifted toward children who arrive without parents and enter the nation illegally. Indeed, there has been an explosion of debate around children arriving unaccompanied to the United States of America, and sadly (in my opinion) their terrifying plight has become an issue of politics and not an issue of humanitarian aid to those who need it the most. The news media and political parties have rallied around this as an issue of the law and have set the tone of the national dialogue around this emerging crisis as one of “Why should we have to pay for these people?” Their questions focus more on protecting a birthright of American citizens, rather than the human rights of global citizens.
In that framework the traditional single story of undocumented immigrants coming to America to leech off the back of hard working Americans is not only reinforced, but becomes a cornerstone of the immigration debate. Thankfully for every single hot headed talk radio host, for every piece of hyperbole about the downfall of America or the bleeding dry of her citizenry and resources, for every single dehumanizing portrayal of these children who are coming across the borders seeking refuge and a better life we have real and personal stories from the people, such as Reyna Grande, who have made the trip, and more chillingly from those who have failed.
The best way to combat the single story, the image of this faceless horde, is to put faces on to these children; to show that they are living and breathing human beings with hopes, desires, fears, and apprehension. That these are not some plague of locusts coming to consume our fields, but are instead just like us except they happened to have been born outside of American soil. They come to our nation for the same reason my ancestors did, seeking freedom from oppression or to maintain family units.
Writers Reyna Grande, Sonia Nazario, and Jose Antonio Vargas have all put a human face onto the faceless mask of undocumented immigrants. They present us with the personal stories of children who have come to America for a variety of reasons. They expose their motivations, and more importantly remind us that these are real live people we are discussing. They force us, if even for a moment, to empathize with either themselves, in the case of Grande and Vargas, or with the broader plight of an oppressed people from Nazario’s work.
Of the three assigned materials the most important, to me, in light of the current crisis and debate around it are the stories from Latin America exposed by Sonia Nazario in her July 11th 2014 Editorial in the New York Times, which recounts the stories of Honduran children who have to see their friends and family cut down. They are living their lives in fear of drug cartels that have become the de facto government, and these children are subject to the most heinous crimes at the whim of the local drug lords. When examined through the lens of violence, it becomes obvious that these children are not coming to the United States because they see an easy opportunity to enrich themselves. They are not coming here to leech off of our systems. They are coming here to survive, they are coming here to preserve their lives and break the chains of their oppression. They want to escape a government that has failed them, and regain the human rights that we all should not only share but strive to protect globally, not just within our national borders and for those who happened to be born on American soil.
It is in light of this that I’d like to remind you, dear reader, that you are most likely the descendants of immigrants. Those immigrants came to America for the same reason that people still do to this day: Escaping oppression and perse-cution, economic opportunity, and pursuit of what we allegedly hold to be unalienable human rights. Our Declaration of Independence does not state that all Americans are created equally, it states that “all men are created equally.” It states that our natural rights by birth, for each and every human on the planet, are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The political debate should be moot, but it is not, and that is because instead of seeing these children as people we are seeing them as a number on the balance sheet, or a plague, something foreign and alien. By presenting immigrants as humans, this fragile wall is shattered, and we can begin to approach the issue, hopefully, with open arms and open hearts. We can replace enmity or apathy with empathy, and help these children in their pursuit of their natural rights. After all, that is the American way.
Our thanks to Assistant Professor Magin LaSov Gregg, in the English Department at Frederick Community College for coordinating her students’ essays.