Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In the Shadow of the Statue of Liberty

I read a story online about how Rich Eychaner has launched a group called 1000 Kids for Iowa, aiming to house and care for some of the refugee children who have arrived at the southern border of the US. I've read about conditions south of the border--the poverty, exploitation, corruption, drug trade, human trafficking. I looked a little more and read stories about the journey across Central America and Mexico--in and on top of railroad cars, on foot, you name it.  I subsequently read about how Honduras is the murder capital of the world. This guy's blog is a great one, if you wanna think a little.

I thought about parents who, unlike me, are not reading about those conditions; they're living them. What must it be like to decide between  risking death and keeping a family together or sending your children cross country for the chance of life in a better place, knowing full well the dangers of the trip and that you may never see them again? What is it like the moment you decide, "Whatever happens, that unknown is better than what is right here?"

It seems like those who post comments to online news stories are often especially skilled at spewing venom. I once wrote a letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register suggesting that Iowa no longer needed 99 county courthouses. No surprise, I got scorched in most of the comments. One guy said I had to be an urban elitist. Not so much, I thought. Hell, I lived in Seymour, IA for a while. That disqualifies me from being an urban snob. Another noted I once wrote a book about gay kids, so I had to be crazy. Another guy said I was probably OK because I used to play basketball. I'm not making this up.

I've known Eychaner for 15 years and admire him and his work. After reading the news story on his plan, against my better judgment, I scrolled down to some of the comments, which were were mostly predictable. Some of them made me nauseous.

We're talking about a plan to care for some of these kids in something other than cages while elected officials on both sides masquerade as leaders who will come up with a plan. That's not a lot to ask, especially here, you know, in a nation of immigrants.

One guy went off about how our soldiers who had put their lives on the line weren't getting the care they deserve back home. Agreed. The VA disaster is an outrage, but those are separate issues. Last time I checked, our brave soldiers had last names like Rodriguez, Schultz, O'Malley, Kovacevich, Najjar, Birdinground and a few thousand others. They are prepared to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the way of life on which this nation of immigrants is built, glorious and imperfect as it may be.

They are brave souls whose ancestors arrived here on foot, in boats, in chains, or were already here.

The way of life for which those brave souls fight and from which I benefit is the same one the families we're talking about seek. That way of life includes this little diddy:


Some of the angriest are especially good at wrapping themselves in the flag and talking American values. I assume that the idea behind the inscription on the Statue of Liberty would be included in their definition, but I wonder. A lot of what I hear sounds more like, "that was then, this is now, so lock the doors since my ancestors made it in." I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, "Upset about illegal immigration? Talk to a Native American."

In a slightly different context, I wrote in that 2009 for school leaders that "if we're only willing to live those statements when we're dealing with white, Christian, middle-class, athletic, compliant, heterosexual students whose parents always come to conferences, we ought to remove the statement, repaint the sign out front, and replace it with what we really mean. What good are the statements if we can only live them when it's easy?" (p. 142)

Surely we're better than the political paralysis we're getting from our "leaders" in this nation of immigrants and the xenophobia from some who aren't bothered by kids locked up in cages in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. We can do better. It's our way of life.


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