1972: Won’t You Be My Neighbor

 

Carly Priest

Opinions Editor

To unapologetically ignite, and together, rise

“Take up the White Man’s burden—/ Send forth the best ye breed—/ Go send your sons to exile/ To serve your captives’ need” (Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden”).[1] Those opening lines are not my words, but are those of Rudyard Kipling, author, poet, and raging imperialist. They were written and published in 1899, as Kipling’s encouraging response to the United States’ takeover of the Philippines.[2] The poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” offers a 19th century celebration of colonialism, racism, and hierarchy. I harken to these words by Rudyard Kipling because I feel no discussion of immigration issues— no delineation of the arbitrarily-drawn and haphazardly zig-zagged boundaries denoting your land from my land— can be complete without a mention of the forces which drew those lines in the first place. As distressing as those words by Kipling are, it is ever more important we remember that they were penned.

Immigration emerges at the forefront of every major, and many local elections in the United States. Though the specific issues understood as immigration reform vary from year to year, candidate to candidate, and party to party, the rhetoric of “invasion” remains constant. A xenophobic, un-empathetic, hyperbolic misnomer— “illegal alien”— supplants an “us against them” mentality. And on what grounds?

I could gesture to the fact that North America is a nation that was taken from rightful indigenous inhabitants by immigrants— immigrants who came seeking the American dream and who turned around to shut the gate behind them. Who, once “American,” established quotas, and mandated “assimilation or out.” A melting pot infamous for its rejection of “outsiders”  based on their medical conditions or religion. One marked by a history of racist policies built from colonial suppositions of birthright and might. One nation, indivisible, under God, with liberty and justice for all who support building a wall (that potentially violates international law should it be constructed over waterways). A wall Mexico will pay for, on land that once belonged to Mexico before it was seized and annexed in support of slavery during the Mexican-American War. We’ve all heard that before, though.

This week, different solidarity groups on campus have joined together to bring attention to immigration issues, particularly the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation in limbo. DACA ensures American children and youth who were brought to the United States without proper paperwork are able to stay on their land. For most Americans, renewing DACA is a seeming non-issue: According to CBS News (and multiple other outlets), 87 percent of Americans, polled across partisan lines, support DACA protections. Considering the democratic foundation of this country, our legislators should poll along similar percentages. Yet DACA, and the fate of millions of Americans remains in question, subject to government shutdown and stalemated partisan concessions wrought by open racism and poorly-constructed blueprints.

As college students, we should understand better than most other demographics the implications of our own apathy regarding the importance of DACA protections. As college students, we must be able to look across the classroom and recognize that it is the fate of our peers—our brothers and sisters—that hangs in the balance with the gravitas of ignorance.

However, if we end our discussion of immigration at DACA, we shortchange the bigger, more important issue at hand. Immigration is not a question of whether paperwork decrees your birthright, but rather a question of immigrants. Green cards are a poor proxy by which to judge whether or not we and our government decide to recognize the legitimacy and worth of people who stand beside us and work among us.  This land was made for you and me and anyone else who holds the aspirations, values, and hopes best reflected by our diverse citizenry. That historical and economic analysis reveals time and time again trends of economic stimulus and growth, labor market development, and higher tax revenues expand alongside pro-immigration policies  must be resituated as a shadow behind the figure of the individual who comes to the United States seeking safety for their family and the same opportunities you or I were granted at our birth. The question is not whether or not we support “illegal aliens”— it is whether we are able to rest with ourselves after abjectly descrying (or tolerating with our silence the xenophobic rants of others who declare) another person so foreign, they may be referred to by our powerful leaders as extraterrestrials from another planet.

 

[1] Kipling, Rudyard. “The White Man’s Burden, 1899.” Modern History Sourcebook. Fordham University. Accessed February 20th, 2018. https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/Kipling.asp.

[2] Kipling, Rudyard. “The White Man’s Burden, 1899.” Modern History Sourcebook. Fordham University. Accessed February 20th, 2018. https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/Kipling.asp.

 

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