Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Who Are We?

I grew up in Rutherford, NJ, but I first lived in Weehawken and North Bergen. I was born in New York Hospital, so technically, I am a New Yorker. Each of those places is made up of recent immigrants. My mom used to tell me that the neighbors used to stare at my blond hair and blue eyes. I was a minority in Weehawken. When I came to Rutherford, some of my first friends were recent immigrants, from Japan. I used to watch my Puerto Rican neighbors breakdancing on cardboard down the block. I used to go over to my friend Abdul's house to hang out. His parents were just over from India.

I live these days in Bauru, Brazil. I have to go to the US Consulate more than I would like, and every time, I mean every time, there are huge, snaking lines, of people trying to get a visa to go the States. Every one of them will get questioned, maybe rejected, maybe accepted, and almost never smiled at. They are nothing more than a number, and they will feel that from the minute they get on that line.

But, after reading an editorial in the New York Times this evening, I started thinking about something...and it was really a question: why?

Why do so many people still fight through red tape, across Mexican deserts, hidden in cargo containers, or in the backs of trailers, to get to the US? Why do they save up thousands to pay coyotes to get to a country which has so easily forgotten that it is made up of immigrants. The New York City subway, one of the greatest engineering feats in the world, was completely built by immigrants.

But then I remembered a friend, born and bred in the suburbs of Jersey, just like me, who summed up the mentality of so many Americans when he told me why he hated going into Manhattan: "Because it's full of so many types of people."

This is the crux of things: fear. Fear of change, fear of dissolution, fear of your neighborhood starting to get different names on the mailboxes. But we try to cover it up by saying we are only against illegal aliens, and not immigrants. That the raids in New Jersey at 5 in the morning that rip parents out of their beds, are not symptomatic of a much larger problem, spreading all over the world, and infecting every country that calls itself 'first world': a fear of what is written on that slab the Statue of Liberty holds..."give me your dirty, your tattered masses..."

Did America ever want them?

Read the article if you have two minutes.

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