Durham News: Opinion

August 8, 2014

Robert Wallace: We are all foreigners

Most parents would literally die for their children. Nothing means more. Not even our own lives.

Sometimes they travel thousands of miles. They walk north, each for their own reason, many for the same reason.

They cross desert, via paths of sand, into darkened forests, and through snappy rivers, pebbled with stone and rock. The paths become rutted road. Along the paths are prickly bushes and long-needled cactus that scratch and rough up the skin, leaving sores and abrasions that are slow to heal. They eat what they can, a piece of fruit that they pick along the way, a crust of bread found most anywhere.

They climb mountains, traverse passes in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. In the morning, when it is cold, and the dew is heavy, they might use the moisture on the leaves to soothe sore cuts, lick the leaves clean with their tongues. Along rivers they might sit to rest, daydream, talk about America, or lie awake in grass that is tasseled on the end and brittle to the touch. In a moment of wistfulness, after fingering the sprouted ends, they might blow them in the air, and watch as the tassels, picked up by a hot current, lift off like swirling helicopters.

Perhaps, when lying in the grass, dirty, insect-bitten, hungry, cold, they dream. They dream of food, of mattresses, friends, family. They dream of water. They dream of safety.

They come from Honduras, San Salvador, Guatemala. They come by bus, by train, jumping the tracks, grabbing rails, clinging to the tops of box cars, even as the trains speed away from where they came, oblivious to who holds on, unknowing. Even small children. They cling. It can be very windy on top of a speeding train. Sometimes the smallest of the small become tired and they fall. The muffled cries of mothers, sisters, brothers, and fathers are swallowed up in the night.

Imagine. Your child. Flying in the air while you speed through the air, terrified and helpless.

Back to the children. Recently they have been coming alone. I can’t imagine under what circumstances it would take for a parent to allow their child to travel thousands miles without them, except to know the conditions in their home country must be horrific to risk allowing such passage, no matter how well they may have planned the trip. What I know, what we all know, is that we care for our children – black-, white-, yellow-, or brown-skinned – like nothing else.

Most parents would literally die for their children. Nothing means more. Not even our own lives.

Which brings us to why they’re coming in the first place. Why anyone comes to America. Let’s not fool ourselves here. They’re all – adults and children alike – coming, because of unemployment, oppression and violence. They are coming because they’re hungry. Afraid. They’re coming because they’re being tortured. They’re coming because there is war. They’re coming, like they come to any prosperous country on Earth, for a better life.

Immigrants can’t be stopped, will never be fully stopped for one very obvious reason: the life they’re living is profoundly unsafe, untenable or unsustainable. Any hardship, any challenge, any impossible odd pales in comparison to the systematic abuse, injustice or cruelty faced by them and their children in their home countries.

So, what is the answer?

Unfortunately, in the short term, the answers are negligible – unless Latin-American countries suddenly become harbingers of democratic principles and groundswells of reform. Until then, even economic aid shall be finite in its impact. What I do know is that history has proven over and over again, particularly in the United States of America, that immigration – the notion that all people have the moral right to seek a better life – has made its host country a more stronger, altruistic, culturally dynamic nation. So, until the time despotism, racism, and political corruption is no longer, we must push our congress to pass fair, equitable, and morally-defensible immigration reform.

If your child was being threatened, brutalized, or systematically mistreated by gangs, what would you do to keep them safe? How far would you go?

So, you take your child in your arms and you hold her. You hold him. You smell her. You breathe in his smell. You twirl her around, as she smiles and giggles, her hair flying behind her. In that moment, in that moment as she twirls round and round, you remember her birth, her first walk, the first time she danced in front of you, the time he ran as fast as he could, the air beside him moving his boyish hair behind his ears. You take in their smile like a human camera. You pray for her safety.

And then. Then. You let her go.

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