Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tonight I met the "enemy"

“The question we Americans need to address, before it is answered for us, is: Does this First World nation wish to become a Third World country? Because that is our destiny if we do not build a sea wall against the waves of immigration rolling over our shores…Who speaks for the Euro-Americans, who founded the USA?…Is it not time to take back America?” - Pat Buchanan

Tonight I went to teach ESL classes in northern Virginia with a friend. I love this kind of volunteering, because the students proves all of the anti-immigrant activists wrong, especially the lovely Pat Buchanan. They are slowly trying to learn English, in order to make their lives and the lives of their families better, like the scores of immigrants before them. These students are the supposedly enemy. People who are working low wage jobs, cleaning houses, clothes, cars, and much more for low wages, are supposedly harming America.

During the class tonight, I wondered how each of these students came to the country. Did they have to hide in car trunks, wade across the Rio Grande, or did they just overstay a visa?

During my last year of college, I studied the immigration debate for several classes. Slowly I began engrossed in the topic that I ended up being a tutor for the local ESL classes. As part of my research, I spoke with several recent illegal immigrants, who talked about being taken advantage by people they paid to bring them over and then their employers. These stories showed America at its worst.

My view on immigration changed in high school, during my first trip to Mexico. Before college, I spent some time in rural northern Mexico with descendants of Confederate soldiers, who left after the South lost the Civil War (Their distant relatives still in the US could be anti-immigration activists). In this tiny town of sixty people, one of their sons went to the US for a better job and a better way of life. The son could have never entered the US legally. He was born in the little town at the end of a 20 mile dirt road. His father was a small farmer, so they don't have the proper documents to be able to apply for any kind of visa.

Before I visited this town, I wondered, why didn't the illegal immigrant come here legally? On my trip I found the answer.

On other trips to Mexico I have met many Mexicans who had lived in the US for a while. They went to be able to make money for their families and they returned to be able to be with their families. These immigrants do not want to be here, but what are you going to do, when they aren't any jobs in your country? Especially when the jobs are working in United States-owned factories for really low wages? How do you feed your family?

This year millions of Americans will be able to hop on a plane and fly to Mexico with the same ease of traveling to any other state (except there is the need for a passport for a fee). There most of these Americans will be walking around not knowing the language (and not caring), speaking loudly in English, drinking Coronas on the beach, taking advantage of the hospitality of the Mexicans, and then they will come home sunburned with a bottle of tequila and have the audacity to be outrage about immigrants not learning English or coming here illegally.

This is the real sin of the situation is Americans' ignorance. Our desire for cheap stuff and larger profits are making people's dreams of providing a good life for their families impossible.

Another fault with Pat Buchanan's quote is that these lands had three million people living here before any Europeans landed at Jamestown or Plymouth. Now the descendants of these people are living in poverty with little or no help from the government after centuries of being hunted, discriminatory policies, and being removed from their lands. If the anti-immigration activists truly love the US, they should give back to the descendants of the first caretakers of this land. I will write more on this topic later.

Next time you see an immigrant, try to imagine your own immigrant ancestor who came here, and the dreams that s/he may have had for a better life, because the new immigrations are looking for the same thing as previous generations of immigrants.

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