Tuesday, April 11, 2006


We are witnessing a very important time in our country's history. The demonstrations about immigration reform are democracy in action. We so rarely note these things when they're happening, but - heads up - this is one of them - don't miss it.

It's simple to me. Of course I want to offer education to the children of immigrants, regardless of the status of their parents. Of course I want everyone - including immigrants, regardless of their status - to have health care. Of course I want people to feel secure in their lives and not be constantly looking over their shoulders, worried about being deported.

Naturally, there are some "bad seeds" in any group you can imagine - from religious leaders to mothers. But, the vast majority of immigrants are here because they want a better life. They're not here to break the law. They just want to live a life with some basic needs met. While I'm thinking about what "perks" I have, many of these people are just trying to cover their needs and that of their loved ones.

People are just people - all over the world. We're really rather simple creatures. Maslow had us all figured out. Maslow's most basic need is safety and it's something someone who's constantly worrying about deportation does not have.It's at the bottom of the pyramid. How sad that those of us higher up on the pyramid - who have our basic needs met - want to keep others from reaching up to us, and beyond us.

If you've ever eaten chicken that's mass produced, or smoked a cigarette, or had your roof repaired, or eaten out, or had your shirt cleaned, or eaten food grown on a US corporate farm, then you've probably benefited from illegal workers. So don't go getting all uppity about how awful it is that "those people" are taking over the country. You're a hypocrite. "Those people" have made it possible for you to reach a higher rung on Maslow's pyramid. You're standing on their shoulders. If you're not willing to stretch out your hand to offer them a hand up to a level where they're not worried about their basic safety, at least try not to step on their heads while you're standing above them.

For a nation that was founded by immigrants, it's astonishing we're so hateful toward them. I'm a mixed bag of French, English, German, and who knows what else. Mix it all together and it's just "American." That story, with modifications, can be repeated by almost everyone in this country. And at one time or another in our nation's history, almost every immigrant group was hated. It was said they were going to ruin the nation. People changed their last names so as not to show their nationality. My German ancestors were "Kruse" but changed it to "Crews" to be more American.

Why do we want to deny a life in the US to others who want it? What is it that we're protecting? Our American way of life? There is no such thing that is defined and static. It's fluid. The American way of life is different now than it was 50 years ago, even 5 years ago, and it will be different 10 years from now. Why can we not define that with additional citizens in our mix?

I hear the argument that people are a drain on the system. Well, of course they are. The majority of them are not paying taxes, and employers are not paying taxes on them. Is that their fault? No. It's our fault for demanding cheap goods and services. Technically, people can get a tax ID number and pay their taxes, even if they're illegal, but I can imagine that that would set off alarms if I were in their situation. I don't think I'd march into an office and send the government something with my address on it, stating that I'm illegal.

It all boils down to that we want to hold onto everything we have, and we want more. We're the bully on the playground who wants to gather all the toys up and keep them all for ourselves, even though we can only play with one of them at a time. We want to have a whole class of people who will work for less because they have to, and because employers can then avoid paying them what they're worth, so we all get products and services for less, so we can all climb a little higher on the pyramid. There's a name for that class of people. We call them slaves. We've just dressed it up a little differently, but that's what it is - not paying people what they're worth and having a whole class devoted to serving the rich (and trust me, all middle class people are rich by the general living standard in Mexico). It's called slavery. Let us not forget it.

Of course, you can argue that people are doing it willingly. Well, when you have no other choice, it's not the same as being willing. I am reminded of the words written by Maya Angelou, "At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice." I, unfortunately, know exactly what that sentence means, and I bet everyone on those marches does too. Ah, but, resistance is coming - in fact it has arrived. And it's a healthy thing for us as a nation to experience.

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