Friday, February 8, 2013

Unfortunate Geography?

I was born in Chicago.

If my parents were a tad less ambitious I'd have been born in Florida. 90 miles would have separated me from a life of privileges and rights and constitutions and a life of revolutions and rationed milk and socialized governance. 90 miles would have kept me from having the geographic misfortune of having been born in Cuba and the relative good fortune of being born here.

I wonder if the children in Sudan ever think about their geographic misfortune. Or the children in Rwanda. Or the ravaged Gaza strip. I wonder if all the Canadians and Mexicans who pour over our borders (don't kid yourself, please) and the Chinese who smuggle in and the Irish who sneak by ~ I wonder if all of them think about their problem as a question of geographic malady.

And I wonder how many Americans who gleefully embroil themselves in the debate around immigration know how absurd it is that our current rules don't allow for regular people to come to the U.S. to work, study and take up residence because their geography dictates otherwise. 

I wonder how many know how arrogant it is to behave as if they have some say in who comes and who goes across the invisible line, when just two generations ago all you had to do was have someone on this side of the line extend a hand over it to pull you in. 

I wonder how many of them can trace their ancestry back to the folks who simply took faith, left everything behind in the dust of their sad geography and trailed, traveled and traversed.

Some of those saw these words as they came to our shores.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

They saw a message - a big one - that said, don't worry about your university degree.  Don't mind if you're not washed. Don't believe yourself to be unwanted or unvalued. Indeed, here you are so much more important than all of that. Not only do we want you, we light your path and call to you.

You wouldn't have the inbred audacity to shout against your human brother on the other side of the geographic divide if someone else had not bequeathed that right to you. But why did he give you that freedom? So you could shout down your decedents? The immigrant who comes today tired and poor and wretched is not an opportunist or a lazy social-service taker any moreso than your family was when they arrived. He simply follows you in the path you have worn ahead of him, as you did behind the stranger who blazed it for you or your immigrant ancestor.

So Stop it. Stop it right now. Stop beating her back and shaming him and pushing them away. Truly, they belong here just as you do.

Or change those words on the Lady and reframe the promise of this country. Have you become what we used to abhor?

It is not your geography, alas, that makes you better, nor theirs that makes them worse, off. It is your belief in, obedience to and embodiment of an ideal that we are all, indeed, equal, all worthy and wanted. In the eyes of government, in the eyes of humanity, and in the eyes of He Who gave you eyes there is no better or unfortunate geography. Only those blessed with firm footing on solid ground to reach out a hand across every barrier, the seen and the unseen, to bring in the tempest-tossed and light their way to a new life.